Monday, May 31, 2010

Gas, Groceries, Discounts, Scams and Super-Computers - Huh?

The other day I nearly ran out of gas on Bangerter, a major north-south highway east of us. The car started stumbling slightly when I pressed on the gas and I knew that sign of a nearly empty tank well.

Conveniently, I remembered that I still had a 20 cent per gallon discount coupon in my wallet that mom had given me after she had purchased over $100 worth of groceries at Harmon's grocery store, so I quickly pulled in. And there begins a tale.

I saw that the posted price was $2.99 per gallon, which was lower than the $3.02 that I had seen two days earlier in my travels. So I felt pretty darn
good about it and told myself that: "these guys aren't like Smith's Food King down the block from us, who routinely first jack the gas price by 5 cents so that when you earn a discount of 15 cents for buying over 100 dollars you really only get a 10 cent discount" — a particular peeve of mine.

This time, by waiting, I had outsmarted the scam and was going to get a TRUE discount of 20 cents a gallon - making it $1.79!

I filled it up – but when the car would take only about 14 gallon's and Harmon's sets the limits at 20,  I mentally kicked myself for not remembering I was going to be empty and bringing a gas can for the ATVs.

I could feel the acidy feeling of being "gypped" out of a buck of my discount starting to creep in; but, still, I was not only getting 20 cents off but an additional 4 cents from "that Smith's down the street."

Then I arrived at Sam's where I was going to buy groceries and found that their "everyday member price" of gas was $2.92 — a whole 7 cents less than Harmon's and I didn't have to buy anything (except a yearly membership of $25). And there it was: the "Maalox Moment" for real. I had been "scammed" after all!

"'Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed' was the ninth beatitude.”Alexander Pope
For a certain amount of masochism I guess, I decided to swing by Smiths near the house to see what they were charging for gas today and found that the Chevron on the corner (which is always high) and Smiths were at 2.99 – identical to Harmon's.

AAAGGGHHHH… how can one make sense of this and make a scientific, informed decision regarding his petroleum purchases and brand loyalty?

Smith's loves to generate customers with well publicised promises of discounts, but hates to actually give them: so, their pressure is to keep their prices about 5 cents higher than across (east of) Bangerter (what I'm calling 'normal') - only a couple of miles away.

Chevron (which gives no discounts) and is on the corner next to Smith's is happy with that, because then it can match Smith's and be higher than even its sister Chevron's – on the other side of Bangerter.

Harmon's gives 20 cents for $100 purchase but then limits the discounts to 20 gallon's. However, at least last year, they were nearly always a few cent's lower than Smiths because they are – on the other side of Bangerter.

Smith's gives 15 Cents for $100 but have no amount limits (yet) and you can spread it across a single day's purchase of both Unleaded and Diesel (the truck).

Sam's requires no purchase but has a maddeningly variable discount rate which seems to fluctuate from 1 cent to 5 cents less than normal, "other side of bangerter," prices - which have been always 4 to 8 cents lower than Smith's.

I would need to spreadsheet all this out – taking into consideration: 'true town price' (or average w/in 10 mi), actual price variance paid at each of the stores for the same day, and the cost of food purchases it took to obtain that variance (with Sam's $25 amortized over years purchases).

However, I would also need to take into account our travel and gas needed (therefore purchased) and correlate it with the food consumed (and hence bought) for the same time period; plus, taking into consideration the specific food purchased so it could be divided into those foodstuffs which we normally bought at Sam's (stock and lot size) versus Harmon's or Smith's. [We make it a point to never buy at Chevron - because they NEVER give discounts].

AND, I almost forgot, we would need to take into consideration the specific food items we purchased and their prices at all three stores in order to account for and standardize the figures as to what level of discount we would get at each store. I just may try it someday when Maalox goes on sale.

Is it any wonder that the stores know they can lie, do and offer anything they want in order to get us into the store - there's no way we would ever know they were scamming us.

[Just remembered that my next fill up needs to be at Chevron - where we still haven't finished using the gift card for $100 that we got for a $15,000 purchase of a Buick two years ago - somehow using our hard-paid-for gift card on gas that is always 10 - 15 cents higher than surrounding stations… just seems wrong!  I'm sure the dealer got a huge discount from Chevron for enticement, added to the price of the car, paid for buy jacked prices charged to gas customer. Chevron would rather discount to auto industry than consumer. ]


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