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Safeway program just for Hawaii at this time

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The "just for U" customer loyalty program introduced by California-based Safeway Inc. is a Hawaii-only phenomenon at the moment.

Some companies disregard Hawaii as a test market or for roll-outs of new programs for various reasons, one of them being that we are so ethnically diverse we are not representative of the larger U.S. population.

"Every market is a little different," said Mir Amir, senior vice president of marketing strategy, adding, "Hawaii’s been a great market for us. … We like (Hawaii) for a lot of business reasons."

"The primary purpose is to provide incremental value to shoppers … especially in this economy — in Hawaii’s economy," Amir said.

The just for U commercials look like national TV spots, but they are running only in Hawaii right now. They were created with an eye toward using them on the mainland when the program is expanded, said Mike Minasi, Safeway president of advertising. The company has not announced and executives did not divulge to "TheBuzz" when that might be, so we have just for U all to ourselves right now.

Hawaii-based Foodland claims Hawaii’s first grocery shopping loyalty card, having introduced its Maika’i Card nearly 15 years ago on Aug. 18, 1995. Representatives of Times Super Market and Star Markets, now under the same ownership, did not respond to queries.

The just for U program is an extension of the Safeway Club Card introduced several years ago. "Someone can argue, ‘What else can you do with grocery shopping?’ and I think what we’re doing here is just that," said Brian Dowling, vice president of public affairs. The program can help minimize or possibly eliminate the frustration of forgetting to bring paper coupons to the store, or finding previously forgotten coupons that already are expired.

To participate, shoppers with a Safeway Club Card register their card number in-store or online to receive additional savings, above and beyond advertised specials. Many are tailored to their purchase history.

Before hitting the aisles, shoppers log on to the website and scroll through various deals, clicking to choose desired discounted products. That information is then linked to the card number, and the savings are automatically realized at checkout.

Smart-phone-bearing customers can do it all on the fly. "The site works pretty well with an iPhone or Android-powered smart phone," said Minasi. Anyone using an iPad while shopping should perhaps tether the device to themselves, he chuckled.

To help minimize time spent online searching for stuff on sale, many of the deals are computer-sorted according to the cardholder’s purchase history, said Amir. Desktop users can print a shopping list the site will generate to remind them of deals in the weekly flier as well as additional savings from Safeway.com and affiliate sites linked therein.

Store receipts reflect Club Card and just for U savings separately. "It’s important that the customer has that transparency on the receipt, (to show) that the values they selected were in fact delivered," Minasi said.

To Amir’s knowledge, no fears have been expressed about computer security or any seeming "Big Brother" aspect of the store chain tracking a customer’s purchases. It’s all computer-driven, he explained.

Foodland’s Maika’i Card earns users points for each dollar spent and issues a rewards certificate each time the shopper spends $250. They can be redeemed for 5 percent off a purchase, a free or specially priced item, or for travel.

Of the rewards certificates redeemed, 50 percent are used for free or specially priced items, while the other 50 percent are used for the 5 percent overall purchase discount or are put toward travel, said Sheryl Toda, director of corporate communications.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at erika@staradvertiser.com.

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