ALTOONA, PA—Will Zimmerman stepped into a local supermarket Monday to purchase a pint of half-and-half, but before he could fully comprehend the situation, the 28-year-old repairman was a member of the Feltz Foods $uper $aver's Club.
"Yeah, I've got the card right here in my wallet," said a pale and dazed Zimmerman as he revealed the 3"x2" laminated induction into the $uper $aver family. "I guess I'm supposed to present it at any Feltz Supermarket for super savings."
Zimmerman, addressing a sudden shortage of creamer in the Altoona Advance Heating & Cooling breakroom, drove to the Highmarket Road Feltz and at 2:26 p.m. selected a pint of half-and-half from the dairy case without incident. He approached one of the checkout aisles at 2:28 p.m.
"I took out my wallet, and the girl at the register asked if I had a $uper $aver's card," Zimmerman said. "She must have interpreted my pause as a 'no,' because she started telling me all this stuff about the $uper $aver's Club."
The cashier, 22-year-old Dorothy Salgado, recited a standard description of the benefits of joining the $uper $aver's Club.
"Besides being able to take advantage of bigger discounts than non-cardholders, you can receive advance information on monthly specials, free check-cashing privileges, and the ability to participate in Double Coupon Tuesdays," Salgado said she told Zimmerman. "Best of all, there's no cost to join."
Zimmerman can recall neither agreeing nor disagreeing to join.
"I heard 'discounts' and 'no cost to join,'" he said. "Then it gets fuzzy. The only thing I remember is the girl shoving a form and ballpoint pen in my hand and directing me away from her register."
A surveillance tape released by Feltz Foods confirms Zimmerman's recollection. At 2:30 p.m., he is seen leaving the checkout aisle and approaching the service desk.
"I didn't really want to fill out a long form because I had to get back to work, but the lady [Feltz Foods supervisor Joyce Epps] said it would just take a couple minutes and it was worth the time," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman described the subsequent events as a "whirlwind of signing and laminating."
"I recall being told to fill out my address and phone number, and to 'press down hard,'" Zimmerman said. "Then I was given this little laminated card. No, wait—first I signed the card, then she laminated it. I'm sorry, it all happened so fast."
New card and half-and-half carton in hand, Zimmerman was told by Epps to return to the checkout aisle. More confusion followed.
"The half-and-half rang up at its regular price," Zimmerman said. "I asked if I got a discount, and [Salgado] said no, because the half-and-half wasn't a $uper $aver's Club Special Of The Week. So I asked why she made me join the $uper $aver's Club, and she said she didn't make me join anything."
Zimmerman's supervisor, Jack Thiele, noted his employee's state when Zimmerman returned to work at 2:44 p.m.
"The color was drained from his face, and when I asked what was wrong, he mumbled something about a laminated card and 'they charged me full price,'" Thiele said. "I said that's it—no more ducking out of the office to get half-and-half or gum or whatever the hell."
Supermarket analyst Mark Ludovic said that while Zimmerman's case is extreme, customers, especially those with work or family concerns on their minds, are often unprepared for the opportunity to save.
"When you enter Feltz Foods or any other supermarket chain, you should be aware that discounts can occur without warning," Ludovic said. "Often, these supermarkets play by their own rules, such as claiming to honor the lower prices of competitors when they are only referring to advertised prices. Unless you feel you can fully comprehend the fine print and are capable of membership in a savings club, the best way to handle these situations is to politely decline any offers and calmly exit the store. Saving a few cents on kidney beans is not worth the stress and bewilderment."
In the wake of the incident, Zimmerman remains unsure of whether he'll ever use his Feltz $uper $aver's card.
"I usually shop at Goodall's Grocery near my apartment," Zimmerman said. "It's more convenient. I don't think they have a savings club, either. God, I hope they don't."