The Next Time You Hear that Beep, remember you can be on Supermarket Sweep!
March 13, 2003 10:36 PM   Subscribe

The Next Time You Hear that Beep, you can be on Supermarket Privacy Sweep! I'm sure most of us own Supermarket Discount Cards, I mean who can resist the savings? If you don't like being monitored, help out the always popular Rob at become the Ultimate Shopper by using his card (NYT Article here). I'm always a bit wary when I use mine, I'm afraid they may find out how boring I really am. I'm tempted to sexy up my database profile: "I'd like to buy come chocolate chip cookies... and ah.. some vaseline and hamster food. Oh, and straws!" Then Safeway will give me a discount on new underwear, fo shizzle my nizzle!
posted by Stan Chin (33 comments total)
"I'd like to buy some" Sorry, was thinking about petting my koala.
posted by Stan Chin at 10:42 PM on March 13, 2003

I actually need to get one of those cards, but I may actually want to be monitored. Really depends what they use the information for.

If it means they might tailor more of what's in that store for me, than I'm all for it. Maybe then they'll get some more vegetarian food items.
posted by destro at 10:54 PM on March 13, 2003

Hi, uhh, let me have one of those porno magazines, a large box of condoms, a bottle of old Harper, a couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks and one of those disposable enemas, ahh, make it two!
posted by Space Coyote at 11:06 PM on March 13, 2003

That's absolutely wonderful. I love it.

It needed to be done.
posted by cadastral at 11:18 PM on March 13, 2003

Buy all the parts of a cow possible to purchase from the meat counter and a large Elmer's Paste. Repeat once a day for six days, making sure your purchase time is always 666 seconds later than the time of the last week's purchase.

On the seventh day, buy an eraser. Just one.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:27 PM on March 13, 2003

Just so you know, discount cards aren't necessarily intended to change product lineups to suit buyer's needs. Much of the time the company is using your information for demographics in order to establish if the company needs more stores in your area. I know at least this is the case for the Home Depot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:27 PM on March 13, 2003

Once, a young boy behind me in line at the Rockridge Albertsons asked if I had a club card. I told him I did. He asked if he could "borrow" my card once I was done checking out.

He didn't have one, and without the card discount, he wasn't able to afford the eggs and cheese his momma had sent him out to get. I smiled and told him to "check this out." he didn't understand, and looked anxious, wondering whether to ask someone else or go put the eggs back.

When the cashier asked if I had a card, I said "yes, but I forgot it at home." She hit a button and floated me the discount without another word. I'd seen other people do it a million times. Now that she'd let me through, right in front of him, she couldn't very well turn him down with the same excuse. I winked at the kid and he got quite a kick out of it.

These days they don't even ask for the card at that store anymore. They just give you the discount and pass you through. The checkers are as sick of it as we are. Hallelujah.

If the phenomenon were totally anonymous, I can't say I'd mind too much. That wouldn't be any different from filtering web server logs for unique IP addresses... just a way to focus your understanding of customers and what they want, how they behave, in aggregate. No names, no faces, no problem.

But they DO ask for your name, address etc when you first get the card. You can lie on the form, sure, but how about alllll the info on your check/ATM/credit card? I for one don't always grocery shop with cash.

For now, I lift my finger to the man by sticking to Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods.

Next year, it's all about home-brewing and subsistence farming. Booyah.
posted by scarabic at 11:54 PM on March 13, 2003

Some card discussion on MeFi from a few years back. Has much changed?
posted by gluechunk at 12:00 AM on March 14, 2003

The first I heard of these cards was when I moved to California a couple years ago. The cashier at Safeway asked if I had one; I said, "No". She gave me a card and an "application" for the card (which she already used to discount my groceries) and told me I could fill out the app and bring it in next time. Um, sure -- like I don't get enough junk mail and spam as it is.

p.s. Whole Foods rocks!
posted by DakotaPaul at 12:33 AM on March 14, 2003

p.s. Whole Foods rocks!

True, they don't have a club card (yet), but some people would say that a company that is anti-union doesn't rock. Their CEO is famous for saying "The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover." .....
posted by gluechunk at 1:08 AM on March 14, 2003

At Albertsons, you have a choice of either filling in your name and address or just checking the box at the bottom that says, "I prefer not to give my personal information", and they give you the card anyway. No problem.
posted by greasepig at 2:04 AM on March 14, 2003

I would've blurred my account number out of the images on the page, and kept the page separate from a personally-identifiable site. All you need is one Safeway-related datacenter geek to find that well-linked plan and the next thing you know, the "Ultimate Shopper" account will disappear.

I use the card at Safeway, and I'm definitely profiled. Both my mailings and customized coupons printed at the checkout counter, for example, skew quite strongly toward "baby in the house." My friend's stuff is all about Nabisco snack foods and soda.

Looks like the guy is accidentally racking up frequent flier miles from "clone" purchases...
posted by pzarquon at 2:46 AM on March 14, 2003

I'm not sure where you folks are getting your cards, but all the ones I've gotten (Ralph's, Albertson's) allow you to fill in any information you want. So privacy and profiling is a non issue.

And while Whole Foods is great for some things, they have a crappy selection for many of the groceries I need. So even if I shop there I still have to go acros the street and pick up the balance at Ralph's.

And since everything is much cheaper at Ralph's I usually get the bulk of what I need there. Whole Foods rocks, but it also sucks.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:56 AM on March 14, 2003

i won't participate. i don't patronize D&W anymore because of those cards. 4 years ago, i attempted to buy 2 packs of cigs at the special price listed on a sign. i was asked for 1/3 more money than shown on the sign, because i did not have a card. tiny print on the sign specified the price was good for use with the card. i objected strenuously. i was asked to leave the store. i corresponded with corporate. i got nowhere. the bottom line for me is, if you can afford to sell an item at $x to one, then you can damn well afford to sell it at $x to all. anything else is a fucking ripoff. a shell game. i won't play.
posted by quonsar at 5:23 AM on March 14, 2003

I mean who can resist the savings?

"Savings" is a strange word. It's very difficult to use it without sounding like a commercial. "Roomy" is another one.
posted by jonmc at 6:04 AM on March 14, 2003

p.s. Whole Foods rocks!

True, they don't have a club card (yet)

Whole Foods HAD a club card system, they got rid of it, at least here in DC they did. I'm not sure what the real reason was, but they claim that it was to "pass the savings to all items" Interestingly I did begin to notice a drop in my overall bill soon after, so I guess it really was to pass on the savings, either that or my diet pills really started working this time.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:25 AM on March 14, 2003

Oh, and I use a Safeway card I found in the parking lot, I wonder if someone is getting discounts for some things that they have no idea why.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:27 AM on March 14, 2003

Looks like the guy is accidentally racking up frequent flier miles from "clone" purchases...

He mentions that I'm not getting fat on frequent flier miles, by the way. That offer ends next week. I can't find anything that says it does, actually I hope its not true.
posted by m@ at 7:31 AM on March 14, 2003

I have a Harris Teeter card that a woman I used to work with game me. My BiLo card is anonymous, a la DakotaPaul. My Lowe's Foods card is definitely tied in to my name, and a database of consumer preferences on me, but I can earn green points or some such nonsense which I can use to rent movies from their stores so it's a trade-off I was comfortable to make.

I'm kind of on the fence about these cards. On the one hand, I really don't like them because of the datagathering, exclusivity, excess crap on my keychain, additional plastic in the landfills, junk mail, the feeling of the supermarkets being more in control of my shopping than I am. On the other hand, they are far more convenient than coupons and my last grocery bill would have been $8 more than it was if I didn't have the card. $8!!!

Now what really irks me are the register tape coupons. They are usually for a competing brand of item that I actually bought, or a "ham token" or "turkey token" or some kind of meat receipt that you collect and turn in for the animal in question, or, and this is what really pisses me off, just and advertisement for something similar to an item you purchased. Thanks! I really appreciate the squandering of natural resources and extra waste in a landfill so you can hand me a fucking commercial with my receipt, because I don't have a TV or listen to the radio or read the newspaper or notice any of the other items on the shelves besides the one I chose to put in my cart. THANKS!
posted by jennyb at 7:33 AM on March 14, 2003

This is great!

A friend of mine who really hates these cards (I don't think it's the privacy aspect, just the general 'you have to be a member to get the discounts' thing he hates) refuses to get one. When a sale item rings up at the regular price, he points out the 'mistake', and after they explain that you only get the savings with the card, he acts shocked and irritated and says loudly, "Well, just put it all back then! I'm not going to shop here!" at which point, the cashier whips out his/her stock card, swipes it and my friend gets the sale price.

I'm not really sure how many times he's done this act at the same store. I'm sure the cashiers all know now just to swipe the their card for him. But, he's proud of his own little protest.
posted by tippiedog at 7:58 AM on March 14, 2003

I have a Kroger Plus card (with my real name, but not my real address), but on the days I forget it, I can go to the customer service desk and borrow their card. I actually like my card, because I like to keep track of whether or not I'm actually saving on purchases using the card compared to prices of other local stores. In the end, I think it all evens out, but Kroger is a block away from me, so I almost always shop there first. So far this year, I've saved over $130 with the card, and I'm sure that if I shopped smarter, I'd save even more.
posted by keli at 8:02 AM on March 14, 2003

Besides gathering information, cards serve the same purpose as coupons: price discrimination. If you place a high value on your time, you should not waste it trying to find a lower price.
Maybe my simple explanation does not satisfy you and you want to be able to explain it better. In that case, here is your lesson plan! :-) And, for extra credit, run the simulation.
posted by MzB at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2003

This type of thing would be a whole lot different if the store gave you a list of all of the items that you buy and what you paid for them via their web site. Providing an extra service like creating a shopping list (along with including items there are on sale and customized coupons) through their club cards might actually make up for the inconvenience to the consumer.

I suppose that Safeway does something like this, but stores in my area don't, to my knowledge.
posted by ringmaster at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2003

Thankfully we have one remaining grocery store near my house that is cardless, and has stated publicly that they shall remain that way.

Ominously, Albertson's also made that statement, and less than a year later they've gone over to the dark side.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2003

Quonsar, I'll one-up your cigarette story:

Once, while shopping for a mortgage, I was offered a "scratch and save" card. Scratch the card and get "up to" x% off your mortgage rate.

As if I'm going to gamble my house!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:17 AM on March 14, 2003

a great way to avoid using grocery store discount cards is to boycott the stores and shop locally. F***CorporateGroceries (the page is work safe though the url name is not) is the grocery store web log of a girl in chicago doing just that.
she also talks a lot about issues surrounding these discount cards. Radio Frequency IDs being embedded in some cards could potentially be used to track items once they leave the store.
posted by alicila at 9:44 AM on March 14, 2003

The address on my cards is so old that they'd have to do a lot of work to find me, which I somehow doubt they care enough to do. I find them annoying, but not enough so not to use, since I'd rather have the lower prices. However, most of my shopping is done at a store that doesn't use the cards anyways, about the only thing I buy at the other stores is Coke when it's on sale.
posted by piper28 at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2003

a great way to avoid using grocery store discount cards is to boycott the stores and shop locally.

Yeah, that would be a great way, IF (big if) you are one of the lucky few people that lives near a non-franchise store, but of course the non-franchise places still have to get their products from a distributor, one of the handful.

I love farmers' markets and do patronize them, but there are no farmers' markets for most products (although there are some products that are still made in small batches by private manufacturers, I've been using THIS product for quite some time now and I can't recommend it enough, try it, you'll love it!)
posted by Pollomacho at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2003

For my PC consulting business, I have customers who are pleasant to work with and who return to use my services repeatedly. To improve my relationship with these customers, I give them a discount. The hope is that I will build goodwill and repeat business, generating more profits for shareholders me. I now realize how deeply unfair this is, and will stop immediately.

The thing that bugs me about these tests using "random" selections of identical items is that they assume the shopper is an automaton. Last week my Osco card let me buy Progresso soup for less than Campbell's. Was I an automaton, thinking "gosh, if I buy the regular amount of soup this week, I will save all of $2.14!" D'oh: I stocked up, believe you me, saving $10 or more. Just like it's good tax advice to "bunch" certain expenses so that you can itemize deductions one year out of two instead of no years out of two, shoppers can "bunch" sale-price items. It's no secret that clothes shopping has a certain schedule, and that savvy shoppers should look for certain types of clothing at certain times of the year or just before it's discontinued, in order to save lots of money; even as a guy I know that. The specifics of grocery pricing may be different, but the principle is the same. When I see that it's 2 for 1 on cereal, I buy enough for the next two months. D'oh!

Also, these comparisons make little consideration of switches in item size or brand, shifts that are of small consequence to many people. Is it possible to go week after week buying the same shit, and get little benefit for the card? Of course. Is it possible to make the card work for you, making subtle shifts in how much, when, or what you buy to take advantage of the pricing differentials offered? Absolutely. I know many people here in Chicago who only go to one or the other of the major chains -- Dominick's (Safeway owned) and Jewel (Albertson's owned). Me, I go mostly to the Jewel. But I also know people who have both chains' cards and seek out the sale prices. The stores know that unless they put those prices in the Sunday inserts, even their "preferred" customers might not show up to see them.

Ultimately I'm probably falling prey, at some level, to the flattery involved in the cards, a psychological gambit that's involved in many sale setups: the idea that I feel I'm smart by using my noggin to save money. But card or no card, I'd still shop at the Jewel, because it's the closest store to my house. D'oh!

Ultimately this situation won't change much, not until that mythical moment when we ask our fridge what we need to get at the store, and an internet agent goes out and tells us where the overall grocery bill will be cheapest. I don't think the present setup is much different from, for example, buying from Amazon because the slight discount plus shipping is the same price and you don't have to put on pants. Or Amazon setting free shipping for orders over $50 (is that what it is now?), knowing that plenty of orders won't meet the threshold, and they're probably paying FedEx/UPS a discounted volume rate anyway (effectively splitting the smaller profit margin). But these supermarket cards seem to bring out the loom-axers.
posted by dhartung at 12:40 PM on March 14, 2003

dhartung: Oh. So I'm supposed to be wearing pants while shopping. That explains a lot.

Wasn't there a (probably apocryphal) story circulating about someone who sued Safefway for a slip-and-fall and Safeway produced his discount card history showing that he bought oodles of beer every day and was probably drunk when he fell? No links handy.

Just a personal opinion, but from my occasional perusal of, the guy who runs it doesn't seem like the type who would do this for the flier miles.
posted by skyscraper at 1:14 PM on March 14, 2003

It is a pitiful protest, I know, but my friends and I often swap our cards just to throw a (statistically insignificant) monkeywrench into the works. Since we're all pretty much in the same demographic (young, handsome, intelligent billionaires), it probably doesn't make much of a difference to Kroger, but I get sort of amused thinking that some computer somewhere has noticed that I've stopped buying bacon and Right Guard, and now appear to be a vegan with osteoporosis worries.
posted by chino at 4:28 PM on March 14, 2003

for those following at home, loom-axers = luddites
posted by shabrem at 9:02 PM on March 14, 2003

I've saved over $130 with the card

wrong. THEY have gouged other customers over $130, time after time after time, while they chuckle at your malleability.

I can go to the customer service desk and borrow their card.

what a well trained little consumerbot! how far WILL you go - if they asked you to smear dog feces up your nostrils and fart the star spangled banner in 5 flats in return for an additional 5% would you be eyeing a pit bull with bad intent and practicing your precision butt clenches?
posted by quonsar at 9:28 AM on March 16, 2003

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