If you do at least some of your shopping at one of Safeway’s twenty stores across the state, you might want to take a look at my Hawaii Monitor column today over at Civil Beat (“Safeway Overcharges — Mistakes Or Corporate Policy?“). And then read down to the bottom of this post for a suggestion of what can be done.
Safeway has a lot riding on its “Just for U” and “Deal Match” promotions, which offer targeted or individualized discount offers geared to customers’ past purchasing history and predicted interests.
It’s a strategy that relies heavily on a complex computer system to keep track of individualized prices on multiple items offered to millions of consumers who have signed up for the program. My own experience with the program has been quite mixed. When it works, you can save real money. But it also requires defensive shopping and constant attention to detail to avoid being charged higher prices than promised.
The problems are exacerbated by Safeway’s poor customer service record. According to a recent story in USA Today, Safeways has earned consistently low rating from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which bills itself as “an independent national benchmark of customer satisfaction with the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States.”
Each year, roughly 70,000 customers are surveyed about the products and services they use the most. The survey data serve as inputs to an econometric model that benchmarks customer satisfaction with more than 230 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as over 100 services, programs, and websites of federal government agencies.
“Safeway, which had among the lowest scores among all retailers, has underperformed in customer satisfaction every year the past 10 years,” USA Today reported. Only Netflix and Walmart received worse customer satisfaction scores in the latest survey of retailers.
State regulators may be able to step in to protect consumers, as they have done in California, but they need as much evidence of the overcharging problems as possible.
You can help by making a note (date, store, item, amount of overcharge, etc) every time an item that should be discounted scans at a higher price when you check out. Whether or not the store promptly refunds your money, data on errors will be useful to regulators. And if Safeway refuses to honor those special advertised prices, or uses deceptive displays, signage, or “fine print” to mislead, note those as well. Copies of receipts, with notes about the transactions, may also help.
Gathering data is slow and can be frustrating, but it may eventually make all the difference in protecting the our rights as consumers of Safeway’s products and services.
If you are willing to start collecting these kinds of data, let me know (email:ian(at)ilind.net) and we’ll try to build a network of monitors.