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Sneaky Safeway: The mark-ups behind the bargains

February 2, 2009

A cunning, but annoying, pricing game appears to be afoot at Safeway. The chain seems to be raising its prices on some items, and then offering the items at two for the price of one.

For instance, one-pound bags of pistachios were selling for $6.99 before Christmas. Now they sell for $9.99, but with a deal: buy one, get one free. With the 2-for-1 deal, they really cost $5.00 a pound. But if for some reason you don’t want two bags, they’re $10.00 a pound. Go figure. We go through a lot of pistachios, so it’s a good deal for us, while the 2 for 1 lasts. When it’s over, I go back to Trader Joe’s.

Safeway egg prices have taken an irrational turn. The “family pack” of 18 eggs costs $5.99, or $4.00/dozen, for ordinary Lucerne large eggs that cost $2.49/dozen when you buy a 1-dozen carton!

The reasonable consumer thinks she is saving money when buying a large-size “family” pack, but this is not the case with Safeway’s eggs. However, the guileful store has the family packs 2 for 1, or $2.00/dozen. The real test of Safeway’s guile will be if the price of the family pack goes down after the 2-for-1 offer is discontinued. Eggs keep a fairly long time, so I bought two 18-packs.

Target sells eggs for $1.49/dozen, but they were out of eggs today when I went for cat food, which is .52/can at Target, compared with .65/can at Safeway. The two stores are equally close to my home. It never used to occur to me to buy groceries at Target, but this is a new era. I compare prices of everything, everywhere I go for anything.

Moral of the story: If you can’t add, subtract, multiply, and divide in your head, bring a calculator to the store. Figure out whether a high-volume pack is really cheaper per unit than a regular size–it might be more expensive.

If coupons result in spending more because the store brand is cheaper than the name brand on the coupon, even with the coupon, forget the coupon. Always check to see whether there’s a better buy on another brand. Coupons are usually offered to encourage purchases of more expensive items, or items you don’t ordinarily purchase, which is why I almost never use coupons.

Shopping is tricky these days, but it’s good mental exercise. By the time I’m out of the store, I’m automatically calculating the percentage difference between the sums of two license plate numbers in the parking lot.

  1. Vic permalink
    February 2, 2009 12:49 pm

    Excellent work and good exercise! Ninja shopping is in the ascendancy, so to speak.

  2. February 2, 2009 12:59 pm

    I notice this too — the raising of prices on two for one items. It’s still sometimes a savings but sometimes not, over off brands or lower priced stores. Sometimes Wal-mart’s ‘bulk’ of the same item is yes, *more expensive* than the item in a smaller amount. & Ruben and I have noticed that Walmart and other stores have been practicing a different form of guile — advertising things in the aisles at a lower price than they ring up for in the checkout. How many people are watching that closely? and of those who are — how many of us are willing to put up a fuss and demand a pricecheck? Thanks for the tips — it does seem like stores that run sales make it up out of you and then some in some way, unless you are careful to buy only the really good deals.

    When I get out more in the Spring I plan to start with trying to go to one extra store besides Walmart, every couple weeks — it seems a reasonable place to start with learning how to be a better shopper, and I can at least take advantage of the best sales in the flyers that way.


    Anyone who can trudge Walmart and still have enough neurons to demand a price check is definitely my idea of a Ninja!–Lauren

  3. February 2, 2009 1:38 pm

    I didn’t jump onto the roof, but the egg story did reach near-Ninja proportion. They didn’t actually have two 18-packs without broken eggs, and I didn’t want to handle broken eggs to exchange them from other boxes. When I got to the check-out, I had a 1-dozen box, and I fussed that they didn’t have two boxes of the 2-for-1 eggs and asked if I could have the dozen at the same unit price. The cashier called one Mustafa, who was having his break at 9:55, to find two family packs and bring them up. Happily, the customer waiting in line behind me was very supportive, because the register was tied up. After several minutes of our all smiling at one another, Mustafa didn’t come, so Johnny, the bagger, ran back and got two 18-packs of unbroken eggs, and I was on my way.

    It’s your excellent work that provides the leisure for me to engage in such assiduous Ninja shopping expeditions.

  4. February 2, 2009 3:58 pm

    “Ninja-shopping,” I like it. Good calculations. Thankfully my cell phone has a calculator “built-in,” so I turn to it often.

    Along these lines, I used to be impressed that Kohl’s always had significant (30% off or more) sales going on in some department or other. Then I paid closer attention to the “off” part: 40% off what? A horrible price! So most of the “sales” only bring the prices down closer to the MSRP. It’s taught me to be more skeptical about the percentage and more thoughtful about whether the item is simply worth the price or not.


    In my experience, the MSPR is completely fictive and skyward of reality. From there, the markdowns are a grudging nod to the realities of the marketplace.–Lauren

  5. Jane permalink
    February 6, 2009 8:22 am

    Hey, I’ve got the solution: shop at GoodWill, where everything’s cheaper by far…..alas, no eggs….but when I was in Japan some 30+ years ago eggs were dirt cheap. (They were never refrigerated, but I never contracted salmonella.) Beef was, and still is from what I’ve heard, $7 a pound, so stay with shopping for meat in the US. Maybe someday GoodWill will have a refrigerated section and we can rack up the deals. If you qualify for a bail out, you can zoom back and forth in a private jet in the meantime and comparison-shop. Hopefully, Japan hasn’t caught on to the scam of the 2-for-1 deals yet.

  6. May 7, 2009 3:21 pm

    Just a tip — you probably know, but many of Safeway’s tags do the math for you in very small print. It often says something like, “$1.35 per pound” or “35 cents per unit.” I think it’s in the upper right corner. Their sales tags don’t always do this sort of breakdown, though.
    Thanks for the tip. :)

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