We Stopped and Oh, did we ever Shop

I think it’s safe to say that most people do not have as strong a relationship to their grocery store as they do to, say, their clothing establishment (CTshirts.com all the way!), bank (Dwolla thank you very much), or hardware store (Lowes or bust!).

In fact across the history of Mike D, I’ve mostly gone to the closest cheapest place.

In college that was Price Chopper. In Meriden, Shop Rite – until Big Y bought the location. Then it was Big Y.

Once we moved to Clinton, there were a collection of grocery stores all within the same driving radius. We ended up picking Stop & Shop. Stop & Shop isn’t known for their amazing prices, but Jen and I found an environment that was friendly to couponers – and we went all in.

And then came the gas points.

We started tentatively with Stop & Shop’s gas points, like a first date where you don’t know how things are going to pan out. We were flirting and it seemed like it had massive potential. It works like this: when you buy certain items you get a bonus amount off per gallon. For example, buy 6 cans of Progresso soup get $0.40/per gallon! You could stack these deals to get up to $2.20 off per gallon for up to 35 gallons.

$2.20 off 35 gallons? Take a good look at those limitations. By purchasing gas tanks for extra storage I could hit the limit of 35 gallons every time. At $2.20 off per gallon that equates to a savings of $77. Add in a coupon or two and we’re talking Black Swan savings.

The gas points got us and got us good. We were calculating fill ups and buying exactly what we needed to fill our tanks, it felt invigorating and intoxicating, like gambling and winning… more than just winning… we couldn’t lose.

Oh sweet, sweet, savings

As the price of gas dipped below $2.20, the emotional impact reached Miss America crowning levels of elation. 35 Gallons for $0.00? Color me addicted. And there we stayed, glued to the chair of our proverbial slot machine – pumping in our nickels and pumping out dozens upon dozens of cans of beans, boxes of eggo waffles,  packages of Mama T’s Perogies, Prego ready meals, tomato sauces, barbecue sauces, bags of chips, maple syrups, hundreds of cat food cans, countless pounds of cat litter, dozens of pounds of sugar, and thousands (literally) of gallons of gasoline. For two years we have been living this dream.

And then Stop & Shop caught on.

Oh the humanity!
Like a bad breakup

The announcement that on August 10th they would be changing the limits to $1.50 off per gallon with a 20 gallon limit… it slapped me in the face – hard. My spirits plummeted.

I can’t blame them. I think it’s a smart business move. Surely we aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the system. I can’t be sad to see it go, I’m by no means entitled to such savings – but I am thrilled to have been part of this program. It has been a shopping experience like few others.

Unlike most people, I think it’s safe to say I have developed a strong bond with my grocery store. I can’t say that I won’t explore other chains in the future, but I’m deeply grateful for our Stop & Shop gas points experience.

Thank you Stop & Shop for one heck of a ride.

3 thoughts on “We Stopped and Oh, did we ever Shop

  • 8/4/2016 at 4:24 pm

    This is pretty amazing. I can definitely see the appeal to extreme couponing and playing the promotions just right to reap the thousands of dollars in free gas. It actually makes me feel pretty lame that I don’t do this, now that I’m a part-time house husband and I do all of the shopping.

    I’ll share a similar story from 2011 that sorta fits into the “developing a strong bond with a business because of a game-like activity” theme.

    There’s a super fancy, family-owned restaurant in Seattle called Canlis. It’s on the very short list of best restaurants in the city, and it makes national lists occasionally. Very nice.

    Anyway, the business is now run by two brothers who are about our age, and in 2010, they decided to hide old restaurant menu copies from their first year (1950) of business all around the city. They would drop clues each day on social media. First one to find a menu could come into the restaurant and pay those prices.

    It was a big hit, but everyone was in it for themselves, so they decided something different in 2011.

    In 2011, they hid 30 keys *at once* around Seattle. And then each day, they would post a photo of one of the locations, and first one to find the key would have a key. The photos were artistically cropped, or blurry, so it wasn’t super obvious where they were. I think the first key took over a day to find. The only common thread was that all keys were hidden by signs (street signs, stop signs, no parking, etc).

    But the catch was something like “the keys themselves don’t get you anything, you need to come together as a group to figure out what to do with the keys”. We knew that the grand prize was that we’d all get a free dinner at Canlis on a specific Sunday (they are usually closed on Sundays). But we didn’t know how. So this inspired some teaming up, so once keys were found, people would share details.

    As a cartographer, I instantly realized that one of the most important pieces of information of each key was location, so as each day came along, I would plot the location of the key on a shared Google Map. And by day 6 or 7, I noticed a pattern that the keys were showing up on exact north south lines, or exact east-west lines. And then the whole thing exploded. People started looking at every single sign along those lines, and we started finding keys from locations that hadn’t even been posted yet. And then it dawned on me that the giant shape of key locations drew out a giant arrow, pointing to a bank downtown. By day 9, we’d found *all* 30 keys. It was nutso, considering that the first few days, it was a struggle to find a key using the photo within a day! My shared Google Map had something like 20,000 hits!

    The next morning, people who found keys took them to that bank downtown, which led them to a safe deposit box, which had invitations to a free dinner inside. Some were for tables of 2, some for tables of 8. I didn’t find a key, but someone who did was nice enough to invite me to dinner since I had made the map that blew the whole thing wide open, so that was fun. It was a great little community game organized by a great little community business.

    • 8/5/2016 at 7:53 am

      This is absolutely awesome. I looked up some pictures of Canlis – seems like a classy spot! It seems rare to find an awesome upscale joint that is also hip.

      The fact that they turned their promotion into a hunt is brilliant. And deciphering the code in 9 days is ABSURD. Bravo.

      • 8/6/2016 at 6:22 pm

        Yeah, Canlis is pretty hip. Whenever we need to have a super fancy dinner, this is where we go. Loyalty. (But since it’s super fancy, we’ve been just paying customers once since then, haha).

        It was slow going at first. I think we (“we” as in the collective we) found Day 2’s key before Day 1. I remember thinking… wow, there’s a chance we might not solve this. 30 keys in 30 days.

        Here’s the Google Map:

        Actually, I misremembered. We solved it all by Day #8!

        By Day #8, there were just 3 left. They published one photo on the website. They published another photo during a local TV news (KOMO) story. And there was one that “we” never found because some guy walking his dog found it without realizing what it was. He called up Canlis about it, decided he wasn’t interested in playing, then sold it on Craigslist (to the Canlis brothers, who bought it).

        If you look on the Google Map, I actually rickrolled the Canlis guys. I wanted to play a joke, so I made a guess about where the KOMO news checkpoint would be and gave a rickroll link. And very very very coincidentally, the actual key was just one building to the east. When the Canlis brothers saw my map icon before the news story broke, they were super confused, they panicked and clicked the link, only to get rickrolled. Ha!


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