EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This is my review of Safeway’s Drive-Up-And-Go Curbside Shopping System Technology as used nearly exclusively between March 2020 and May 2021, two different Safeway stores in the bay area of California. The situation is shitty and I encourage no one to use it ever.
THERE WAS THIS GLOBAL PANDEMIC so what I thought I’d do is not go outside ever for any reason whatsoever, forever. This was an unattainable, though noble, goal. I made some compromises, but since my regular grocery stores weren’t providing any sort of curbside service, I thought I’d try Safeway’s. Safeway, an international supermarket chain I was usually able to avoid for months on end because 95% of their products were not appealing to me for a long list of reasons, became my “local” for the next year and change. [visibly shudders] So. Let’s walk through the highlights.
You have the option of either consulting the safeway.com domain to order products or to download their “app.” I don’t download “apps” because I only use my cellphone to remind me every three days that I don’t use my cellphone. The first thing your eyes will be drawn to on the website once you’ve made an account is a giant image with a big “$20 OFF + FREE DELIVERY” and then in tiny print “on your first order.” it’s always there, even after order #73. It eats up about 25% of the page. It is not necessary after your first order is completed. Online prices are a little higher than shopping at the store because [reason], and then there are all the little hoops you get to jump through to bring that price down. There’s “Personalized Prices,” randomized reductions, two-for-ones, immediate reductions, “Just for U” price cuts, reward points (“it’s All About U”), weekly coupons, weekly app-only coupons, and Friday-only sales. I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
Adding an exciting wrinkle to all of this, if you order on WEDNESDAY and set the pickup for a subsequent day -- THURSDAY, let’s say -- your sad, flailing attempts at couponing like the pros is applied on THURSDAY. For example, if there’s some random reduction on the price of your favorite ice cream flavor (Jen & Berry’s “Lug Nuts & Unalloyed Grief”) for two weeks and you are motivated to order that ice cream because it’s $3.29 and not $5.99, and you check out on Wednesday and the sale ends at 11:59pm on that same day (you are never informed of this) and you’re picking up groceries the next day ... you’re picking up a six-dollar ice cream, champ (to head off the obvious: you ASK what day they’re picking up stuff FIRST, then while they’re grazing you show coupons for THAT day, and if they CHANGE the day, you show ’em ALL THE CHANGES INCURRED ... this is just lazy bullshit).
It gets better.
Every week, Safeway sends out a printed coupon sheet to, I guess, every mailing address in the United States.
The last page of that mailer is entirely devoted to *FRIDAY* and all the exciting deep-cut “club prices” you can take advantage of on that glorious day. But ...
A) You can’t take advantage of them. By the time your little online order is processed Friday morning, hordes of sale-lovin’ IRL folk have already hoovered up all of the sale inventory IRL. A GIANT SUBMARINE SAMMICH FOR FIVE DOLLARS? No, not for you. ENTIRE ONE-POUND TRAY OF SIGNATURE SELECT™ VARIETY CHEESECAKE FOR ALSO FIVE DOLLARS? Heh ... hell no. Probably gone at [Opening Hour]+1min. SUSHI FOR ... FIVE DOLLARS? Also no, but also also no because you can’t order sushi online for whatever reason. You can order booze, but not sushi. I don’t know. World o’ mystery, is what it is.
B) Remember that thing about ordering the previous day? Yeah, your receipt shows full price for whatever you wanted, then the next day when you pick up your order you’ll see a bunch of REASON CODE 01 (“Out of Stock”) in the spaces for the amazing Friday deals you’re not getting. This is like clockwork, it’s all according to plan. It’s running smoothly. When you do actually get something that you want and is on sale on a Friday, you’ll cry big sobby tears of relief or roll your eyes, one or the other.
You’re rolling your eyes because you’ve been ordering for months now, and you’ve started to adjust the quantity you order to plan for the random/continual outages. So if you want to order $70 of groceries (because you have a budget, because you don’t want anything to spoil, etc.), what you do is “over-order” $90+ of groceries, and then (usually) it turns out Safeway is out of $20 or so groceries which puts you back in the ballpark. This works fairly well until that one rare day (happened twice in a year) when you hit the ordering jackpot and you get everything you over-ordered. “WE GOT IT ALL, JACKASS” So now you’re juggling the living hell out of all the perishable items you’ve unfortunately over-stocked up on. I’m just one guy and this broke-ass methodology is profoundly irritating ... I cannot imagine what a pain in the ass this would be ordering for a family of four, say.
Fridays were also weird in that Safeway Mothership told me that “some stores don’t honor some Friday sales.” I want you to think about this. If you thought you were going to beat the Friday crowd with a Thursday order scheduled to go off at 8am Friday, you may be ordering something that may not be on sale Friday, and ... there’s no way to know because the coupon doesn’t show up or not show up until Friday. So anyway, just guess I guess.
The “rewards” portion also had a coupon every week that encouraged you to spend, spend spend to get exciting REWARD POINTS. If you spent, say, $60 dollars, you’d get TWO reward points. So you did it, you spent EIGHTY dollars just to well-clear that goddamn sixty dollar hurdle to get those two damn reward points. Turns out, we ain’t got $30 of those groceries, so your total is $50. I am so sorry. That’s not enough to get your valued TWO REWARD POINTS. Stick it. [REWARD POINTS were designed for families, getting enough points to actually be able to redeem them for CASH OFF or AN AVOCADO or whatever was nearly impossible for one person before they expired ... the points, not the person]
The other thing I would do is order multiple brands of certain particular products that were what I would call common “baseline” groceries. We’re not going to go into it, but I’m on a restricted diet because I’m trying to avoid hospital visits in general, especially during the Special Pandemic Special. So if I don’t keep my baseline stocked, I’m not eating. Time and time again, I’d order four different brands of one of my baseline products, and ... perhaps you’ve figured this out already ... they’d be out of all four. Repeatedly. I don’t know, imagine ordering four different type of eggs and Safeway’s all “sorry, no eggs for you this time. Try back in a week?” This doubly-irked me when making meal plans: I need three items to build Food Thing X. So I ordered two different brands of one item, three of the second, two of the third. Sorry, don’t have the first item at all. Don’t have the third item at all. But we’re going to get you that second item, which is going to expire in your fridge by the time you actually get the other stuff that goes with it. A surprising number of products are around for a month and disappear, seemingly forever. I don’t get the impression that this is entirely the fault of COVID-compromised supply lines.
Now combine that with over-ordering. See? Fun.
When I first rolled into the online excitement I landed smack dab in the middle of Safeway’s annual Monopoly sweepstakes. For online people, what they did was add another line to your printed invoice that indicated how many cards you would have received had the people that packed your bags ever put in the cards, even once. At the end of the campaign, I successfully did not receive over 70 Monopoly sweepstakes cards. Just assuming they were all losers.
The whole coupon experience seems daft, transferred to the online realm. You’re a computer, figure it out, give me the lowest price, don’t make me hunt for little checkboxes, miss other little checkboxes. Are you insinuating that there are people who may not want lower prices? I do not believe you.
Aside: this thing.
Let’s get back to ordering. You put your products in a cart, then you have the option to write special instructions for the person packing your order. I got used to writing “no substitutions for anything, please.” Even though the very next section is all about substitutions. For each item, you can check one of the following:
Same brand, different size (Recommended)
Same size, different brand
I’d check off “No substitutions” for every product and write the same in the special instruction field. All of these precautions were easily ignored by the packers. Over and over again.
“I would like one mango, please.”
“Got it. A case of mangoes. Hold on ... we’re out. Let me just charge you for the case, though.”
“One case of mangoes: $$$Boom$$$.”
“I want three bananas.”
“Six bananas, you got it.”
“I would like ‘Boars Head’ muenster cheese.”
“How about I get one of the deli guys to slice you up some of our muenster cheese. Yeah, screw it. Let me call him.”
“I said no substitutions. Twice.”
“Hello, Frank? Guy here wants some of your delicious muenster cheese. Roll it out.”
“I have ordered the non-garbage variety of Product X.”
“Hahaha, we’re out of that. Here’s the very product you were trying to avoid.”
I would re-add certain products again and again, every single time I ordered, and every single time they’d be out. I know I ordered cake pops about 15 times, up until the last time, not that I wanted cake pops. I think the first time I ordered them I was just clowning because they were $2 or some such. Then when I did not receive my jokey cake pops, I thought, well, we’ll see about that. I guess we didn’t ever see about it.
On the flip side, this particular Safeway advertised chunks of Tilamook cheddar cheese, normally $6.99 or such, yours now for twenty-one cents. So I ordered three because: bargains. It went through. The next day, I’m staring at twenty one dollars of cheese when I’m handed the receipt along with expensive orange bricks. It stayed at twenty-one cents (online only) for about five months. Ace.
Oh right, we’re still going through a typical ordering odyssey. So you set your time, barf out your credit card number, click okay. Then usually at your appointed time, they send a few texts out: hey, food. Come get food. Clowns usually park in the four spots reserved for curbside and walk in, so you park somewhere else. Then you call the number on the curbside parking sign. This is the fun part. That number doesn’t really ... exist anywhere. It just floats from packer to packer. And sometimes they bobble the handoff, so you get the message “the user has not set up a voice mailbox for this number” or some such. Or the person doesn’t answer. About a third of the time. So you call the main store, and I figured out what selection properly transferred me to curbside the most, so I’d call that. [Long sentence about the culture of people passing along arcane unwritten knowledge on how to navigate Safeway's shitty system while sitting in the parking lot deleted]. I also ended up advising a few people who were also parked for curbfood on how to get past this level). Then over to curbside, okay, they’ll be out in n minutes. Great. And about 25% of the time, they’d be shy a product or three or even an entire bag’s worth. One time I got someone else’s bag filled with what appeared to be several cans of diet glop. And of course, because sometimes you don’t know what you’re supposed to be getting from The Great Safeway Wheel Of Misfortune until the packer actually hands over the receipt because you were too lazy to actually look at the final order email (this is your fault that it’s my fault), you are now tearing through the list while simultaneously tearing through the bags because sometimes the packer sits and waits for you to make sure you’re okay. Sometimes they trundle off to the next problem so now you can either try to get ahold of the packer when they come back out again in five-ten minutes or lump it and call Safeway Mothership from home.
Safeway Mothership is the HQ. it’s where everything happens. You have seven days to call to correct your order. Passed a product back to the packer because it was incorrect? Better call Mothership, make sure they know. Got the wrong thing? Mothership. Twenty-one cent cheese that really is seven-dollar cheese? Mothership. We shared a rollicking laugh about that one. “Of course I got three.”
We have fun. Had.
Before I knew to call Safeway HQ I just sort of let the errors pile up. A dollar here, three dollars there. Eventually I was around $40 down, and then a packer made a bunch of errors on one particular delivery where a smattering of fruit became a bountiful feast etc. Punched it all up and it turned out I was then about fifty cents down, so I just called it even.
By now, you are probably not surprised that Safeway is more than happy to provide you with only one of items that are marked “two-for-one.” The two-for-one event is offered to you to invigorate sales; once that has occured, why honor it? I called it “one-for-two-for-one.” Then I would call Mothership again to let them know about my special savings experience. My favorite was the ice cream that was three-for-two that became two-for-three-for-two, and I’m the dumbshit what fell for that twice so it was four-for-six-for-four. Fuck your coupon. Fuck, it!
Mothership [phone rings incessantly]: it’s that guy again, I know it.
You can’t save off a list (or two or three) of your standard food items. You can only work with a list of “past purchases” and that only started working reliably around August of 2020. Can’t scribble notes to accompany products. Can’t block off entire product lines you’ll never look at and don’t need to be hectored with coupons for like “Baby,” “Pets,” “Sensible Eating Habits,” etc. I did ad-block the image of the baby because it looked sort of ... out-of-place in this set:
I’m a very tropical guy, fruit-wise. Pineapples, bananas, coconuts, mangoes. Do you know why there’s a particular brand of pineapple that is called “Golden”? It is because that is when you know it’s ripe. When it’s gold on the bottom. That is the delicious, life-giving sugar coming up through the stalk. Pick a pineapple too early, it’s just green green green. So when you go to the grocery store, you look for a little gold at the bottom. When you shop online, get stuffed, you get what’s left, what they know isn’t going to move. That would be: green, green, green. After this happened around five times in a row (I order a lot of pineapples I like them), I wrote in the little whiny field, “please gold pineapple please” and that was the only time they were coincidentally out of pineapples. On the flip side, I’ve also gotten a pineapple that was fermenting two days after delivery. [knife goes in] “FIZZZZzzzz” Cool, a whole pineapple for all my beetle buds in the compost bin. [SFX: party favor]
Am I “making a case” for not dealing with this, ever. I mean, unless being charged for a phantom case of mangoes is your particular fetish, say. Not judging.
FAST FORWARD FEATURES!
The items shown online sometimes had an associated ingredient list. Sometimes it was cut off almost immediately. “Flour, water, nia” Mysteriously these usually were for products with 300 ingredients. Maybe there was a buffer overrun. Dear god.
They will list sugars as “(-)” when a product has sugar in the ingredients (iced coffee - “organic cane sugar” listed at #3). Oops just a bug. Over and over.
“Morning Delight Snack Box” don’t know what that is. No photos, no description, no ingredients. Just ... enjoy. $4.99.
The organization of items also needs a shot in the arm. Can you find “ARM & HAMMER Cat Litter Clump & Seal Odor Sealing Multi-Cat Box - 14 Lb” in “Deli Catering Trays”? Honestly, where else would it be. More of an A&H Cat Litter Cloud Control man myself, just two items to the right in the same category.
Basic math. A 6oz Good ‘N’ Plenty costs 1.99. It reads .33/oz. It is correct. Five POUNDS of Good ‘N’ Plenty for $7.99. It thinks that’s ... 50c an ounce.
Their “pudding ring” features “Glucono Delta Lactone.” Drooling already
A lot of coupons offer “Rebate via Paypal.” What? I don’t need to see those. I can think of a few reasons you’re adding this extra step but it sucks, sod off with it.
I don’t eat veal. I ordered a lasagna, which, when I picked it up, was coded as “VEAL LASAGNA.” It was not veal lasagna. Crisis averted [FX: twists key in lock].
Fried chicken fancifully displayed in a bucket which you will not receive: $6.99. With “Personalized Price” coupon: $8.49; also no bucket.
The receipt you receive from the packer in the parking lot is a wonder of poor/bloated design. Two to three pages, and the crucial information -- an actual inventory of your purchases -- is on multiple standard letter-sized pages if you buy more than four things. Even though you’ve been referring to items in the online world with their “normal” names, here in receiptland it’s “2 QTY GUERRERO T,” “CRV SFTDK SNGL NTX,” etc. Then there may be up to five additional lines for each item indicating “Regular Price” “J4U Personalized” “J4U Store eCoupon” “J4U Mfr Coupon” “Card Savings” and these lines are all BOLDED to make the list even harder to read. It’s straight from the 80s, check out my skinny tie.
Conveniently, you can pass off the non-fresh items to your favorite curbside friends. Have an old baguette brick that needs moving? “I know he asked for non-seeded, but still.” After this happened twice, I stopped ordering the boutique baguettes that are sourced from a local breadery (Semifreddi’s) and switched to Safeway's brand. Lower quality, no seeds though. Huh, funny about that.
Expired hummus. You picked your best expired hummus for me, did you now. “Best before [four days ago].” Thanks. [SFX: Quad City DJ’s “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)”]
Just to be clear, I was ordering everything through their broken system. Mustard, cotton swabs, booze, random sugary garbage ordered under the influence of booze.
Every time I look at ingredients for something it’s like “Oregano. Ingredients: Field mice, esssence of oregano.” Ask me again why I don’t usually shop there.
There were special coupons in the printed mailer that allowed you to “SAVE ONLINE Even More.” with “Digital Coupons.” The savings, they will never end. “This just for U digital coupon is not valid unless downloaded to your Club Card [...]” And it was for a pineapple -- 97c Club Price (“FINAL PRICE”). So you’re supposed to scan the UPC to lodge the coupon into your account’s brain or however that works. All the other “clip or CLICK!” coupons have UPC symbols, the break-out star “FINAL PRICE” coupon of the week never does for some reason. “They should fish for it, more fun!” So you have to find the product, find the coupon on the product page, and click that, like you’re in the 1920s and your house still has gas lighting.
There’s also a disconnect between the weekly mailer as its presented online and everything else. You can’t click on the items to take you to the actual entry to add it ... it just allows you to add the name of the item to an isolated list. It’s awful.
I did learn one trick from Safeway. When they jack up the price of toothpaste for whatever reason, order the kid’s version. Cheaper, more of it, no whitening silica enamel-grinding bullshit. So thanks for that, at least. On the other hand, I discovered I like the “Flamin’ Hot” versions of Doritos® (a popular cheese/chili powder-dusted tortilla snack) a little too much, so I’m going to call that even.
Their “Broccoli Cheddar Soup” should be renamed “Cheddar Soup with Suggestions Of Broccoli.”
During my Safeway misstep, I ran into Deep Foods Chicken Tikka Masala. It tasted exactly like Trader Joe’s Chicken Tikka Masala. The Trader Joe’s package indicates that the product is “distributed and sold exclusively” by Trader Joe’s, not manufactured. LET’s GO TO THE DATA! Deep’s is 9oz. Trader Joe’s is 8.5oz. They both have serving size listed as “1 tray.” This is interesting, because the trays appear to come from the same manufacturer and snuggle nicely with each other. Deep’s tray is “561-9,” Trader Joe’s is “561-2.” There are numbers that are on one of the packaging inner tabs; same typeface, same size, same location. For Trader Joe’s: 717747-ws4 1-20 6. For Deep Kitchen: 718720-ws1 11-19 3. They are both have “best by” dates that appear to be part of the printing process. Same odd typeface with a broken “0,” same date format, different time formats (22:35 v. 1527). Both are gluten-free.
I have highlighted below the only bit of the two products that seems to differ more than cosmetically, if at all.
But it doesn’t matter any more. As I approached the end of the odyssey ... Wednesday: “I would like $85 in groceries please.” Thursday: “Here’s your $45 order, sir.” Last order. All the provisions I wanted to last through the last week before I’m fully vaccinated? Gone. But they did substitute a $11 “All American” submarine sandwich I’d never seen as a selection ever (even though I obsessively tried to comb through the entire product list a few times) for my $8 sub (even though again, as always, with the “no substitutions” nagging). There’s an entire class of products that have no photo (coming soon!), no description (blank). Just a name, and a price. “Hey we got you something special! it’s got ‘All American’ right there in the name! You like American stuff.” Mmmmm (I went and got a description of the sub from Publix Market).
I almost called to return the sub sammich but then figured it was more like a cellphone contract’s cancellation fee. Eat this last big unordered chunk from the company before sending you off.
But guess what, babe.
You can’t hurt me anymore, Safeway. The last-minute price changes, green pineapples, 1 of “2” for 1 ... none of thee horse shit. Because it’s over.
“Right one, please.”
it’s finally fucking over.
[opens door back up]
Also their frozen broccoli (whatever the name is) is like 80% stalks.
[slams door again]
PPS: You can imagine my surprise when I visited Safeway after my second jab was all processed and I noticed with my keen detective-like eye that they actually stock thousands of products. The shelves were full. It was like online dating v. dating dating.
PPPS: Everything documented here was true at the time it was written (2021jun-jul) except for the obvious bullshit like the fake conversations. I am not updating this article ever except for grammatical errors. It is a snapshot of the times. Thank you for enjoying. Go-kart safely.