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Safeway’s Just For U Program Revisited

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[Editor's Note: Today's post about Safeway is regional in nature. If Safeway is in your region, reading this post could save you a lot of money. If not, I invite you read Save Money on Groceries.]

Almost two years ago, Safeway invited me and about ten female bloggers to look at Safeway's Just For U program, a way to receive personalized deals through their loyalty card program. I explained how it works here: Safeway’s Just For U Program Reviewed. For the most part the program works the same way so rather than cut and paste all that here, I'll assume you clicked that link and read it.

Last week, Safeway asked me and two other bloggers to come back to see something new. They also added 15 new bloggers who weren't there last time. Most importantly they added another guy so I wasn't completely outnumbered by the mommy bloggers.

Safeway was showing off two major things: improved underlying software and an iPhone/Android App.

Improved underlying software

When Just For U launched a couple of years ago, Safeway outsourced a lot of it. They launched it in only a few markets confirming what they said this week that it was very much a project in the beta stage. They learned a few things that they weren't doing right, and ended up bringing all the development in house to give a better experience.

I'll give an example of some of the confusing things they had to deal with. If you have a digital coupon loaded on your Safeway card and then you hand the cashier a paper one, it was the cashier's discretion of which to take. Today, the register is smart enough to take the best deal. If the consumer saves more with the paper one, it will that one and save the digital one for later. If the digital one is better, the register will beep and alert the cashier to return the coupon to the customer to use later, because he/she would be getting the best deal.

Android/iPhone App

This was the other big thing that they stressed. You can also load personalized deals in the store via the smartphone app. They just ask that you give Safeway 5 minutes from adding the deals before you checkout. I had an HP Pre 3 and a Motorola Triumph with me. The Pre 3 runs on webOS and Safeway doesn't make an app for it or the newer Windows phones. I downloaded the app on my Triumph and tried to access my grocery list there, but it didn't work right away. After a few minutes it did work, but by that time I had used their "email to myself" feature to send to my email where I could shop on my Pre 3.

I think most couponers (which is mostly the Just for U audience) do some preparation and likely would have access to the full website during this. If I'm correct about this being a likely scenario 98% of the time, there really is little need for a dedicated smartphone app.

I asked if their mobile website has all the features of the iPhone and Android app, and they said they are targeting for Q1 of 2013. It never ceases to amaze me how a company could develop a website that is every bit as functional and works for everyone, but chooses to do double the work and exclude people. If they make a Windows Phone app, they'll be doing triple the work and still excluding people. You would have thought we had learned something from the web that coding to one standard that everyone can use is the way to go.

There are two other random points that I find interesting and worth sharing:

You Need to Add Coupons to Your Card

While Just for U offers you digital coupons and personalized deals, you do have to add them to your card to get them. It doesn't make a lot of sense to the consumer to have to through and check a bunch of things off. A couple of years ago, I asked for an "add all" button, because I'm Lazy and it would save me time.

This question surfaced again this time. We got a better answer than before though. Safeway partners with the coupon dealers and they don't like it when you just add every one automatically. Safeway and the partners want to know what products you like so they can better tailor the specials for you.

The Privacy Risk with Just For U

This leads to a question of privacy. A local news CBS affiliate decided to make a big deal about everyone losing their privacy with this program. The news piece was completely off base because if you use a loyalty card at all, you are trading your privacy for savings. This is the case with grocery stories and drug stores everywhere. The Just for U program just gives you additional savings from the information that Safeway already had from your purchase history.

If privacy is your concern, ditch the loyalty card and pay with cash. On that note, the marketing consultant implied that unless you use cash, you will be giving up your privacy. If I use a credit card they will know I shopped at Safeway, but they will not get my exact purchase history.

And don't get me started about the news talking about targeted ads and comparing it to pop-up ads (which are not necessarily targeted) or ads on Facebook (curiously the news didn't mention ads on their own website and chose to slam Facebook instead).

The news did make the point that they don't sell or give away this information, but that Safeway, if served a subpoena, will give the information to authorities. This is simply cooperating with law enforcement. It didn't stop the news from making a case that a divorce lawyer could use that information. There are very few Safeway products where this would be helpful in a case, and they'd already have to know that you likely bought them at a Safeway and not at a drugstore to get the court to issue the subpoena. In other words, it's fear mongering to the 0.0000001% of people where this may come up.

I went a long there, but that was a terrible hatchet job by the news and I'm embarrassed for them.

As for the Just for U program itself, I had stopped using a couple of months after last review. The reason is that I do most of my shopping at the military commissary, which, as a non-profit, has amazing prices. However, they don't have loss leaders. So for those I use my closest grocery story which is not a Safeway. With the deals from the Just for U program though, I'll go the extra mile. For instance, today, I got a pair of 5 pound lasagnas, Safeway brand, for $8 each. They'll come in handy when the baby arrives in a couple of months, if we don't eat them before then.

Full Disclosure

I shouldn't have to say it, but companies reach out to bloggers for marketing purposes. These companies are for-profit. As long as it helps me provide you with great content, I am for-profit as well. I always tell people my readers to take advantage of any profitable opportunity that doesn't harm others, so it would be hypocritical of me not to do the same.

Last time I reviewed the Just For U program, I got $125 in Safeway gift cards and products or about $21 an hour spent. That was a surprise as I was not told in advance there would be any form of compensation. This time I had expectations based on that experience. I got $200 in gift cards and a gift bag with about $25 of Safeway product (mostly their more healthy stuff like granola, and trail mixes, and nut mixes, which I don't mind at all). For this I spent 6 hours with Safeway for an average of about $37.50 an hour. It's a decent blogger salary for sure. It's a poor software engineer's salary in Silicon Valley though. My point is that while I got compensated for this, I'm not retiring on Martha's Vineyard any time soon because of it.

Posted on July 23, 2012.

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13 Responses to “Safeway’s Just For U Program Revisited”

  1. Steve says:

    The comment about paying with cash seems to indicate that not only can your credit card company tell that you shopped at Safeway, but that safeway uses your name and/or credit card number to track your purchases over time. It hardly matters since literally every major grocery store chain (where I live anyways) now has a loyalty card, and drugstores do as well.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Yes, Safeway could link your by your credit card number and all that information. I presume this doesn’t work as well as loyalty cards (people using different credit cards, people changing numbers, etc.) or else there would be little need for the loyalty cards.

  2. Contrarian says:

    I give it an 8 on the Lazy Man’s scam scale ;-).

    Although I’m not familiar with this particular club/program, I find grocery store ‘club cards’ to be a joke at best, and at worst a disingenuous and sneaky scam to harvest contact info. They jack up their prices up 30% then offer the sheeple a 30% “savings” as a club member. Then the cashier insults you by saying, “you just saved $20 today!” Really? Do I really look that stupid? Probably, but that’s beside the point.

    Reminds me of my wife when she returns home from shopping … she walks in the door with two Nordstom bags in hand and says, “honey, you’d be so proud of me, I bought three pairs of shoes on sale at 30% off and saved you $200 today!”

    I’m with Groucho Marx – I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. If a grocery store wants to EARN my loyalty they can start by NOT treating me like I’m an idiot and trying to baffle me w/BS. All they have to do is provide a good quality product at a fair price and act like they’re happy I’m spending my money with them … this rare combination of “marketing gimmicks” gets me every time and will keep me coming back over and over.

  3. Carrie says:

    No need for an app? I love the app and have used it every week since it became available for Android. I found it a pain to try to log into the Web site on my smartphone, but with the app I can load the deals while I’m out of the house — like sitting on a bench while the kids play at the park, or while I’m actually at the grocery store. I also love using the app to keep track of my deals while i’m in the store, instead of printing out a list. It allows me to be ready even when my stop at Safeway was unscheduled.

    • Lazy Man says:

      That’s because Safeway hasn’t made the website friendly for a smartphone. TripAdvisor is a great example of a website that works well on smartphone. You can get an app, but there’s really no need to junk up your phone with it.

  4. I love club cards, but the roll out of the Safeway Just for U program was extremely irritating. I was nearly accosted by the store rep (a girl who looked to be about 18), who got right in my face waving a tablet around and telling me I “needed to apply” – without even explaining the benefits of the program. Tt was over the top. Since you’ve given some details here, I will likely check it out for myself. Thanks for the updates!

  5. Lazy Man says:

    I should have gotten back to Contrarian’s comment before now. That’s what I get for reading it on my smartphone and not in a good place to respond.

    I agree that they typically raise rates to give discounts. However, I have a competing chain near me that doesn’t do the club card thing. On average the prices are probably the same when I shop at either Safeway or the competitor.

    However, with very little planning (i.e. skim the first page of sales), it is possible to pick up a lot more of the loss leaders at Safeway and save a good amount of money that way. It’s as if there’s more price volatility at Safeway allowing me to take advantage of buying low. I then buy the rest at the military commissary (if I’m willing to drive) to get big savings or the emergency item or two at the competing grocery store.

    Also, the Just for U program is a bit of a multiplier to the club card. You can easily load digital coupons that I otherwise wouldn’t and save money with the personalized deals. It gives me more items that are cheaper if I focus on them.

  6. Revanche says:

    No fruit pairings with that granola? ;)

    With the whole mark-up thing – you can always do what any comparison shopper can do if you’re running on a healthy dose of skepticism: keep track of good baseline prices. I never believe what they claim are the percentage savings, regardless of who “they” are, I do my own math and compare across unit price, stores and regions.

    A pound of any type of preferred fruit or vegetable should cost no more than what MY little black book says, or it’s not a discount, no matter what they want to trumpet.

    This is how I know that our Target does have good grocery prices for some staples like sugar and flour – they are cheaper than the grocery store on sale. Their Barilla blend pasta is the same price at regular pricing as the sale price at grocery store too, so I’ll wait until Target has it on sale, not when the grocery store does. But I won’t buy frozen veggies from them, the grocery store sale plus coupons work out to be cheaper.

    I used to be an avid couponer, but I don’t much anymore. I just kept the skills and pick things up as or before I need them when they meet my price criteria because I know when I’m getting good pricing.

  7. Our Safeway has been hustling this program, and I’ve been resisting.

    The privacy issue is big for me. And where having Safeway add digitized coupons to my red card is concerned: I make up fake personae in response to these little corporate scams. I deeply resent being made to carry a card around for the privilege of being paid the actual retail price of necessary goods like food, and I even more deeply resent having some corporation demand that I share private information to avoid being ripped off. So…I lie.

    My card is in my dog’s name. The telephone number that Safeway thinks belongs to the dog actually rings into Safeway’s corporate headquarters.

    The only way I could get those wondrous bargain coupons would be to try to figure out what phone number I used when I was made to fill out a form so I could be made to carry yet another piece of plastic around. I’m not going to do that. There are better things to do with one’s time, and lots of places that will sell you food without invading your privacy.

    When you consider how much programs like this must cost the corporation, you realize how much information about you is being gathered and how much that information actually is worth. Certainly, its value is far higher than the few pennies you save here and there on a can of fruit or a box of junk food.

  8. P.S. You remarked, in talking about privacy issues, that in the event of a divorce or other legal proceedings that might lead to a subpoena showing your buying habits, “There are very few Safeway products where this would be helpful in a case,…” You might want to think that one through once more.

    A close examination of your buying habits can show how often you buy liquor (she says you get drunk and abuse her verbally), how often you buy condoms (he says you sleep around), what prescriptions you buy (you didn’t want to tell the spouse about that round of antibiotics you bought for the infection you picked up when you were someplace other than where you said you were), and how many bunches of roses you buy (all of which went to the girlfriend, not to the wife). You would be surprised at how much an expert can find out about someone’s personal life simply by studying purchasing habits.

    And if you’re fighting a drunk driving charge…do you really want the prosecution to be able to see how often and how much beer, wine, or hard liquor you buy? Naturally, the rest of us would like to see you go to jail — at least we do until we realize that when one person’s civil liberties and privacy are taken away, we all lose our civil liberties and privacy.

  9. Transparency junkie says:

    Safeway bought Randell’s (Houston) and Thom Thum (Dallas/Ft.Worth)several year’s ago. Some stores got closed and many re-vamped downward. Eventually my closet Randell’s returned to fantastic selection of brands, meat, produce, bakery, deli. I shop everywhehre. Houston is an extremely competitve grocery market, but Randell’s weekend & weekly doorbusters have been excellent these past months. I take time to select(add-on) weekly. The amount saved is worth it. My gripe is 50% or more of my purchases posted to my JforU account don’t show the savings on each item at the register. At the end of my paper receipt, it shows total savings and % of savings. three categories are listed and can’t be deciphered as to what is included. Taking into acct the “so deemed reg. price” is usually inflated and prior Just For U, this was visible on the receipt. Positive my selections bought by programming Just for U are pretty good (I add only items I buy anyway) and skip the ADD_ONS to save $.08 or $.13 (the store has previously given me back these pennies just for having a Randell’s Card efore JForU and still does. I pause numerous times before going out the door to check my receipt. I still find errors on initial “wrong prices” by the scanner,but Friday, Feb.1 my items were scanned for the correct amount. I spent $97 + change, my savings were $48.58 and my % of savings was 47%.Yes,I am certain I actually saved on the purchase, but I could not distinguish inflated price savings, real savings as advertized, or how much the unseen JUST4U savings amounted to …and if the Just 4U programis in sync with the register calculations. I have always had clear/acute number recall and got good math grades way back in the days before calculators and PC’s. The little voice in my mind asks, “Sue,How do you know you are actually getting what you are supposed to save?” My gut wrenches a twang or two in distrust and desceit.” Is the money saved the true amount promised? Is the program functioning differently from what I expect? MY Expectation is: as close to 100% accuracy as trust mandates. I am positive my savings will not equal the cost of our frequent getaways to lux resorts, splurges on shoes/apparel or gifts to our 2 Grandsons, but the reason I can afford these perks today is “for 45 years I saved as much as per the consumer’s mantra, “Every little bit counts.” Now my mantra is ” Will we outlive our money?” and “Will Obama’s spending ideaology bankrupt the USA?” If one qualifies for a Food Stamp credit card, I suppose Just4U is applicable. I’m asking now, just in case.

  10. Ivan says:

    They need the add all button.

    I add them all. When I ask others in line, they add all too.

    It is faster to just click the add boxes than to look at what you are adding.

    Why would I not want a savings?

    They track purchases. Not coupon adds.

    • Lazy Man says:

      I asked them to have that button and they responded that the manufacturers creating the coupons wanted people to add them individually. I think the fear is that people would just click “add all” and purchase as they usually do getting discounts when a coupon was offered. This differs from the coupon incentivizing people to make the purchase, which is the hope of the manufacturers.

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