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Safeway 'Just For U' Not For Everyone
When it comes to national brands and promotions, Hawaii residents usually get the short end of the stick. Just check the fine print of most TV commercials — "Prices higher in Hawaii and Puerto Rico," goes the standard disclaimer. (Heck, the fact that we're finally getting a Bath & Body Works store was headline news.) So if anything, it's at least notable that national grocery chain Safeway has chosen Hawaii as one of the first markets (behind South Dakota?) to try "Just For U," a new "personalized savings" program that adds an online component to its Safeway Club Card loyalty program.
I was among a number of bloggers invited to review the "Just For U" program -- see reviews by Donna, Nat, Paula, Kailani, and Liza -- but took forever to actually try it... largely because I try to avoid supermarket grocery shopping. (It's nothing personal, but our bustling household lives off Costco bulk shopping and a giant freezer.) And now that I've made my first "Just For U" shopping trip, I don't know if I'll make another one.
The program requires time and patience, and could use a few tweaks. But for Safeway regulars who are web savvy and regular coupon clippers, the savings could be worth the effort.
And if you take the effort to comment on this post by Wednesday, Aug. 4, you could win one of two $50 Safeway gift cards, courtesy Safeway and DEI Worldwide, its social media marketing partner.*
A Penny for Your Personal Information?
Grocery shopping lists are probably among the most personal data sets out there. Your supermarket knows when you're trying to avoid getting pregnant, when you think you might be pregnant, when you're expecting, and when you have a baby. Your receipts reveal when you've got a cold, when you've got indigestion, and when you're constipated. And supermarkets know how valuable this information is.
A "loyalty card" helps them build a detailed profile of individual shoppers, as well as track the buying habits of a neighborhood, a city, a whole region. Of course they'll give you discounts on hundreds of items. It's a small price to pay for the information they get in return. And to be sure, lots of people oppose this form of data collection.
Me? I have no problem with it. Then again, I've been pretty liberal with my personal information since discovering the web and starting an online journal over 15 years ago. I make regular use of Google and Facebook and other "free" online services, and I know that I'm getting those services in exchange for letting them analyze me and show me ads.
So one reason "Just For U" piqued my interest was because, in theory, it would allow me to more directly benefit from the information I'd already been giving Safeway over the years. They still win, of course, since I'd just be buying more groceries. But the "Just For U" program lifts the curtain a bit to see what Safeway's algorithms think I want. And if the system is right, and throws in a few more cents off? I'll take it.
Or at least, I'd like to.
How It Works (In Theory)
To start using "Just For U," you set up an account with an e-mail address and register your Club Card on the Safeway website. No card? No problem. I haven't carried my Club Card for years, using only a phone number at the register. (Heck, the phone number on my card is from six years ago. I sure hope the person who has the number now doesn't shop at Safeway.) You don't even need a computer, as Safeway says you can use a computer and printer at the store's Customer Service desk.
Once set up, you get access to a Coupon Center, Personalized Deals, and Your Club Specials. The Coupon Center just seems to be a co-brand of Coupons.com. The other two sections are where the magic is supposed to happen. "Personalized Deals" are based on your purchase history, and should be different for every user. And "Your Club Specials" are items that you've purchased that are also Club Card specials at "the store where you do most of your shopping."
The first deal you see? One dozen eggs, free, just for signing up. Some deals are one-time only, and some are unlimited within a time period. As your browse each section, you click "add" to "load" deals onto your Club Card. Although the "Personalized Deals" are the marquee feature, I found the "Your Club Specials" section to be the most interesting. Or, at least, the most clearly tied to my purchase history. I ended up adding more items from that section, as that section had items I'd buy at Safeway anyway.
Once you've added the deals you want, you can print out or email yourself a shopping list. And within 30 minutes, Safeway says, your card (or phone number) will get you the discounts at the store. With my shopping list loaded up on my iPhone, I headed out.
How It Works (In Practice)
Much as we love Costco, buying perishables there can be hit-or-miss, so neighborhood supermarkets still play a part in stocking our fridge and pantry. And while Safeway is the furthest of the supermarkets from where I live in Mililani, we do make the trip now and then for specific items. Which is to say, most of the time, I'm in and out of Safeway in five minutes, tops.
As a result, shopping with a "Just For U" list took a lot longer than I expected. Part of it was being a poorly skilled shopper, of course, but it occurred to me that the program also meant most shoppers would have to carry two shopping lists instead of one. The website could make itself considerably more useful if they would allow users to type in their own items, even if they don't come with discounts. Heck, a free-text field could still net some pretty interesting data for Safeway's marketing gurus.
But today, at least, my shopping trip was driven by my personalized offers, and not by what I actually needed (which is certainly a good thing for Safeway if it happens for other shoppers). Following my emailed shopping list, I wandered the store, hunting down my deals.
I didn't do very well.
The free dozen large eggs featured on the site (and in every print ad) for "Just For U"? Not in stock. Another woman who caught me frowning at the empty shelves sighed, "Those are always sold out." Now, free eggs are a great incentive, but they become a disincentive when shoppers can't get them. I'd suggest Safeway drop its next full-page newspaper ad and buy an extra Matson container of eggs instead.
The half gallon of store-brand Lucerne milk for $2.29? Also sold out, in every eligible variety. Had this been a regular shopping trip, I probably would've just grabbbed a more expensive brand. Perhaps that's the point?
Next up, Barilla pasta for 96 cents. My shopping list said, "12-16oz, Selected Varieties." And as I stood before the pasta shelf and its many, many varieties, I wondered exactly which ones were "selected." Since we needed some rotini, I grabbed a 1-lb. box, and hoped for the best.
Suddenly, my wife called. Could I get some Yoplait yogurt? The ones she just bought at Safeway last week were almost a month expired. "Sure," I said, promising to check the expiration dates. I remembered that one of the "Just for U" deals were for Yoplait yogurt, so I launched my web browser on my iPhone to "add" it to my cart.
Ian Lind had been stymied by the "mobile version" of the Safeway website (which detected his iPhone and sent him to a largely useless, stripped-down version), so I went straight to the "Just For U" login page. For a moment, I was happy to discover that I could log in into the system... but once inside, I still couldn't see or do anything. I don't know if it was a Flash issue or just a bug (all I saw was glowing copy about printing coupons with Coupons.com), but I was miffed to find that "Just For U" was something I could only really use at home.
I did have better luck with the rest of my "Just For U" list. A box of eight Nestle Drumsticks for $6.49 and a package of Nabisco Chips Ahoy for $3.14 (both said to be at a "Personalized Price"), and a few bags of C&W petite frozen vegetables for $2.99 (a "Club Price"). I struggled a bit to double-check the item names and package sizes, but this is a hassle scissors-wielding coupon shoppers already know well. I then headed for the register, punched in my phone number, and waited for my receipt.
Success. I did get every item on my "Just For U" list for the advertised price (so I did pick a "selected" variety of pasta). The total savings for my trip? A little over $3.
Time Is Money
If I were a coupon clipper, I'd probably be impressed. And whenever I do shop at Safeway, I do enjoy seeing my total Club Card savings, even without the "Just For U" boost. But I couldn't help but think that the time and energy I spent choosing and "adding" my discounts, then hunting them down in the store, was worth way more than $3.
The geek in me liked the technology, the personalization, and the "shopping list" builder. I hope mobile support is coming, as well as a way to add non-specials to your list. But the transition from the virtual store to the real one was pretty rough. (Ian had a similar experience.) For all the information Safeway already has on me, the basic Club Card discounts are enough. I think it would take some pretty generous discounts — more than a few cents off, if not free eggs — to motivate me to use "Just For U" regularly.
* Safeway offered bloggers one gift card to give away, and one card for their review, but why not double the prizes? As with my Plantronics BlueTooth Headsets, I'm obviously not great with "sponsored reviews."