E-Coupons, Apps, Loyalty: 11 Tips to Maximize Grocery Savings

Photo (cc) by brizzle born and bred

Supermarket loyalty programs are on the upswing as more coupon clippers turn into coupon clickers.

The programs, digital coupons and apps that go with them are supposed to give you easier access to grocery store deals, when they work. Those deals aren’t just for loyalty card carriers any more. Most new programs just want you to hand over your email and phone number so the supermarket can track what you buy and offer you digital coupons sure to lure you back. As long as you’re coming to the store, grocers hope, you’ll buy more than what’s on special. Some offer rewards.

Get the most out of your loyalty cards with these news-to-use tips:

1. Paper coupons reign but wane

coupons photo
Photo (cc) by StockMonkeys.com

Only 1.8 percent of the 2.8 billion coupons redeemed in 2014 were paperless, says Inmar, which consults with retailers on how to promote their stores.

More than $281 billion in printed coupons were delivered via free-standing inserts (FSIs) in the first six months of this year, Progressive Grocer reports. The savings were 5.5 percent higher than in the same period of 2014, even though the total number of coupons, 156 billion, dropped 0.9 percent. The average face value for FSI coupons rose 6.5 percent to $1.80.

But electronic coupons, loaded digitally via grocery loyalty programs that you keep in your smartphone, are expanding and becoming easier to use. Even Wal-Mart is getting in on the act. That can help you save on the $140-a-week average spent on groceries by families with children at home, an estimate from the Food Marketing Institute.

2. How digital loyalty programs work

Jewel Osco
Jewel Osco’s MyMixx loyalty program touts extra savings.

Mobile-friendly loyalty programs and other grocery store member accounts have many similarities.

Download the store’s app or go online with your computer. Sign up for a membership by handing over personal information, including your phone number and email. Programs will ask for other personal information, some mandatory, and ask you to declare a home store, the supermarket in the chain you use most often. That’s because weekly offers can vary by store, grocers say, and they want to get you the right discounts.

Once signed up, start clicking on digital coupons offered for products you use and, grocers hope, products you may be tempted to try. At the supermarket checkout, enter your phone number and your deals should ring up automatically.

No scissors, no paper cuts, no mess.

Loyalty programs track what you spend your money on. The more you spend, the more personalized enticements you will receive to part you from your dollars. Some also offer extra rewards and savings.

3. Rewards are a gas

gas pump photo
Photo (cc) by JeepersMedia

Several chains try to build shopper loyalty with gasoline discounts. Details vary, but here are the basics: For every dollar you spend, you earn a point, which may expire in a month. For each 100 points you accumulate, you get 10 cents a gallon off at the pump; if you have 200 points, 20 cents a gallon; 300 points, 30 cents a gallon, etc.

You may earn extra points for some items. Watch for promotions such as “4 Times Fuel Points” on gift card, frozen food or produce purchases.

Programs have caps. For example, Stop & Shop in the Northeast allows up to $2.20-a-gallon in savings. Kroger, with more than 2,600 stores in 34 states, caps the gasoline discount at $1 a gallon for participating stores under its various banners such as QFC, Fry’s and Ralph’s. In addition to its own gas stations, Kroger partners with Shell to offer fuel discounts.

Safeway’s cap is $1 a gallon at its own stations but only 20 cents in some Texaco and Chevron stations participating in its program. Worth noting: Competing brands and unbranded gas may already be 20 cents a gallon cheaper than Texaco and Chevron.

Fuel point programs may be running out of gas with customers. In a survey of 1,000 shoppers last March, 72 percent said they’d rather see grocery discounts than gasoline savings.

4. Savings in the aisle

Just For U shelf tag
A Safeway shelf tag shows a loyalty program price of three Diet Pepsi 6-packs for $9, but additional $1.01 savings with a Just For U digital coupon, which can be downloaded while you shop.

Safeway’s Just For U program offers members of its loyalty program, Safeway Club Card, additional savings “organized just for you” based on your shopping history, a Safeway spokesperson explained to Money Talks News. They can be loaded onto your club card from a computer or through a smartphone app. And if you didn’t download your special coupon before going to the store, you can do it while you shop. You can scan the bar code on a shelf tag with the Safeway app or just click on “add to card” from the digital offers on your app.

When everything works right, as in other programs, the savings automatically ring up at checkout.

5. Loyalty program returns

Jewel Osco in Chicago
Jewel Osco in Chicago

About two years after dropping its loyalty program to offer “low prices for all,” Illinois-based Jewel-Osco, part of the 33-state Alberstons chain, recently launched a loyalty program called MyMixx, which is also used at some of its sister stores, including Acme and Shaw’s in the Northeast.

The more you shop using your phone number and email address, the more personalized coupon offerings it will send you.

Albertsons and Safeway merged this year, and not all their stores offer loyalty programs. Some use contests while touting low prices to keep you coming back. You may know other stores in the merged chain locally as Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs, Lucky, Star Market, Super Saver, United Supermarkets, Market Street and Amigos.

Also of note, now that the merger is complete, Albertsons recently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission a proposed initial public offering of shares of its common stock. Timing and price have yet to be determined.

6. Haggen’s beckoning beacon may save your bacon

Haggen store
Newly expanded grocery chain Haggen will add a loyalty program featuring beacons.

The Alberstons-Safeway merger sparked the West Coast growth of Haggen markets. The former 18-store chain in the Pacific Northwest acquired 146 stores that Albertsons and Safeway had to give up to merge. It’s not doing so well, according to trade reports. But as it announced in mid-July that employee cutbacks could affect up to 1,000 workers, Haggen also revealed it would roll out a new customer loyalty program that “will allow for more personalized marketing.”

If you shop there, an “advanced machine-learning” system from Canada-based Unata will reach you through circulars, personalized web homepages and in-store beacons texting your smartphone to recommend products it has reason to think you would want. While it will help you organize your searches based on, say, organic, gluten-free or vegetarian products, the system is really on the store’s side, “driving revenue through increased transaction size, extended customer lifetime and improved conversion rates,” Unata says.

7. Going Publix

Publix account
Publix last year launched a loyalty program that just requires your email and phone number.

After years of shunning loyalty cards, Southeast supermarket powerhouse Publix, renowned for its loyal customer base, launched a cardless loyalty program last year. Just sign up online for a Publix account with your email and phone number and access digital coupons including its popular BOGOs, recipes, weekly ads and other services. Publix has an app for all of that, too, particularly aimed at millennials.

“Consumers want to shop online, so how can retailers do it profitably?” Ed Crenshaw, Publix CEO, asked at a grocers convention. “Technology for consumers is changing the game. Consumers want information at their fingertips.”

Shoppers will be able to get customized notifications about deals and coupons on their smartphones when they enter a store, Crenshaw said.

8. Where are my savings?

Grocery receipt inspection
Safeway grocery receipts show Club savings and Just For U coupon savings.

Sometimes after all the effort you spend downloading coupons, you checkout with disappointment.

Your savings didn’t show up, especially if you weren’t at your home store. You might not know until after your transaction is complete.

Check your receipt to see that you received all the promised savings. If you’re still in line, your cashier may cheerily help, even if it holds up shoppers behind you. If you’re carrying your smartphone, have your app — or a picture of the shelf tag you can take while shopping — ready to show to prove the store owes you the deal it promised.

Safeway told Money Talks News it advises customers to visit the customer service booth at their local store or contact their customer support center by phone or email, post to its Facebook page, or send a tweet to resolve a skipped discount.

9. Just go to Wal-Mart?

walmart photo
Photo (cc) by Walmart Corporate

Wal-Mart doesn’t have a traditional loyalty card program, but it did recently launch a “Savings Catcher” program to win back customers lured away by savings promised by competitors’ loyalty programs.

Start by downloading the Wal-Mart app to your smartphone and scan your Wal-Mart receipt (or enter the receipt on the Savings Catcher web page). Wal-Mart will scan advertising from supermarkets in your area.

“We’ll match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product,” Wal-Mart promises. You get the difference in the form of a Wal-Mart Rewards eGift Card. Spend the savings in the store or online.

The Wal-Mart program may also appeal to shoppers who find loyalty programs cumbersome. This message, posted on Safeway’s Facebook page suggests it’s a problem that may prompt some shoppers to move on:

Instead of forcing us to go thru your ad every week, read about each item and ‘click’ on what we might want, WHY can’t you just offer us the sale prices based on our Club Card?”

10. New way to pay and save

wegmans photo
Photo (cc) by _BuBBy_

Apple Pay and Google Wallet are accepted at hundreds of supermarkets across the nation. But Wegmans Food Markets, the top-rated, 86-store chain based in Rochester, New York, will be among the first supermarkets in the country to let customers redeem Shoppers Club discounts while using Apple Pay, the company announced recently.

Once the card is added to a Wallet app, a Wegmans customers will hold his or her iPhone near the payment terminal at checkout, place a finger on Touch ID, and the appropriate Shoppers Club discounts will be awarded, the grocer says. It will also work with an Apple Watch.

11. Rebate app links loyalty programs

Ibotta and Food Lion
Ibotta partners with supermarket loyalty programs, including Food Lion.

If you don’t mind answering questions or maybe sharing information on social media about your favorite brands, you can link your loyalty program membership from more than 30 grocery chains around the country to an Ibotta account and receive rebates.

Ibotta got its start by targeting millennial shoppers who no longer clip paper coupons, says TechCrunch. You still have to interact with a brand to get your rebate, but you won’t have to clip a paper coupon.

Loyalty programs aren’t the only way to save. And grocers know savvy shoppers often hop from store to store getting only the few sale items they really need and never filling a shopping cart at any one stop.

Just knowing supermarkets’ tricks of the trade can help you bag savings. What money-saving tips have you discovered at your grocery store? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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