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Free turkey or money off? November 24, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here with a little quiz for you, the readers of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Would you rather have a free turkey, a discount on your grocery bill, or none of the above? Let me explain:

There are three supermarket chains where we live in Pennsylvania. The first two, Giant and Weis Markets, give store discounts on various items when you sign up for their free plastic grocery cards, which come in charge card and keychain models. You present your card at checkout, and the register automatically applies the discount as the cashier rings up your order or you ring it up yourself at one of the auto-checkout lines. At both stores, you also earn “points” each time you shop, and the accumulated points are also automatically computed for you at the checkout register. Smart marketing, right?

The two chains appear to be following different marketing advice when it comes to what to do with those accumulated points, however. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, you can use your Giant points—if you’ve accumulated enough—to get a free turkey. At regular intervals throughout the year, including the week leading up to Thanksgiving, you can use your Weis points to receive a discount on one grocery order. Weis has a sliding scale, so those with fewer points get 5% off, going up to, if memory serves, 15% for those with megapoints. And this is, of course, on top of the everyday discounts you’d get with your card.

My question, then, is this: Which store is smarter? Which would you rather have, the discount or the free turkey? What sounds like the better deal?

But wait—haven’t I forgotten something? What about that third chain? The third and smallest chain, Redner’s Warehouse Market, is local to us and employee-owned. (Wow!) It doesn’t offer cards, points, turkeys, or any other marketing gimmick. What it proudly offers is the lowest price it can on as many items as it can.

I shop at all three stores, and though I’m not systematic about comparing prices, usually choosing a store based on where I am when I need something rather than where something is cheapest, I can say with some degree of confidence that Redner’s lives up to its claims: They offer the best butter in the area for considerably less than you’ll find it at the other stores, even on sale, and I was recently able to buy our friend, fellow blog contributor, and Penn State fanatic Richard Saunders a jar of special Penn State mustard as a surprise at Redner’s after repeatedly passing it by elsewhere because it was way too expensive to justify the splurge. I’ve found many other great buys there as well.

But I have to wonder at the wisdom of Redner’s straightforward claims. No card, no gimmick, no fuss, no muss. Are they forgetting human nature? Even I, who know what the clever marketers are up to, confess that I love to hear the cashier at Weis say “You saved $8.47 today” when I check out, and especially love hearing “With your 5% discount, you’ve saved $17.63″ (or whatever it comes to). Sometimes I do have the presence of mind to wonder if I’d have saved even more if I’d just gone to Redner’s, but I love that lottery-winner feeling at Weis. Our friends Delilah and Chaz love to save up their points for that free Giant turkey. It makes them feel like they can buy one for their own Thanksgiving celebration and invite friends over to enjoy a second celebration over the holiday season “free.” (And as savvy marketers know, there’s no more powerful word in the English language than “free,” followed closely by “new.”)

So now I want to hear from all of you. What sounds most appealing to you: a free turkey, a percentage off your grocery bill, or everyday low prices? Have Giant’s marketers got the magic formula, ar does Weis know something Giant doesn’t? Is Redner’s missing out with its no-frills approach? Every Thanksgiving, I wonder about this. Please help me out!

         ‘Til next time,

                  Silence

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Comments»

1. fairegarden - November 24, 2008

Interesting questions. Our local market, Ingles, centered in Asheville, home of everything *green* gives the points with the cards for the free turkey. I get that each year easily spending enough to qualify. BUT I would never buy a whole turkey, so much waste there and a pain to thaw, etc. I buy turkey breasts for our T-day meal. I would take the discount any day, spending so much at the store for what seems like so little. When we live in PA we did shop at Weis and Giant. We still like to spread the wealth!
Frances

Thanks, Frances! The discount’s my pick as well. But what’s this about just buying turkey breasts?! What about making creamed turkey with all that good dark meat, and turkey soup stock with the carcass?! Much as I loved the hot turkey with gravy when I was a child, and the cold turkey sandwiches with mayo the next day, I remember that creamed turkey on toast most fondly of all!

2. Stuart - November 24, 2008

The Free Turkey every-time….can you hear me salivating all over the keyboard? Sorry, I’m a failure as a vegan and the discount…yer, well…doesn’t really carve the turkey, does it?

Ha!!! I know what you mean, Stuart! Last year we qualified for a free turkey, and they’d run out of the free turkeys, so the butcher went and got me a 24-pound turkey from the back! Yowee! We gave it to our friends Delilah and Chaz, who (like us) couldn’t believe their eyes, and invited us over for a VERY nice dinner afterwards!

3. Cinj - November 24, 2008

I go where things are least expensive every time, well almost every time anyway. I try to only buy things to our family’s advantage. I need to make $200 last the whole month for the four of us to eat off of, so I can’t afford to splurge for a free turkey. I’ll only buy it there if it’s the least expensive which never earns me enough points for a free turkey. I’m almost obsessive about comparing prices. I think I drive Cheesehead crazy with all of my penny pinching but so far, so good!

Good for you, Cinj! One vote for the Redner’s commonsense philosophy!

4. Nancy Bond - November 24, 2008

Charlie gets a free turkey at work every Christmas as part of a Christmas bonus, so I’d probably go for the discount. But I don’t know what your turkey prices are like — ours are outrageous. I guess whatever gave me the biggest bang for my buck would be the way I’d go. :)

We used to get our choice of a free turkey or fruit basket at my press, too, Nancy! I used to go home every holiday, but I always appreciated the chance to get one and give it to somebody to brighten their holidays. It’s a great workplace tradition!

5. Jen - November 24, 2008

Definitely not the free turkey. What if I already ordered it from an free range farm? What if I’m a vegetarian? What if I’m eating at someone elses house? What if my freezer is jam packed? I’d go with Redners, I think. It’s always hard for me to qualify for those discounts cause I shop at different places.

I think you’ve put your finger on something here, Jen! Weis, like Giant, used to give a free turkey as its bonus, but a couple of years ago it began giving discounts instead. I couldn’t figure out if it was because turkeys had become too expensive for them to use as giveaways or because too many people simply didn’t want one. But everybody can use a discount!

6. mr_subjunctive - November 24, 2008

Everyday low prices is my preference, followed by the discount, followed by the turkey. I like turkey, but I’m also vegetarian by marriage civil union association: even though the husband doesn’t object if I do want meat, the fact that he’s vegetarian and does most of the grocery shopping means that it’s not usually available. Even if vegetarianism weren’t an issue, I don’t like turkey well enough to try to cook it.

Really, the less fanfare about prices, the happier I am. One of our local chains in Iowa has taken to pricing just about everything as X for $Y, so every single decision is a g**d*** division problem: 7 for $13, 10 for $5, 3 for $11. It’s not that I’m bad at the math, it’s just that it’s an unnecessary and time-consuming step, plus I think there are deceptive motivations behind it. This has, on occasion, made me angry enough to stop shopping before I was actually done.

Yikes, Mr. S., a math exercise free with every shopping trip! That’s a “free” bonus I’d be happy to avoid! I’m vegetarian myself, so I know what you mean about that. That’s why we give our “free” turkeys to friends when we happen to earn them.

7. Krys - November 24, 2008

I don’t have room to store a turkey, nor is the family enthusiastic enough about turkey to be willing to eat turkey for days afterwards.
(Does the store promise a particular size of turkey for the points to allow one to calculate whether it’s worth redeeming them, by the way?) The discount based on points accumulated is ok, I guess, but I’m never sure if it’s worth it and, worse yet, I’ve run into ridiculously restrictive rules on “spending” accumulated points on one or two occasions. So my vote definitely has to go to the store which is upfront about its prices and its attempts to minimize them — I know exactly what to expect.

/krys

Good for you, Krys! There’s also that little matter about being local and employee-owned!

8. Shibaguyz - November 24, 2008

If we shopped regularly at a grocery store, we would definitely frequent the local, employee owned store without a doubt. We do this exact thing with our local hardware store.

From a marketing standpoint, the local store is also doing the smartest thing. Current trending encompassing about 85% of the disposable income in the U.S. is leaning toward a group of consumers called NEO’s. The marketing book “NEO Power” is a new addition to my library for work and describes two different types of consumers: the Traditional and the New Economic Order (NEO). As it turns out, one of the characteristics of a NEO is their desire to shop where they are getting the best product, don’t care about a name brand and look at discounts as gimmicky and a representation of lower quality. Also, they are more interested in community values. Interesting that your local market seems to (purposely or not) direct right toward the NEO consumer.

I’d say they are winning on all sides of the marketing game… good for them!

talk to you soon…
The Shibaguyz

Gee, guyz, that’s fascinating! Prior to this, the only NEO I was aware of was the guy in “The Matrix”! Sounds like the NEO consumer is one smart cookie.

9. Daphne Gould - November 24, 2008

I would go with Redner. I would feel good about shopping at an employee owned store. In addition I like stores that don’t do specials, but just have low prices. I only have chains here, but I shop at four stores: Wholefoods (and it’s not that expensive if you stick to their bulk and store brand, go outside of that and it deserves the name WholePaycheck), Trader Joes (low prices excellent food all the time, no specials here), Costco (only about 4 times a year again just low prices), and Wilson’s Farm (farmstand that sells trucked in stuff year round, but has their own produce in season). There are no regular grocery stores in this list. I do go to them on occasion, but not with much regularity. Probably less than six times a year. In the summer I also hit the farmer’s markets.

Interesting list, Daphne! Gotta love “WholePaycheck”! Everyone I know who shops at Trader Joe’s is totally addicted—it’s like the Starbucks of groceries. We’ve never been to a Costco, either, but apparently we’ll be checking one out over Thanksgiving (not on Black Friday, we hope!). Wish us luck! We’re lucky to have several year-round farmers’ markets in our area, so even now that our CSA has closed for the season (sob), we can still have a great selection of produce, not to mention home-canned, home-baked, and pickled delicacies.

10. fairegarden - November 24, 2008

Hi again, these comments are fascinating! That Mr. Sub, too funny with the math. I think he’s right, when I see 3 for $5, I start to put 3 in my cart when I only need 1! It makes you buy more. I do make all kinds of things with the free turkey, especially broth, but it is such a pain to thaw and does take up half of the freezer in the garage. I have never made creamed turkey though, and might have to do a turkey a la king with some of it. We use every bit, but it takes me half a day to retrieve all the meat, chop it and freeze it for future use. Time is money too!
Frances

Ha, you’re quite right, Frances! I remember helping my mother hack away at the carcass when I was a child. Yuck! It’s enough to turn anybody into a vegetarian! (Well, maybe not Stuart… ) Mama’s creamed turkey was very simple and very delicious: lots of small pieces of turkey, especially dark meat, cooked in a rich sauce of cream, butter, and drippings (plus salt and white pepper) until the sauce had thickened, then served over toast. If I were making it today, I’d probably add mushrooms and a splash of port or bourbon—yum! But I remember it fondly as is.

11. Ratty - November 24, 2008

I’d go for the everyday low prices. The stores around here all have that little savings card that they scan, but I keep forgetting to have it with me. I’m kind of paranoid anyway. I always have an irrational weird feeling that they’re spying on me with those cards. And this year I have more turkeys than I can handle. The place I work gives me one every year. This year my supervisor is giving his to me, because he doesn’t want to cook it. I won’t go hungry. :)

Well, of course they’re spying on you, Ratty! These are marketers we’re talking about, after all. They can follow each customer’s purchase history with those cards, which enables them to profile customers and ostensibly target them more effectively with coupons, advertising, etc. And good grief, two turkeys! You’re definitely going to have to try my mother’s creamed turkey on toast!

12. mr_subjunctive - November 25, 2008

(OT: I wrote my comment on my lunch break and then didn’t check to see how it had posted: “marriage” and “civil union” were supposed to have been struck out. I guess WordPress doesn’t accept tags.)

And here I thought you were just being emphatic…

13. mr_subjunctive - November 25, 2008

!!

That’s supposed to be an “s” in angle brackets. WordPress doesn’t even accept them when you put a space between the brackets and the s. Weird.

Hey, at least it didn’t turn it into an emoticon! That’s what kept happening to me until I started separating my “…” from the close parenthesis mark. Yikes!

14. deb - November 25, 2008

I love the employee owned place. I think I would shop there just for that.

I agree, Debbi! I figure that, being the smallest chain, and local, too, it needs my support the most.

15. Becca - November 25, 2008

For us, it’s consistent low prices. The store at which we most often shop boasts they sell at cost with only a 10% surcharge. We appreciate that–though we can buy some things more cheaply elsewhere. Even more exciting–they offer some regional favorites (produced locally) such as raw honey and turnip greens. They carry generic along with name brand products–and some gourmet products!!

Slow, steady and reliable gets our dollar almost every time.

Sounds like you have a great store there, Becca! I love it when local stores carry local produce and goods!

16. Mike Timonin - November 25, 2008

We’re a little north of you, in NY, and our Giant doesn’t do points – cards are available if you feel the need to pay with a cheque, but there’s no point saving and whatnot. Price Chopper (the other major chain here) does a regular discount on things via the card, and have recently done some sort of a deal with Sunoco for $ off gas/amount spent at the store. Plus, they have the best organic selection in town, so we shop there.

When I’ve had the opportunity to do free turkey things in the past, we’ve found that we were unable to spend the right amount of money in the right patterns to qualify for the turkey (spend a certain amount on a set number of days, or buy a specific mix of products, or whatever), so I would probably go with the overall discount. I wish we had a local store which provided local produce – I miss having access to a year-round farmers’ market.

Ack! No year-round farmers’ markets?! I guess we’re luckier than I knew! Gas discounts—great idea.


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