CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering

What Savings?

Kroger "Card Savings" Exposed as a Sham
John Vanderlippe CASPIAN

[Coupon Image 3]
"The images on this page show Kroger's sale price before the card, and the same item after the card started. Where are the extra savings we were promised?"


I've long been opposed to supermarket cards, and I refused to shop at stores that insist on looking over my shoulder at everything I buy. Until earlier this year, that meant shopping at Kroger -- the last bastion of free shopping here in Bloomington, Indiana. Then on a dark day in February, Kroger's dreaded 'Plus' card came to town. Unfortunately, there are now no major supermarkets left here that offer card-free shopping. I either shop anonymously at Kroger and pay higher prices or submit to Big Brother in my grocery cart.

Or I fight back!

The Study

Archie Fralin, a Kroger spokesperson, recently reassured shoppers with the following cheery news about the card: "Kroger regularly advertises 90 to 150 better-selling items weekly at sale prices. The number of items on sale won't increase -- except during an introductory period -- but certain prices will be lower than ever. And the deeper discounts will continue after the introductory period." [Editor's note: click here for the source of this quote and to read more about Kroger's insistence on card usage elsewhere.]

In order to find out just how much deeper these discounts were going to be, I did a study comparing the prices advertised before the card started with advertised prices after the card's inception.

I collected Kroger's advertising circulars for the 4 weeks prior to theircomparative ad number 1 decision to track my shopping habits, and then for 6 weeks after they started requiring the card. (I skipped the first two weeks of the card program because I suspected Kroger would 'push' the card more during that period and perhaps actually offer some real savings. The proof would be in the sale prices after the hoopla died down.) Once I had all ten weeks of ads gathered up, I sat down to compare the savings. Click here to see details on how prices were gathered and compared.

The Results

The results did not surprise me, but they may surprise those that think the card is the best thing since sliced bread. Looking at Kroger advertising circulars for weeks 3 through 6 after the card was introduced, I found a lot of the exact same items on sale as were advertised before the card. So my first obvious realization was that sales on these items have existed all along. Where's the benefit for the consumer in suddenly needing a card to get a sale price?

But here's the real problem. Kroger promises that I will save money with the card. So the sale prices after the card should be a lot lower than the sale prices before the card, just like Mr. Fralin claimed, right? Trouble is, they're not.

The table below shows items that appeared in Kroger's post-card ads that had also been on sale just before the card went into effect. It compares how many prices were higher, lower, or the same.

Comparison of higher, lower, or equal prices
Week Higher price Lower price Equal price
Week 3 6 4 13
Week 4 5 4 15
Week 5 8 4 9
Week 6 5 1 14
Totals 24 13 52

Table 1: How Kroger sale prices stack up after "Plus" card introduced

So much for Kroger's claim that these cards save us money. The majority of prices remained unchanged, and nearly twice as many prices were actually higher after the card, than were lower! Kroger's claims of "deeper discounts" is a sham. Perhaps it's just me, but if I'm supposed to hassle with carrying around a card and breaking it out each time I shop, I would like to see some benefit in exchange. And I don't appreciate Kroger's misstatements about it, either!

Next I compared the totals in dollars and cents. I took each item that appeared in both the pre-card and post-card advertisments, with pre-card prices averaged as applicable, and totaled the grocery bill as if I had purchased one of each sale item. Here's what I found:

Cost differential in groceries
Week pre-card price post-card price difference
Week 3 $58.08 $60.09 +$2.01
Week 4 $84.94 $83.28 -($1.66)
Week 5 $48.11 $49.02 +$0.91
Week 6 $49.66 $51.71 +$2.05
Totals $240.79 $244.10 +$3.31

Table 2: Comparison of sale prices before and after the Kroger "Plus" card

You can see from the table that in 3 out of 4 weeks you actually paid MORE than before the cards, and the one week where there actually was a discount, it was minimal. Over the four weeks the total cost increase was $3.31, or roughly 1.5%. It makes perfect sense that this would be the case. After all, producing those cards and analyzing that data is expensive, and the store is not going to absorb that cost -- they are going to pass it on to the consumer.

Obviously, this study only focused on the advertised sale prices and does not reflect any non-advertised sale prices or the store's standard prices. With thousands of items it would be an impossible task for a consumer to research and maintain a database of the entire store. There is no way of knowing if any of the non-sale prices in the stores also went up during this time period to help defray the cost of the implementation of the card.


If I keep shopping at Kroger, not only will I have to carry around another card to dig out each time I visit the cashier so a mega-corporation can track my moves and comparative ad number 2attempt to push more advertising on me, I'll have to PAY for that privelege. It's disgusting that we shoppers are paying financially for losing our right to a personal life free from invasion by marketers. And it appears that the marketers are lying all the way to the bank.

The time to act is now. Write your local grocery store and tell them why you are no longer going to do business with them. You can let Kroger know how you feel by filling out the form at their website. Tell them that not only do you detest having them track your moves, you resent having to pay for it. Draw the line in the sand now, before every business in the U.S. decides what a wonderful idea it is to charge their customers so they can track and target them with more advertising.

- May 2000, Bloomington, Indiana