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SEATTLE - Albertsons introduced its Preferred Savings Card at stores in Seattle last week, making it the last of the three dominant grocery chains in the area to roll out customer-loyalty cards, The Seattle Times reports. Safeway and Kroger-owned QFC already have the programs in place.
Some customers have said were shopping at Albertsons just to bypass the loyalty cards. Now they must decide if they will remain loyal to the Boise, Idaho-based chain.
Mike Clawson, president of Albertsons' Northwest division, said that by adding the cards, the company "can focus on our customers and spend our money more carefully to offer the products and services our customers want."
However, at Safeway and QFC, the loyalty card programs spurred a backlash from customers who raised concerns about privacy and two-tiered pricing. Albertsons is hearing similar complaints. But Clawson said focus groups with Seattle-area shoppers left little doubt that most customers will sign up for the cards if they include perks.
"What we found out is, they like them if there's some substance to them," Clawson said. "What we heard was, 'You've got to give us some benefits. We will be loyal shoppers if there's enough benefits tied to these cards.' "
Albertsons' cards offer automatic sweepstakes entries, modest savings on future purchases, and the option of applying a percentage of purchases to college savings accounts.
One analyst noted that independent grocery stores and smaller chains may be able to capitalize on some of the controversy surrounding loyalty cards by touting the fact that they don't have them.
Paul Kapioski, owner of the West Seattle Thriftway, said his store has gained shoppers who have shunned loyalty-card programs at competing stores.
"Once everybody has it, it's no longer a novelty or a competitive advantage," Kapioski said. "We won't be going in that direction."
Ronna Kowal, a retired Renton school employee who lives in Port Orchard, told the newspaper she was livid when she returned from a recent vacation and discovered that Albertsons had added loyalty cards.
"I'm not a nutcase, a political activist or a privacy freak," Kowal said. "I just feel that for something as basic as buying groceries, you shouldn't have to be a card-carrying member of an organization. You have to buy into their monitoring system in order to get those prices."
Kowal said she's now shopping for groceries at Fred Meyer, which doesn't have a card -- yet. Spokesman Rob Boley said the company, also owned by Kroger, is developing a card that will be used to reward frequent customers but won't be required for the lowest prices.