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Safeway’s Just For U Program Reviewed

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Safeway - Just For U

Normally, I like to write about topics of national interest. Today, I'm going to cover one a little more regional... at least for now. I predict it won't be too long before the concept spreads from northern California to Safeways and its competitors across the country.

Safeway invited me and a dozen other bloggers from the northern California area to look at the new program they are unveiling, Just For U. After spending 4 hours at their headquarters, I knew it was interesting enough to write about.

Safeway's Just For U Program

How it works: Anyone who shops at Safeway regularly typically has a Safeway Club card. (See a picture of mine What's in Lazy Man's Wallet?">in my wallet.) It's your standard loyalty program. You swipe the card and save a pile of money on select purchases, and the Safeway people get to look at buying patterns of its customers. Safeway told us yesterday that they never sell this information, but I always just assume that they did. As such, I like to give a little false information. After all, if they just want to aggregate my buying patterns for their own purposes, they shouldn't care if I'm Corey Whitlaw or Joe Schmoe. Call me evil, but I have found you can't trust companies to guard your data.

When you sign up for Just For U program, it just virtually hooks into your Safeway Club card. By that, I mean, you don't have to carry around another card.

There are three ways to save with the Just For U Program:

  1. Coupon Center

    Safeway digitally aggregates manufacturer coupons. I currently see 193 to choose from. If you find a coupon on the site that you like, and add it to your card. Next time you buy the product and scan your card, that coupon is used and you save money. Finally you can use coupons without touching a piece of paper. Not only will environmentalists rejoice, but those of us who lose or forget coupons will be happy to have that problem eliminated.

    The Coupon Center has a couple of sorting options. My favorite sort is to show coupons based on purchase history. However, you can also sort on value of the coupon, newly offered coupons, and coupons about to expire. They have most everything I want except for a search option.

    Notes of interest:

    • You can print out a shopping list with all your coupons, but sometimes they aren't detailed enough. For example, one blogger bought a whole wheat variety of a specific brand of spaghetti, but the coupon was for select varieties (I supposed elbows, ziti, spaghetti) of the regular version of that brand. There was no way to know it wouldn't apply to the whole wheat variety from the shopping list. Safeway said that they are working on this, but it is difficult with the variety of offers of manufactured coupons.
    • I didn't think about it, but there are paper coupons in the weekly circular. I wonder if you can use a digital coupon on one trip and then come later in with a paper coupon and double up on the good deal. It would have to be a great deal I guess.
    • Some Safeway-branded stores allow double coupons. The Just For U system isn't able to do that at this point, but it isn't being rolled out in those regions of the country for now. It's something to keep an eye on if it is relevant to you.
  2. Personalized Deals

    This is the most interesting part of the program in my opinion. Safeway uses your buying history to see if you buy a product often. It then compares that product's price to the price at either a Wal-Mart or a Target. It does this by looking at the Safeway you shop the most at and then using the nearest one of those two stores. (Unfortunately, many bloggers, including myself, found that algorithm to be "wonky" for their buying habits). However, it is nice to see a competitor's price and then have Safeway beat it.

    You get these savings for 90 days. You can use them as much as you as like in that time. For example, I signed on and found that banana's were one of my personalized deals. For the next three months, I can get them at $0.47 a pound. By the end of the 90 days, I just might be a Empire State Building-climbing, plane-crushing, machine. However, other deals for me weren't so hot. For example, Safeway offered to save me zero cents on yogurt vs. the price at Wal-Mart. I recommend that they adjust the algorithm to only include these savings if it gives you 10% off a competitor. For instance, saving 10 cents on a $5 Digiorno isn't going to bring me to Safeway. I suppose it is nice that I can get the Wal-Mart price in a Safeway, which is a lot closer to me.

    Notes of interest:

    • There needs to be an "add all" option for personalized deals. Since there is never a penalty for adding it to your card, you have nothing to lose. Even if bananas go on sale for $0.19 a pound, I still get that sale price as it supersedes my personalized deal. I asked about this, but wasn't satisfied with the answer. It sounded like they really want you to choose the personalize deals that you actually use. It made me think that this is another way of gathering data about you, and that by selecting all of them, all the time, you thwart that goal.
    • You can't delete your personalized history. I can think of a scenario where you'd purchase a product, but really want to retain the privacy behind it. Or perhaps you just want to tell Safeway that they did a bad job of choosing that product to add your personal history (if you buy products at Safeway for other people as an example).
    • You get one dozen free eggs when you sign up for Just For U. You can find the one-time coupon in this personalized deals area that you are supposed to be able to use over and over again. Silly Safeway, just put it in the Coupon Center for consistency.
  3. Club Specials

    This area of the Just For Program is very similar to what you'd get if you look at the weekly circular. You can scan down a list of items and see how much you would save with just your Safeway Club card. If you find items that you want to remember, you can easily add them to your shopping list.

    The only thing that I had to note about this section is that the most interesting option to me isn't available. I want to be able to sort the columns based on highest savings. If they added that sort, and some witty commentary you'd essentially get Safeway Girl, whose website is worth a weekly visit.

Technically there's a fourth part of the Just For U program, but it ties in with all the others. It is the shopping list that I mentioned a few times. It is handy because it aggregates the deals from all three sections for easy printing. Unfortunately, the shopping list isn't mobile friendly. Safeway says that they are looking into iPhone and Android apps, but there was no mention of Palm or Mobile Windows 7 versions in the works. Bad, Safeway, bad!

Why Sign up for Jet For U?

If you listen to the marketing guys, the program was designed to do two things: 1) Save you more money than what you previous saved with the Subway Club and 2) Save you time by making things like using manufacturer coupons and advertised specials more convenient.

So for people who are a little bit Lazy like me, I can recommend the program for two reasons:

  1. Get the value of coupons without the hassle

    In general, I avoid paper coupons. Unless they are a dollar or more, I often find it easier to just by the generic version of product at the cheaper price. I find that it comes out close to the same, and any difference is not really worth my time. However, electronic coupons the way this program works... sign me up. With the sort based on purchase history, I don't have to spend hours wading through thousands, just look at the first couple of pages.

  2. Get easy "extra deals" with offers like the personalized deals

    That wasn't an accidental quotes around the "extra deals" above. Let's be honest with each with other. Safeway is out to make money. That's fine. In fact, as a former Safeway shareholder, I wish they made more money. So when they offer you a deal, they are going to make it up somewhere else.

    Perhaps the plan is to stop the people that have gravitated to Wal-Mart and Target. If that's the case, lower prices can bring more volume and I am a happy consumer to take advantage of that. However, they could be making it up by raising prices of other items that people tend to buy at the store. In that case, you still have to be a mindful shopper and realize what represents a good value. It is something to look out for.

Final Sundry Thoughts on Safeway's Just For U Program

Unasked Safeway Questions

While I'm on the topic of Safeway, I had two things that I didn't get to ask while at the headquarters. They just weren't specific enough to the Just For U program, and that's all Safeway was focused on. So I'm going to include them here in hopes that they find their way back to Safeway.

  1. Keychain Club Card - Everyone has one of these except for Safeway and Costco. Petco and CVS can do it, you can too. We'll take a little bulk on our keys to have a thin wallet.
  2. $2 Wine - One of my tips for how to save money on wine was to hit up Trader Joe's for Two Buck Chuck ($3 in some places). Wal-Mart and the other grocery store in my area, Lucky, now have their $2 brands. It is not great wine by any means, but it is a suitable table wine. Safeway, we want you to get in on this.

I probably wouldn't have thought too much about the program had I not had it explained to me. It is really hard to market it without a captive audience to explain it in detail. If/When the program comes to your area, I hope you consider it.

Full Disclosure

I shouldn't have to say it, but companies reach out to bloggers for social marketing purposes. These companies are for-profit. As long as it helps me provide you with great content, I am for-profit as well. It would be hypocritical of me not to be. Since I've covered this before (see: Ask the Readers: What's Your Take on Paid Book Reviews?).

When I agreed to see their presentation, I only knew I was getting a catered lunch. However, Safeway surprised me and gave all the bloggers a $50 gift card to try the new program out with (part of what we were there for). At the end of the day, Safeway also gave us a gift bag with another $50 gift card, and some Safeway-branded products of about $25 in value (a T-shirt, hand soap, samples of laundry detergent (2 loads), lip balm (really cute in a miniature soda can), and some cheese puffs). So overall, I'd say that I drop two hours (roundtrip), spent $3 in tolls and 6 total hours of my time (including driving) for $125 or around $21 an hour. That's probably not a bad price for a blogger in some parts of the country, but my time is usually worth triple that in Silicon Valley. That also doesn't factor in the 2 hours it took me to write the article. I did it more for the opportunity to network with the company and other bloggers than I did for the cash.

Last updated on August 1, 2011.

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27 Responses to “Safeway’s Just For U Program Reviewed”

  1. Zyzzyx says:

    That’s great and all, but I much prefer stores that just have low prices to start with, not having to deal with ‘club cards’ or coupons. Locally I make my purchases at Winco (a NW regional chain, I think). Their prices almast always beat the other places in town, and they don’t have any silly club cards that you need to use. I gotta say part of the savings is probably because its a very basic warehouse-type building (albeit very clean and well-lit). Compared with so many grocery stores that are going with wood flooring, specialty display cases, snazzy mood lighting, custom shopping carts, electronic aisle displays, blah blah blah. All that costs more, and has to be made up somewhere.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    I think the FoodMaxx stores around here might be similar. They also have cheap prices and a little more of a warehouse feel to them. Unfortunately, they aren’t particular close to where I live now. In fact, such stores have never been close to anywhere I’ve ever lived.

    I kind of got wrapped up in describing the program, I personally will only use it for about 10% or less of my shopping. My wife’s military status gets us access to commissaries that blow away just about anything and everything else. Of course Safeway probably didn’t know that when they asked me to come in to hear about the program.

  3. Nicki says:

    I am a big time tree hugger and appreciate your mention of the fact that it will save on paper products. Kudos to Safeway too. Now if we can just get people to understand the impact of toilet paper and how many trees it takes every day just to have a little bit softer paper. Go recycled TP people! Anyway thanks for the great info and for spending your time so that we all have a better idea of what this new program is about. I’ll sign up for it!

  4. Juanita says:

    I LOVE IT!!! Especially when a product is in all three sections and you practically get it for free. The only thing I hate is, that the prices in one of the sections are set for what they call “your home store” and they are not guaranteed at other Safeways. Lately my “home store” is out of stock on a lot of the sale items, and my discounts aren’t good at the new well stocked Safeway nearby.

  5. Pam Weber says:

    I almost abandoned a full shopping cart of groceries ($240 worth) tonight because I had received an email that many of my favorite items were discounted. I asked a very snippy cashier if I needed to print out coupons to get the discount — I actually asked 3 times; she didn’t respond, but by the end of the third question, she had rung up all of my purchases. When I asked why I didn’t receive the discounts noted in the email, she said I hadn’t indicated by return email which items I wanted linked to my card. Two of the items I wanted were out of stock. I don’t want to shop on line and then go into the store and shop again — especially when the items I want are out of stock! This is too complex — there’s a new Nob Hill near me — they don’t play games with their “members.”

  6. Nicki says:

    I think the new program is great. However, I think a lot of people don’t understand how it works. Safeway perhaps needs a short commercial to show just how easy it really is. Yes, you do still get the great deals that the club card always provides. And the specials that are for your ‘neighborhood store’ are extra special so why are people complaining about?! Think of it as a ‘managers special’ that is only for that location. When they are out of stock…that’s it! Tell the manager at that location that you keep missing the ‘neighborhood specials’ and they will eventually work out the kinks. Perhaps ask them when is the best time to shop to be sure to get those great deals. Remember it’s a new program for them too. Yes there are some kinks to work out. But it does not help to complain about it! Remember in life, when you complain, you get more to complain about!
    Nicki

  7. Brad says:

    My mother is 74 and she has been refused several times the specials they sent her on an email. She does not know how to use the website and they refuse to give her the price. I call that fraud, and false advertisement. FoodMaxx here I come.

  8. Pat says:

    I’ve always been a coupon shopper and love a good buy, but the Just for U program is full of inconsistencies. Prices on-line differ from the ads and coupons in the newspaper. My experience has been that even though items are chosen on line to add to one’s card when they are rung up the price is incorrect. This happened to us with four different items today. We were overcharge by more than $20.00. The store returned the money to us, but what a hassle to have to review your receipt so carefully and make extra trips to the store. I agree with another reviewer, it’s too complex and it does feel like Safeway is playing games with us. I have to drive quite a bit farther to a Nob Hill, but I’m thinking it might be worth it.

  9. Patrick Crosby says:

    I signed up for the “U” program in a Southern California Vons location (Vons now owned by Safeway) in the hope that they would stop following me with little net computers while in their store, and badgering to sign up. What were the special deals just for me? Everything my doctor is telling me to avoid. Lay’s potato chips. 2 liter bottles of high fructose corn syrup (aka Pepsi) for 59 cents. In brief, Vons/Safeway is trying to lure me to an early grave with their junk food deals. I’m sure they are doing the same with others as well. I absolutely hate this corporation. So when they approach you with a netbook, run for your life!

  10. Harrold Meyer says:

    I’ve found people sign up with various phone numbers and email addresses and fake names and make a killing on free eggs,starbucks juice and all the other little free goodies.Granted it’s not enough to live off of for a week but free eggs,soda,cheese,bread.that stuff adds up if you sign up for a new name every week and are lucky enough to find an unused phone number.

  11. Lazy Man says:

    Harrold,

    That’s a little more work than I care to do. I guess that Safeway can stop offering free stuff and put an end to it.

  12. amber says:

    I signed up for this program and they have yet to give me the correct prices. Today alone I was overcharged over $30

  13. Lazy Man says:

    You can go to the customer service desk and get it straightened out I think.

  14. This program has a certain side effect that Safeway probably never intended: it encourages those who move on from bad to better eating habits to go back to old bad eating habits. In my case, potato chips for example. I hadn’t bought any in 9 months– even though I love them. Similarly cola soft drinks. Safeway offered me super deals on both immediately when I signed up. I was furious. Hopefully they are working to change this, after I complained to their corporate ethics department.

  15. James Crowe says:

    This safway idea is bad. I sprnt 2 hours at bthe store and did not get the price I was supposed to on the for u print out sheet. After another half hour with the manager who in frustration with the system gave me a gift card for my troubles. I think anyone who falls for this type of connery that safeway is doing should wake up and find themselves another store.

  16. Scott says:

    Some people like wasting their time playing games to get a dollar or two off. I finally signed up for this program after being harassed incessantly at the checkout that we really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really needed to sign up. (I guess the checkers are forced to give the spiel now.)

    This program only makes me think I need to find somewhere else to shop. If Safeway can give everyone big discounts if they waste their time begging for them, then it means they are purposely overpricing and only people willing to beg for decent prices can get them. I don’t have the time to waste trying to get good prices on each individual item. This probably means I really need to be shopping at Walmart or Target instead of trying to get Safeway to match their prices with this obnoxious little game of theirs. Thanks for making it clear that your prices suck, Safeway.

    I believe the only people who are going to take good advantage of this program are those who have much more time than they have money or sense. These are the people that used to waste time and gas driving to 4 different stores to get all the flyer specials each week at each different grocery store.

    The android app is complete crap, very slow and with useless animations that add nothing while lacking basic functionality. The shopping list only adds sale items and I can’t add items I actually want to buy that are on my real list. I guess if you’re the kind of shopper that buys only stuff you don’t want or need just because it’s on sale then you’ll love the shopping list. You can shop at Safeway and come away with a bunch of junk like potato chips and Pepsi. It’s almost as awesome as shopping at 7-Eleven for food for the week.

    Safeway needs to do some better research and understand other user needs than for the chintzy shoppers who love playing shopping games. Most people just want to get their shopping done in a reasonable way and spend their time, money and energy on more important things in their lives.

  17. Inga says:

    I HATE the JFU program the “F” doesn’t stand for “for” it stands for a word that rhymes with suck.

    We shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops to spend money at Safeway. My husband has been doing the Safeway shopping lately because I am so darn frustrated with the whole Safeway experience.

    Before he goes we check out the Safeway website to get our special deals that usually takes half an hour or so. Then he prints the list and shops taking extra time to make sure he is getting exactly what was on the printed list. He usually checks the receipt before leaving but he doesn’t always spot their mistakes (that are always in their favor). There have been times when he noticed them over charging him while they were ringing him up and they have been very rude about it and they will often not honor it even though he has the printed list from their website.

    After he gets home we carefully go over the receipt to see the deals we did not get. My job is to go back to talk to the manager to get a refund, because there is rarely anybody manning the customer service counter when my husband is there. The JFU deals almost never are given to us without some sort of drama involved. Why should we take extra time to sign up for these deals online when they don’t give them to us anyway, with all the darn driving back and forth combined with the time it takes to go through their website to get the deal and then the time it takes to get help at customer service what should have been an hour long trip to the store now may take well over two hours.

    Last night my husband was saying we should go to the Attorney General to have them check out why we never easily get the deals that are advertised directly to us. We have written many complaints to them directly but they don’t care I am sure they are raking in the dough on people who don’t check their receipts very carefully.

    I used to love Safeway, I loathe them now, they have screwed us over too many times, it’s total BS. JFU Safeway!

    Despite the nasty tone of this post, I am a great customer as long as I am treated with honesty and a little respect, Safeway forgot what those words mean.

  18. julie says:

    i think the just for you program discriminates against people who don’t have a computer or do not have email. every one should be entitled to the specials. i personally buy less things from safeway since they started this program, luckys is nearby and so is a super target.

  19. Patrick Crosby says:

    I had trouble getting started with the program, but rather like now. If you don’t have a computer, they have netbooks in the store you can use. But hardly anyone ever seems to. Most of the deals it seems you can get without doing anything anyway. Ultimately I think they envision people using hand held devices. In any case, there is a strong tendency for for prices to be rising with global climate change and serious droughts world wide. All of the major chains are struggling with this.

  20. Barbara says:

    Wow! So glad to see others are not at all happy with this JFU program. I’ve shopped at Safeway for 42 years in CA and AZ and now I hate it, even tho it’s the only store in our little town. So I drive 60 miles roundtrip to shop at Wal-Mart and Fry’s…one is MUCH cheaper with no cards or hassle, the other has such a better selection of great food. I totally agree and have told the staff at Safeway that this discriminates against the poor and elderly who don’t have computers but need the discounts the most; and I also agree that often they do not give us the deals we clicked. It’s way too complicated and ridiculous…and infuriating when they’re always out of so many products that are on sale at our local store. Why would Safeway think they can compete with Wal-Mart with this kind of complicated nonsense? Obviously the people who set it up never do the shopping…

  21. I have a suggestion that just might help. The Safeways (here called Vons– same thing) all have netbook computers in store for persons such as yourself. Better than that, they will supply assistance in using them. I would recommend a time not apt to be busy, such as 9 am on a weekday. I will grant you it is a “steep learning curve,” but once you’ve done it a few times it’s not so bad. Or, of there is a public library in your town with computers, reference librarians at least the ones I’ve encountered are more than willing to help. Most know a lot about computers.
    I’m not saying this to defend Safeway, but in the hope of making your life a little easier. 60 miles round trip has to be at least $8 in gas. Plus of course the time. So if you could figure out a way to do almost as well at Safeway as at Walmart, it might mean a good overall savings for you. At least on the “Vons” Just4U site, they make specific comparisons to Walmart prices on the specific items, and obviously theirs has to be lower. Hope this helps!

  22. Rachel says:

    I hate Safeway just 4 u and will stop shopping at the store because of it. Now I have to spend time on my computer picking out coupons and do not get sale prices unless I do. Safeway has lost a customer in me. Will now go out of myway to avoid it.

  23. Summer says:

    Just 4 U is Just 4 Them to audit what products They can/will/can’t/won’t carry in Their stores. We become Their marketing department, at little or no cost to Them. They don’t care about You. They care about Them. With all of the products that are pouring into stores around the country, I certainly can’t blame Them. But My time is precious, and I don’t appreciate having to click on Their “deals” to minimize my final purchase price at checkout. I got wrapped up in this “great deal” when it first came. I was astounded at how much I saved…$5 a month!…for the HOUR of time it took me to read all the coupon offers and click “ADD” on their site. I am all for “ADD ALL” if they really want it to be Just 4 ME. Meanwhile, before I shop, I click everything and add it without even looking. That way I can shop without caring what I put in my cart. And, am I the only one who notices that I buy the full price blueberries, and suddenly find this “J4U” special price in my inbox the next day? Hrrrumpph. :)

  24. Paul H says:

    Look, Safeway and all these other stores with loyalty programs are fooling some people, but I think most people can recognize what is really going on. Price conditioning. Desperate people pay the regular price, and the smart shoppers wait for things to go on-sale. Problem is, the sale price is the regular price at other discount chains who don’t have a loyalty program. So, eventually people get used to seeing the falsely-inflated regular price then the big discounted sale price and think they are really getting a good deal. Truth be told, they are just paying what they should have been paying all the time had they shopped somewhere without all the pricing games.

    I will say one thing though in favor of Safeway and the reason I shop there. Store brands. Saves money for me and makes money for Safeway. I’m okay with that.

  25. Tanni says:

    I have been shopping at Safeway for many years and just been paying closer attention to my receipt. Especially since the ‘Just for U’ program has been in effect. Boy, have I found many problems. Just wonder how much money I’ve lost before I started paying attention. I found three mistakes on today’s receipt. The people at the store are more than happy and treat me with respect when correcting the problem But, I am really tired of having to review each and every item I buy. I heard some place where the courts have said that Safeway has to give a $10.00 gift when the register price is incorrect. Is this true? I have not been offered this, when mistakes are shown to the customer service department. Thank you, Tanni

  26. Kim says:

    I tried to sign up for a year–keeps saying my email address is taken and my phone number is taken. Yet I get emails. but can’t access “deals.” Have called many times only to sit on hold for an hour and nobody answers. Such Safeway typical bs.

  27. Anonymous employee says:

    Just4U doesn’t consistently apply advertised pricing to all products. I estimate that only 95% of Just4U-promised discounts are applied to customer charges. I work for Safeway and part of my job involves internal audits. A savvy and attentive customer will check every item on his/her receipt and request credit for items which charge at higher prices than promised.

    In 2014, Safeway settled a misleading price lawsuit with the CA Attorney General. The corporation agreed to pay $2.25M. The Just4U program is another example of Safeway’s incredibly sloppy internal controls and disregard for the customer or something more nefarious like deceptive pricing practices. Let’s hope it’s the former.

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