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:
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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