Safeway Tests ‘Card-less’ Debit Card

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway [2] is testing a “card-less” debit card that gives shoppers extra fuel rewards each time they use it to pay for groceries.

Introduced at stores in the Sacramento, Calif., area, the “Fast Forward” debit card is linked directly to shoppers’ checking accounts and store loyalty cards.

Shoppers who use the debit card to pay for groceries earn twice as many gas reward points as they would if they paid with cash, credit card, bank-issued debit card or personal check. Using the Fast Forward card, shoppers earn a reward of 20 cents per gallon for every $100 spent, up to a maximum reward of $1 per gallon. Some items — including beer, wine and spirits — are not eligible.

The Fast Forward card is linked to shopper checking accounts and debit cards.

Customers don’t have to present their Fast Forward cards at check out. They can pay without their cards by keying in the phone number linked to their loyalty club card and a personal identification number.

On the retailer’s website, Safeway emphasizes the program’s savings, security and convenience. To promote the program, Safeway is offering customers who sign up for the card a voucher good for three times as many gas reward points on a single transaction paid for with the debit card.

“Fast Forward is the fastest way to earn Safeway gas rewards,” Keith Turner, director of public and government affairs for Safeway, Northern California division, told SN. “We are focused on ensuring that Fast Forward is a success in the Sacramento area at the moment. That being said, we always want to offer the best programs for our customers and are always looking at new ways to provide value and help shoppers save.”

Read more: Safeway Executive Calls for Industry Effort to Combat Human Trafficking [3]

Non-bank-issued debit cards like Fast Forward could be the wave of the future for retailers seeking to lower the cost of processing payments, according to experts on electronic payments.

“Safeway’s program is reducing the cost of the transaction by leveraging their customers’ own checking accounts,” said Lanny Byers, an electronic payments and loyalty expert who is managing director of CHyp USA, a Consult Hyperion company with U.S. headquarters in New York. “By clearing the transaction via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) electronic network, Safeway can reduce their costs for processing transactions over traditional credit and debit cards.”

Fast Forward also builds on the retailer’s loyalty program, said Bill Hanifin, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based expert in loyalty marketing. After they sign up for the debit card, shoppers who normally shop at more than one store could decide to make an extra trip to Safeway, knowing they’ll be rewarded for their purchases, he said.

Debit cards are increasingly popular with consumers, Hanifin noted. The recent recession prompted many consumers to scrutinize how they manage their money and for some, debit cards are seen as a better tool for managing spending than credit cards.

Shoppers are also more confident in the security of programs like Safeway’s, Hanifin noted.

“People are becoming more accustomed to the idea,” he said. “We’ll see more of this in the industry.”

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