[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.
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.
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.
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