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BOISE, Idaho - Albertsons on Wednesday unveiled "Preferred Customer" loyalty cards at its 183 Northern California supermarkets, becoming the last major grocery chain in the state to embrace the controversial membership club program, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Competing chains in the region, such as Vons and Ralphs have long been offering such programs.
Albertsons has maintained that its program's use is based on conditions in individual markets. But a customer-service representative at Albertsons' headquarters in Boise, Idaho, was telling callers on Wednesday that the cards will eventually be available at the firm's 48 outlets in San Diego County and throughout the rest of its U.S. network, according to the newspaper.
Albertsons already offers the promotion, which provides members with discounts, on products in parts of Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Texas, Florida and Oregon.
Consumer groups such as Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) slammed Albertsons for dropping its longstanding "No cards, no hassle" motto, but retail analysts said the chain has no choice but to add the cards, which have become popular with shoppers.
"Albertsons can't do without them because their major competitors are using them," said George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in San Marcos. "Loyalty cards bring customers into stores. It's too big a thing to ignore."
Opponents say loyalty programs allow companies to compile private data about their customers, from addresses to phone numbers, which could be sold to other marketers. They also contend that administration costs and other factors surrounding loyalty cards push up supermarket prices.
"Albertsons has become a multibillion-dollar mega-corporation with a voracious appetite for consumers' money, but no moral conscience," said Katherine Albrecht, CASPIAN's director.