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Saturday, October 22, 2011
Current Affairs ... Personal Reflections ...

Just a small thought here about something small. I.e., supermarket discount cards. I usually shop at the Bloomfield Shop Rite. I have my regular night and time to be there, stocking up for the week. It’s usually a low-drama experience, as it should be. The only ripple is when the checkout clerk asks for my Shop Rite card, as most of them do. Well, I don’t have one, and I have to tell them that. Some just shut right up and go on scanning my groceries, but some push the issue and say “oh, you forgot it then, what’s your phone number?”. So then I have to repeat that no, I don’t have a card at all. Once in a while, a sympathetic one asks if I want to sign up for a card. Would you like to come in from the cold and be like the rest of us, you outcast?

Well, the answer is still no (although I try to be gentle). I like being a Shop Rite outcast. I can’t understand why most every other customer has one, given the invasion of privacy that such a card entails. I mean, someone is tracking your weekly food and sundry purchases and sharing it across a variety of different corporate databases. Eating is a sacred thing for me, and I don’t want corporate America looking over my shoulder whenever I go to market, assembling a huge databank so as to “make my food shopping experience better”.

I wonder if other people even think of this; I wonder if they would be so quick to whip out the card if they knew just what Big Business Brother was doing to them. And for what? How much do they give you back in exchange for selling a significant chunk of your personal privacy?

They actually tell you. On the checkout slip at bottom, it usually says “you could have saved $x.xx today with the Shop Rite Card”. How much is that x.xx? I’ve never seen it go over $1.50. Usually it is about $0.50. I just found the receipt in the waste bin by my desk from my last shopping trip, and it says that I could have saved $0.33, out of a $35 bill. That’s less than 1%.

C’mon, Shop Rite, I’m not for sale. Not that cheaply, anyway. You’re gonna have to up the stakes before I’d consider selling out to you. We’d need to be talking in the range of $4 to $5 off each time before I’d let you into my kitchen pantry ($35 is about my average weekly food cost).

Is there anyone else out there thinking like this? Louisa from England had a short but interesting blog recently on this topic, together with a survey. Only 25% of survey voters are holding out, like myself; the other 75% either use loyalty cards most everywhere they shop (13%), or use them at least in some stores (62%). Louisa herself has one card but has some doubts about it; a handful of her commentators were also dismayed about sharing their gustatory lives with the corporate world.

Well, given that the rewards on a Shop Rite card are so low, it means that their prices are generally as low as possible; i.e., the non-cardholders are not subsidizing the card crowd very much. That’s good. But the psychology in the store, the sense that you need a card to really be part of the group here, is rather dismaying. Thank goodness there are a small handful of checkout clerks who are sympathizers; some are even empathetic enough to not ask me for a card. It’s almost like being part of the underground, seeking to subvert and change to world.

It’s not much of a challenge to the choke hold that big business has on our lives today, but at least it’s a start. As to whether those Occupy Wall Street people will wind up doing more, well, we shall see!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:35 pm      

  1. Jim, I certainly understand your point about companies keeping track of one’s buying habits–and I sympathize with it.

    However…. You are buying for one person who perhaps does not eat as much as some other men do. I do buy for a man who does not eat as you do, and I buy for myself. My grocery bill for a month far exceeds the between $150 and $160 you probably spend each month on groceries. The reasons why there is such a difference are obvious from one standpoint–more people eating means higher food cost. Any other reasons for the difference are neither here nor there; they just are. I should add that I am a very careful shopper and think I definitely know how to handle money efficiently.

    Originally, I did think that perhaps I’d forego the “card” that keeps track of one’s purchases. Then I saw the difference in my bill at the end of the month. Changed my mind about that. Then came the time when getting to the store was not something I could do easily. So I took to buying groceries from an online “grocery store”. They make a point of letting one know how well they keep track of what you order–and what you may want. Then there is Netflix, which also tells me what I will like or not like. (Oh no, you have no clue of what I might like or not like–both the groceries and the movies.)

    Same with coupons–a means of saving money. One year–maybe 20+ years ago–I wondered if all the trouble cutting coupons, searching for coupons was worth it. So I kept track for one year of the savings I had just by cutting coupons. Well, I’m not an extreme coupon-er as some people are, getting $500 worth of groceries for $1. But 20+ years ago I counted a savings of $300 a year with the coupons I cut. I decided that day to cut coupons and use them.

    As the amount spent on groceries went up (due to inflation and various change in eating habits), so did the savings with the checkout card and the coupons. That is, until recently in the economic downturn when stores notified shoppers that “expired” coupons would no longer be accepted. Since then I’ve regretfully had to throw away hundreds of dollars of savings. Literally. But on today’s grocery order of just over $200 I have coupons for $6.50. Not a lot, but over the year it will add up. Last month I got stiffed by the company on my coupons; I’ll see what happens this month.

    I think of my father years and years ago (back in the 1950s and 1960s, maybe even earlier as this was a particular thorn in his side) saying how the social security number required of everyone as ID was simply a way for the government to keep track of an individual. Was he paranoid? Maybe. But I still wonder if he was not right. I also remember back in the 1950s there was a movie called “The Snake Pit.” (Pretty sure that was the name of it.) It was about a woman who “they” knew positively was CRAZY because….she knew “by heart” her social security number. In those days NO ONE knew their social security number by heart. Today? Is there anyone who does NOT know his/her social security number by heart? Almost every time I am asked my social security number as proof of who I am, I wonder: Am I crazy like the woman in “The Snake Pit”? OR are we all crazy? I sometimes wonder. Or have times just changed so much that what was once crazy is not “not crazy.”

    And one last point: Some years ago, when I was still teaching–probably 20 years ago now, I mentioned to a class something about the “problem” of losing one’s privacy when the gov’t had access to one’s medical condition and care through various social services and medicare. They looked at me as if I were about as stupid as could be. What could possibly be the problem? was their attitude. Or maybe it was Who cares? (About the same I guess.)

    I tend to think that the younger generations have a different approach to privacy than some of us “older” folk. (Don’t mean to classify you in that group.) With Facebook, reality shows, and various other “tell all” Internet today and ways of “sharing” one’s life through technology today, I tend to think that today’s young people have a much different approach to privacy than the “older” generations. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — October 23, 2011 @ 11:14 am

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