Giant Food Inc., the Baltimore area's largest supermarket chain, is joining the ranks of retailers offering frequent-shopper cards as a way to boost business and target its marketing.
Giant's BonusCard, unveiled yesterday, will be offered to consumers starting Sept. 10. Customers who sign up for a card can get discounts on more than 3,000 items each week and earn credit toward cash grants for schools. They'll also be eligible for giveaways and for discounts from other retailers and for admissions to local attractions.
"You need to make sure customers maximize what they get when they visit your store," Bernie Ellis, Giant's executive vice president of merchandising, said yesterday. "It's important in today's environment, for competitive reasons, to be able to do that."
Other large grocery retailers offer cards, including Safeway and Super Fresh, which has offered its Bonus Savings Club Program for seven years. Safeway introduced a card in the early 1990s, then put out a newer version, the Safeway Club Card, eliminating the need to clip coupons.
"It is a successful marketing strategy," said Greg TenEyck, a spokesman for Safeway's Eastern Division. "We have been pleased with the results."
Giant has spent two years doing consumer and market research on its program. The chain found that even though it puts certain items on sale each week, consumers did not perceive that they were getting a deal.
The cards will also allow Giant to track consumer buying patterns, target marketing efforts and better control costs, Ellis said. Giant said it will keep all customer information confidential.
Many retailers tout such cards as ways to better know and serve the customer. But few companies have used the information effectively, said Jeffrey Metzger, publisher of Columbia-based trade journal Food World.
"The marketing, to me, has been a lot of promise and not so much delivery," Metzger said.
Metzger said he views Giant's program as a new direction in marketing by the chain's Dutch owner of two years, Royal Ahold NV. The U.S. division, Ahold USA, has introduced cards at each of its chains. In the past, Giant believed club cards were not right for its customers, Ellis said.
"One of the arguments, in general, has always been the card in a sense discriminates," Metzger said.
But Ellis said the card will be easy to use, and that he expects a good response from shoppers.