Cagey Consumer

Consumer Reports "Thumbs Up" on Priceline Groceries

WebHouse Club is Priceline's entry into the the grocery business, extending the claim that you can "name your own price" to canned corn and the like. According to the February Consumer Reports article Groceries Online, consumers may be able to save 40% or more on the items purchased through their program.

At the moment, this program is available only in the New York metropolitan area. Since the trip from the Cagey Consumer's home in northern California to the participating supermarkets in New York is a bit long, the opinions stated here are based on conjecture rather than actual experience.

Around here, the large supermarkets chains print a percentage savings at the bottom of the receipt. This represents the difference between the purported "regular" price and the "sale" price they're giving it to you for. In any given product category, there's usually one brand or another on sale, commonly on a "buy one get one free" offer, meaning that the claimed savings buying that product would be 50%. When I get the receipt, the receipt typically shows that I've saved about 30%.

So here's my question for consumer reports:

Where are the articles on the 30% savings at Safeway???

Of course, the reason Consumer Reports doesn't print such articles is that these savings are illusory. It's not that I'm "saving" money by buying the items on sale, I'm just avoiding paying the inflated "regular" prices on non-sale items.

Which leads to another question: What were the folks at Consumer Reports smoking when they published this article? Jumping through Priceline's hoops to get a 40% savings is certainly no improvement over a 30% savings that you can get merely by looking for items with highlighted shelf tags.

Priceline is a bad deal for consumers because it forces consumers to make purchase decisions without being aware of the prices of other products available at the supermarket, while making exaggerated promises of savings. Besides that, it's just a waste of time.

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January 27, 2000