Preferred customer card legality?

I was at the supermarket today, waiting in line at the checkout behind a woman. When the cashier asked her if she had a preferred customer card, the woman sternly said “No, but you will give me the discount price anyway because PCC’s are an illegal rebate under the (some guy’s name)-(some other guy’s name) act.” Sorry I don’t remember the act she quoted, I think it was Roberts-something or something like that. Anyway, the cashier pulled out a new card and grudgingly swiped that.

So, are these cards legal? I don’t see why several major supermarket chains would do something illegal so openly, or why no lawyers have started a class-action lawsuit yet.

Well, the customer must have been wrong, because the cashier didn’t shamefacedly cave (“yeah, you got us dead to rights”) and “give her the discount anyway because the cards are illegal”–the cashier just basically issued her a card, and swiped it.

And a quick check of Google shows that it’s the conspiracy theorists who seem to think Preferred Customer Cards ought to be illegal.

http://www.nocards.org/feedback/2002-01-29-28comments.shtml

Uh huh. :rolleyes:

I’m guessing the cards have to be legal, JJ, because if they were illegal, these people would be howling bloody murder and picketing the Kroger store 24/7. And they’re not, so therefore the cards must be legal.

I think the preferred customer cards work something like a coupon, and coupons certainly aren’t illegal. All it is is an enticement to buy certain products.

The real issue with these cards (and I’ve got three of them from different stores) is that they’re occasionally rather invasive. They’re used to help the store collect information on its customers. They want to know what people of a given demographic are buying so each store can carry products that will sell, but also make the store a profit. If, say, my neighborhood Kroger sells a LOT of Coke products, and it’s in a largely elderly neighborhood, they can extrapolate that all their stores that serve elderly customers should stock a lot of Coke.

Do I like this invasion? Nope. But if it makes my grocery bill cheaper, then it’s worth it. At least they don’t pack my mailbox with junk.

Robin

After a little searching on Google, I think I found the law she quoted. It was the Robinson-Patman Act. To

[quote the statute]
(http://www.lawmall.com/statutes/rpa_x13a.html):

I’m not a lawyer, and I can’t make much sense of this. It seems that it applies to deliberately selling below cost for the purpose of driving competitors out of business. I don’t see how this applies to PCC’s.

That’s exactly what I’m thinking, too.

Somehow I think the Robinson-Patman Act is aimed at big companies to keep them from using predatory pricing schemes to drive competitors out of business.

And not to prevent grocery stores from giving people 50 cents off of a box of Cheerios.

IANAL, but it sounds like the Robinson-Patman Act refers to predatory dumping, not discounting per se. Cards here in the UK are perfectly legal as nobody is disadvantaged by not having one, you’re getting the standard price for your goods, and there are no barriers to getting one, such as a certain income, colour, religion etc. Basically you are selling a company information on your shopping habits, and getting a discount on your purchas in return.

Regardless of the actual merits of the OP, this hardly seems like good evidence. Supermarket cashiers are not lawyers, to put it kindly. Nor are they paid to fight with customers. Their incentives are to make problems go away. Which this one did quite aptly.

I’ve often wondered about this myself. At two different stores I patronize I am always asked if I have the “Super-Secret-Special-Buddy-Club” card or whatever its called. I always respond in the negative and the cashier always pulls one out of his or her apron a swipes it. I used to think they were just being nice (or maybe…just maybe that cute high school chick was flirting with me by giving me the discount…maybe), but then I got to wondering. Perhaps they are required (by law?) to give everyone the discount, and the club membership is just a way of getting your name on their mailing list, and the card swipe a method of tracking your purchases so they can more effectively target their mailings. Otherwise why would the cashier always have a card at the ready, and why would they give me a discount I wasn’t technically entitled to?

[slight hijack] I HATE those cards with a passion. When my favorite market, Fresh Fields, started using them I complained to the manager on duty each time I shopped there (which is about once a week).

Eventually enough people complained, I guess, because Fresh Fields did away with those hell-spawned cards.

One small victory at a time…[/slight hijack]

[hijack]
A friend of mine in the States, furious at being made to pay over the odds but even more furious at the prospect of a permanent record of when his wife bought feminine hygiene products, registered for one of these cards over the Internet and had it delivered to a a friend’s P.O. box. “Jorge Orwelo” is now quite the happy shopper!
[/hijack]

It was late for me last night when I found the R-P Act so I didn’t really understand it. After looking at it again today, I think I can see how a conspiracy theorist or someone who really hates the cards could interpret it to be an illegal discount, available only to those in a special club. I still don’t think they’re illegal though because the “special club” is freely open to all who chose to join.

BTW, if you don’t want the store to have your personal information, simply don’t fill out the form. When I got my PCC, they gave me the form to fill out and return later, which I never did (for no reason other than sheer laziness) and the card still works fine.

Well, my Kroger store regularly gives you a whopping 50% off on big-ticket items like meat if you have the “Kroger card”. I don’t have any problem with privacy issues if I can get boneless round steak for $1.49 a pound.

we’ve established what you are, Ms. Goose–now the only thing that remains is to establish a price

I admit it–I’m a meat counter whore

:smiley:

When Jewel first started issuing their “Preferred Customer” cards in Chicago, Dominicks started making a big deal in their ads about how “all our customers are preferred customers” and “we won’t make you carry a card to save money at our stores.”
A few months later, IIRC, they started their “Fresh Values” card program.:smiley:

And I’ve had cashiers use a store card when I forgot mine, or hadn’t gotten it out of my wallet when they started ringing up my sales.

Possibly the store gives discounts or special offers to customers that spend a certain amount of money (some supermarkets in my area used to do this). The card could belong to a friend of the cashier’s.