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Best Friend or Big Brother?

People tend to get creeped out when they learn of stores tracking their shopping habits. Like when Target can predict a pregnancy. As a communications professional, I find these things interesting, but when I shared about it on my Facebook (a long time ago) a lot of people commented that tracking customer spending habits is “creepy” or an “invasion of privacy.”

In our culture we knowingly shop with trackable practices. We use credit cards. We use loyalty cards. We like free stuff. We like good deals. Why do many feel it’s gone too far to follow our habits and give us what we want?

I registered my Giant Eagle loyalty card online to start loading automatic discounts to my card for effortless grocery couponing. Not too long afterward we got a great set of personalized coupons in the mail along with a “rewards statement” tracking how much we’d saved on weekly specials, fuel perks and food perks. Each coupon was for something that we regularly purchase, like $1 off any produce or $1 off meat or cheese from the deli counter. There were six in total and the next time I was at the grocery store, I used five of them. We continue to receive coupons  based on our regular shopping habits and when I bought groceries on Tuesday I saved an extra $6 from these personalized offers.

We get free drinks at Starbucks because we registered our card and let them keep a log of how many drink we purchase.

There’s a mutually beneficial relationship in these sorts of programs. Stores can find out what they’re regular customers want the most or what hardly ever leaves their shelves. They can win over business by offering you discounts on products that you might need for the next stage of your life or for your next cookout. As a consumer, you can save money at the places you already shop and improve your relationship with their regular haunts.

Sure some tracking sounds like Big Brother, but does sending you coupons mean that companies are going to steal your personal information? Do loyalty programs mean that a store can control your actions?

No and No.

It’s a tactic for building better relationships because after all, Marketing 101 (103 if you took my Intro to Marketing class) tells you that it’s way less expensive to maintain a relationship with a customer you already have than to build a whole new relationship with a whole new customer.

The brands just want to be your best friend… or some sort of friend.

Still feeling a bit paranoid? Don’t want to be tracked? Then don’t use a loyalty card when you shop and pay with cash.

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How can only two people shop at Costco?

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How can only two people shop at Costco?

Brad was recently asked why we shop at Costco when we’re only two people. A lot of single people and couples don’t even consider warehouse club memberships because they don’t think there is any possible way that purchasing things in bulk makes sense for them. Even as a family of two, we’ve found some excellent reasons to buy in bulk.

We joined Costco when Brad started working at his old company, there was an employee perk available so we checked it out and decided that it was worth the membership, and still is. Here’s what we get at Costco, and why.


  • Most often Costco’s gas is significantly less expensive. The last time we filled up it was 8 cents a gallon less than the gas stations on my way home and 12 cents a gallon cheaper than the one across the street. The gas savings that we experience each year make up for our annual membership.

Home Products

  • We purchase tissues, toilet paper, papertowels and napkins when they’re in the Costco coupon book and they last the two of us for a very long time.
  • Diswasher tablets, laundry detergent, fabric softener and Lysol wipes. These things don’t really expire and we don’t have to buy them very often. The wipes came with 3 containers packaged together which is perfect for keeping one in each bathroom and one under the kitchen sink.
  • Garbage and recycling bags.

It was especially nice having all of the home products in large quantities when we were painting and pulling up carpet in the house before we moved in.


  • Vitamins and OTC allergy medication. We found our vitamins and allergy medication like Zyrtec were significantly less expensive when bought in bulk.
  • We buy my contacts through Costco and received big rebates for buying a six month supply. Name-brand frames were also less expensive.
  • I hate running out of juice boxes for low treatments, so we get them by the flat for less.

After doing some research we did find that alcohol wipes and glucose tablets were not a deal at the warehouse club.


  • Glucerna and V8 juice are much more affordable in bulk (also juice boxes). Since diabetes especially hates me in the mornings, I drink a Glucerna for breakfast at least 5 days a week. It’s the only thing that works. Brad enjoys V8 fusion juice as a way to up fruit and vegetable intake, plus it’s convenient.
  • When we’re having people over for anything, we usually get the refreshments at Costco. Whether it’s bakery muffins, wine, crackers, chips, fresh ground beef for the grill or fruit/vegetable trays it makes entertaining more affordable.
  • I’m always impressed at the produce section in our Costco. They consistently have excellent asparagus and green beans.
  • Soup, cereal, salsa and frozen items.

That list doesn’t include the non-bulk items like electronics, gifts and books that we’ve saved on there as well.

I wish I could give you a dollar amount or percent of our budget that we’ve saved by purchasing certain items in bulk, but I can’t. We joined Costco when we still lived in an apartment so we had to figure out some storage space for the paper towels, toilet paper and tissues, but it worked out just fine. There are still some things that a family of two shouldn’t buy in bulk, highly perishable things like fruit, eggs and most dairy products will expire long before we’re able to finish them… if we had a family of five, that might be a different story.

What items do you save the most on by buying in bulk?

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Black Thanksgiving

I’ve never been swept up in the madness of black Friday shopping. I’ve never waited in a line at 5am for a crazy deal. Yes, I’ve done some light Christmas shopping on Black Friday, almost always in the afternoon when the mobs have gone home to nap.

Last year, stores were starting their sales at midnight and I rolled my eyes at how early they were opening and didn’t participate.

This year, it’s worse. And by worse, I mean it’s terrible.

Many chains are starting Black Friday sales at 8pm. On Thanksgiving.

I’m not thankful. I feel bad for the people who have to leave their families on a national holiday of giving thanks to prepare for and then deal with greedy, inconsiderate shoppers. The stores are opening at this time because they know that consumers will jump when they tell them to. There will probably be people completely changing their long-standing Thanksgiving traditions to hit the sales. My question is: Is it worth it?

I say no.

I don’t think that consumers realize how much power they have. If they don’t line up for an 8pm opening this year, the stores won’t be opening at 8pm next year. If they do line up for an 8pm opening this year, next year more stores will open at 8 and in following years it will creep closer and closer to our day of giving thanks.

At 8p.m. on Thanksgiving, I will be spending time with loved ones and I won’t be shopping.

Before you schedule a short Thanksgiving and plot a strategic approach to get one or two coveted items, think about whether that gift could be obtained from a small business on Small Business Saturday or ordered online. Think about the people stocking the shelves on Thanksgiving or running the checkouts. They would probably prefer to be with their families. Can you blame them?

That’s my two cents. What are your thoughts on the new starting times for Black “Friday”?

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