Big Y has been long known as a pioneer in loyalty marketing with its 21-year-old Express Savings Club program.
Lately, the 61-store retailer based in Springfield, Mass., is breaking new ground with related digital initiatives, and the industry is watching, or should be.
Earlier this month it became the first grocery chain to offer a Groupon deal that was digitally loaded to a loyalty card so it can be automatically credited at checkout.
This deal was for a newly introduced Shellfish Grill Pack, including lobster tails, mussels, clams and other seafood, at a price of $24, which amounts to 40% off the retail price of $39.99. Some 333 shoppers purchased the offer.
Big Y was pleased with this first test and will continue to experiment with Groupon, said Harry Kimball, director of database marketing for the retailer. In general, he said, grocery retailers have special needs with this kind of platform.
“Our industry has different margins than restaurants, for instance, so deals have to be tailored differently,” he said.
Meanwhile, Big Y drew a lot of attention in late March when it announced a fee-based rewards card program, a big departure for this industry. Some observers cautioned that consumers would be reluctant to embrace an effort that asks for up-front payment.
But three months later Big Y is happy with the results so far.
“We reached our goals for this quicker than expected,” Kimball said of the response.
The program is successful because it's really just an extension of the retailer's longtime loyalty program that shoppers understand well, he said. In that program, shoppers earn coins or currency that can be used to obtain product deals. That program continues, but this new effort adds a layer, enabling customers to pay a fee for the right to obtain such discounts without having to use the currency.
“The technology got to the point where we can show them more value,” he said.
Among other digital efforts, Big Y is also mulling a smartphone app and doing some work with QR codes to help better communicate with shoppers.
These would be progressive moves for any company, especially an organization that's been around for 75 years, as Big Y has been. While technology is the common denominator here, it's only an enabler.
“We happen to be leveraging technology, but these are ideas we've had for years,” he said.
However, don't expect the retailer's executives to embrace the pioneer label, because that's not their goal.
“We don't go into things thinking we're a pioneer,” Kimball said of the family-owned company. “We're willing to try things. We don't just look at what Kroger or Safeway are doing, we consider what's best for our customers.”
It's hard to imagine a better guidepost for retailer initiatives, digital or otherwise.