Safeway Sued for Not Alerting Club Card Users to Recall

Discussion
Feb 08, 2011
George Anderson

Some retailers with loyalty programs have pointed to their
ability to directly notify card holders of recalls as a plus.
Many, in fact, have publicized how quickly they were able to alert consumers
of potential problems using the data on hand. But, in an odd twist on that
benefit, Safeway is the subject of a suit for not alerting its card holders
of a recall.

The suit filed in California Superior Court last week is being
brought by a Safeway customer in Montana and another in California asking the
court to make the grocery store operator pay damages for consumers not receiving
a credit or refund for recalled products as well as punitive damages. The customer
from Montana purchased peanut butter crackers and cookies included in a recall
and the California shopper bought tainted eggs.

“I assume that the foods we bring home from Safeway will be safe to
eat,” said
Dee Hensley-Maclean, one of the two women bringing the suit, in a press release. “If
Safeway knows that there is a problem, and they know how to get in touch with
me, quite frankly I’m astonished that they wouldn’t try to spare
me or my children from a preventable foodborne illness.”

The Center for
Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which filed the suit last week on behalf
of the two Safeway customers, said it had alerted the company it might file
a suit back in May if it did not start alerting card holders of recalls. CSPI
argues that refusing to notify consumers they are at risk from tainted food
is a violation of California’s Business and Professions
Code as well as some federal statutes.

“Safeway aggressively uses its club card data to churn out coupons, analyze
its customers’ shopping habits, and otherwise boost sales,” said Steve
Gardner, litigation director for CSPI. “Yet when it knows it has sold
products that may be contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, or other hazards,
it does not use its robust marketing database to prevent illnesses or deaths.
That is hardly the ‘safe way’ and just shows Safeway’s reckless disregard for
the health and safety of its shoppers.”

Discussion Questions: What is your reaction to the lawsuit being brought against Safeway? Do you think this action will change the way Safeway and other retailers use loyalty card data from here on in?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Safeway Sued for Not Alerting Club Card Users to Recall"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Without the contract in hand, it’s hard to believe Safeway has a legal obligation to notify loyalty card holders of a recall. I don’t think a lawsuit is justified. That said, Safeway would have been smart to have been proactive, spinning it as “another way Safeway helps you.”

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 2 months ago

This suit against Safeway brought to mind the constant stream of TV commercials by lawyers encouraging people to sue for some real, or possibly some imaginary, grievance. Many contingency lawyers have become better merchandisers than today’s supermarkets. Nonetheless, Safeway should do everything it can to inform its customers of recalls including via club card notification.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I’m not a legal expert but I doubt that Safeway will be liable for not alerting loyalty card members about a recall. However, as a marketing expert I think Safeway ought to be doing everything possible, including to provide recall alerts, for its best customers. There are so many ways to communicate these days that there is almost no excuse.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

You read it first here, folks. If I recall correctly, in a thread of a year or two back, we discussed the possibility that this might someday happen. Not a clue if Safeway will prevail or not, but I agree with others that it would have been very wise of them to have been proactive. The little Co-op store near where I live in Vermont has been doing this for years, so it ain’t exactly rocket science.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

There are a couple issues at work here. First is the legal one. As has been pointed out, without the contract I have no idea if Safeway has any legal obligations or not. As we have all learned the fact that there might not be a basis doesn’t mean there cannot be a lawsuit in which Safeway ends up having to pay.

That brings me to the second issue of public relations. One of the things we always tell clients is don’t make promises unless you intent to keep them. This includes such things as “our coffee is made fresh every 30 minutes” and would include telling people you will notify them of a recall. The negative publicity Safeway has and will continue to receive will end up costing them more than having issued the recall.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 2 months ago

In our litigious society, with lawyers looking in every nook and cranny for some perceived injustice and for some one/company with deep pockets to go after, the big guys have to cover every base more than ever. And making sure loyalty card members are notified of every recall is a base that must be covered.

George Anderson
Guest
George Anderson
10 years 2 months ago

What is really perplexing here is that CSPI told Safeway last May that it was considering filing a suit if the company didn’t alert cardholders. Doesn’t really sound like your typical ambulance chaser case here. That said, it most likely was not required by law to notify customers of recalls. But, on the other hand, why would it choose to not do so?

Gordon Arnold
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

What we have here is a very telling tale of just how much attention is really paid to customer purchase protection by corporate executives. The sad truth is that these same executives have no awareness of what impact customer support is to the company name and reputation.

Here is a simple rule to remember when deciding how far to pursue customer service. Other than investments, a typical buy or purchase will take from 30 minutes to 30 days. Buyers, otherwise known as customers, are very much focused on price followed closely by quality when spending their money. Ownership is when the seller is responsible for the success of the product’s usefulness as viewed by the customer. It doesn’t take many disappointments or faulty products to provide challenge to a retailer’s reputation.

The ability to recognize these situations responsibilities and move to correct the problem now and in the future is what the top executives are paid to do. For some reason that did not get done here.

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
10 years 2 months ago

There’s always someone who feels wronged. Should Safeway have communicated the recall through their loyalty card? Possibly. However, I would think most people were reached through other means. I can just see the headline: “Safeway left with egg on their face after PR bungle.” Or “Customer gets fried at Safeway over egg recall.” To a certain extent there might be an implied obligation for Safeway but I think the suit is without merit.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
10 years 2 months ago

A lot of people here are discussing the legal responsibilities of Safeway. Fair enough, this is a discussion about a lawsuit that was filed. But what about doing the right thing from a customer service standpoint? In today’s 2011 marketplace, where retailers are connecting with their customers using multiple platforms and technologies, wouldn’t it be both the right thing and the smart thing to be seen as the trusted partner in their customers’ food buying experience? Doesn’t Safeway have a moral obligation to inform their customers when a product that they sold might be harmful; especially if they have the customers’ information and purchasing habits? Wouldn’t this simply make Safeway more important in the customer’s daily lives? Isn’t this where Safeway should want to be positioned?

Maybe the lawsuit will be a wake-up call to execute a better consumer touchpoint strategy.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 2 months ago

I believe that if a retailer enters into a relationship with a consumer under the pretense of creating a relationship with that consumer, then the retailer has an obligation to utilize every available means of communicating bad news to that consumer. Realize that this is not a one sided relationship. The retail trade has coerced consumers into these relationships by withholding preferential pricing and other benefits unless the consumer provides personal information to the retailer.

In my opinion, the retailer/any retailer has an obligation to protect its customers from any danger posed by the products the retailer sells.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I often think many NGOs pose a bigger long-term threat to the country than Al Qaeda ever will–and this particular one is certainly not the exception–but maybe some good will come of this: maybe it will serve as an incentive to get rid of “loyalty programs” (and their irksome accompanying cards) once and for all.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

A simple rule from Nordstrom will usually solve more problems and give great guidance. “Do what’s right.”

thomas norian
Guest
thomas norian
10 years 2 months ago
Sorry to be off the thread slightly but on topic first, providing useful information and a bit easier to quickly scan discounts by category might make me read the emails I get from Safeway. If I’m treated with respect as an intelligent person rather than a pitch mark (or slightly tilt that way ) it’s a better relationship. Costco’s monthly is sort of an example of that level of relationship although its fonts and taste level are horrendous, cheapening the result. But my off-topic comment, that I’ll repeat whenever:The “self check-out” has resulted in a major drop in customer service at my store. The self checkout has not replaced the 15 items or less.. they still have two or three of those open. What it has done is reduce my options of lines with a full cart–often only 1 or 2–and as an experienced shopper you can know your stores checkers, and look at peoples faces and carts in front of you (see a checkbook out, beware). I’ve used self-checkout at Home Depot for years,… Read more »
wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Should recall alerts be a standard benefit of retailer loyalty card programs?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...