Grocery “Rewards” Cards always bugged me. Buy groceries and run up a bill of $100? Just swipe a store rewards card and the bill drops to $90 or $80 or even less. Lots of items are “on sale” but only if you have a rewards card. And sometimes it seems arbitrary. While working at a grocery store as a teenager, we had a button on the keyboard, “Swipe a Card.” A customer who didn’t have a card with him could ask us to push that button. Literally with a button push I’d watch his bill decrease by 10%.
It reminds me of an old cartoon I once saw. The owner of a mega chain grocery store laughs as he asks his new stock boy how much pears are. “89 cents” the boy replies. The owner then grabs the intercom: “Attention shoppers, for the next hour, pears will be on sale for 99 cents.” The shoppers rush to buy up all the pears, thinking they’re getting a deal.
I realize there are marketing aspects to what the grocery stores are doing, so I don’t have a huge problem with some aspects of listing a base price and then offering a sale price, but the way it’s done with rewards cards that seem to have no meaning always seemed odd and a bit off putting to me.
After a day spent sick, I went out to buy soup and orange juice. With the local grocery store closed for the night I went to Walgreens. In a rush to eat said soup and the effects of illness setting in I vaguely looked at the prices of soup as I shoveled a few into my basket. I got to the register and noticed as the cashier rang up the order that soup was $3.49 per can. I’d picked up four, meaning the soup alone would cost me nearly $14
$3.49. That seemed like a heck of a lot for a single can of soup, even if it was at a convenience store. The cashier asked if I had a Walgreens rewards card, to which I said I didn’t. With credit card in my hand ready to swipe, and just wanting to pay and go home I was about to complete my purchase.
But then for a split second I thought back to what I’d seen on the shelf under the cans of soup. “Well.. maybe I thought I saw the soup was on sale..” I said, trying to recall. The cashier checked the circular and sure enough, the soup was 4 for $5. She asked again if I had a card to which I said no, but now excited by the chance to not waste money, I said I’d apply.
The first step was connecting a phone number to my new account. Today a large number of stores, grocery chains, pharmacies, etc allow you to connect a phone number to your rewards account. You can input the phone number when you’re at the store instead of carrying around a card or fob with you. And you receive the save savings by remembering the phone number connected to the account as you do by having the physical card.
I’ve heard from a number of people who choose not to have cards, (and thereby pay more for groceries) that they don’t want stores to have their personal information and phone numbers. I’m the same way and completely agree. Which is why whenever I provide a phone number it’s never mine.
As I began the process for my discounted soup I entered in one of my work phone numbers. Interestingly Walgreens already had it on file. I didn’t even need to create an account. The number was already connected to an account a previous employee had set up. I was able to get the full “discount” without providing any of my personal information.
I’ve done the same thing for lots of other stories and grocery chains. I want to save as much money as possible, especially if the store is arbitrarily raising the price so I can get a savings. But I’m sure as heck not carrying around a stack of shopper cards, “just in case” or even going to the hassle of keeping them at home. Whenever I need to get a discount and have the ability to connect a phone number, I always use an old work number, or even just a number I remember from an infomercial. For one grocery chain, to this day I use the office number for a company I worked at six years ago. It still works fine.
Overall I saved almost $9.00 just from by being a “member” of Walgreens rewards program and typing in a phone number. Instead of just shrugging it off and saying, “eh it’s only nine dollars,” I realized that over time these small savings add up, and that $9.00 is absolutely money I’d rather keep in my pocket by cutting costs and living smart, not hard.