Originally created 09/06/00

Supermarket loyalty programs have short memories



Dear Martin: My supermarket has a "loyalty" program that sends rewards (such as coupons) to participants every three months based on their spending at that store.

At a recent AARP meeting, several members mentioned that being senior citizens, they don't receive these rewards because they are not spending enough. They were disheartened, since many had patronized this chain for years when they had families and large food bills. I don't think this fair. - Cathy Schehr, North Huntingdon, Pa.

Dear Cathy: I agree with you. Unfortunately, most supermarket loyalty programs have been set up to have very short memories. In the situation you mention, the computer program that decides who gets the rewards considers loyalty only in terms of how much is spent in the last 90 days. In effect, if you have not purchased the minimum in that time period, then the computer does not know that you are a loyal customer.

These computer-based loyalty programs do not recognize that customers may still be true to their favorite supermarket even though children leave home and grocery spending tapers off.

What these loyalty programs need is the exercise of a little more intelligence on the part of responsible supermarket executives. It comes down to this: In setting up loyalty programs, the supermarket industry should recognize that loyalty works two ways. Loyal customers have a right to expect their favorite supermarket will be loyal to them and still treat them with care and respect even when they get older.

How do you feel about loyalty working both ways? Whether you agree or disagree, I would appreciate your opinion and I will publish the most interesting letters.

Dear Martin: I recently handed the cashier a 50-cent coupon from Empire Kosher Foods, and I watched the register for it to be doubled and show up as a $1 credit. Instead it came up showing 40 cents and was doubled to 80 cents. When I pointed this out I received a credit for the 20 cents. I had a second Empire coupon exactly like the first, and the following week this second 50-cent coupon also scanned as 40 cents. I wrote to the company to tell them there was a problem with these coupons. They acknowledged my letter, said the matter would be looked into, and enclosed two $1 coupons.

The other day I bought a tube of Revlon lipstick at a CVS Pharmacy and handed the cashier a $1 Revlon coupon. The coupon rang up as `Void` even though it had not expired. The CVS cashier handed me $1 in exchange for the coupon. Again, I decided to write. Revlon thanked me for calling this matter to their attention and sent me some coupons. These Revlon coupons did scan properly. However, neither company has explained why these errors occurred. What do you think? - Ann Rubin, Rochester, N.Y.

Dear Ann: In all probability, the 50-cent Empire coupon was printed with the wrong Universal Product Code. Since it happened twice with similar 50-cent coupons, the bar code printed on the coupon belonged to a 40-cent coupon that might have been distributed at another time or in a different city.

The fact that the Revlon coupon was not accepted could have resulted from any number of errors in the information on the bar code, or even a bar code that was so poorly printed that it could not be identified by the scanner.

Bar codes, first introduced 25 years ago, are usually dependable, and errors like this happen infrequently.

Computer software has become a popular dry-cereal premium offer. Many computer programs, such as children's games, sell in stores for $20 or more. So when a cereal maker offers a computer program for just a few dollars or for free, the value is easy to recognize.

A good example is now on supermarket shelves in specially marked packages of Rice Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Lucky Charms. Packed right in the front of the box is the full version of Word Detective, Clue, or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

On the CD-ROM you will also find a Merriam-Webster dictionary. I like this offer because it is immediate, there is nothing to send for, and the computer program is worth several times the cost of the box of cereal. These computer games would make nice stocking stuffers.

This week's winner of the $MART $HOPPER AWARD is Margo LaMarsh of Yorktown, Va.: "I like to treat my family, especially when it is not too expensive. Harris Teeter had four-cone packages of Snickers ice cream treats on sale for $2.99. It was still a bit more than I wanted to spend. Then I found a 50-cent coupon, which made it a better buy. What finally convinced me to purchase the cones was a 50-cent coupon I received as a result of using Internet Web Bucks. So, the cones cost me 50 cents each, which is my kind of treat!"

Margo also told me that she had just sent in her first envelope of register tapes to receive her e-Save refunds. If you have not tried e-save.com, consider doing so. It is one of the best money-savers on the Internet.

Margo will receive a copy of my book, The Guide to Coupons and Refunds. Does smart shopping allow you to give your family special treats? I would like to hear about it.

Send questions and comments to Martin Sloane in care of this newspaper. The volume of mail precludes individual replies to every letter, but Martin Sloane will respond to letters of general interest in the column.)

Write Martin Sloane care of United Media, 200 Madison Ave., Fourth Floor, New York, NY 10016.