Editorial: ‘ No more free gas? Whaddya mean?! ’

Monday, April 30, 2012
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High gas prices are a hot-button item for most Americans, as politicians and car dealers know fully well. Schenectady-based Price Chopper Supermarkets knows it, too, having launched a discount gas promotion for loyal customers three years ago that now is being cut back so the company can stay competitive in a heated-up grocery war.

Not surprisingly, consumers reacted angrily to last week’s news that instead of having to buy only $50 worth of groceries to save 10 cents per gallon, they’ll have to buy $100 worth. But they react with anger whenever they drive by their neighborhood gas station and notice that prices have inched up. Some even plunk down tens of thousands of dollars on a new car just to feel good about saving $5 or $10 every fill-up.

It’s hard to blame Price Chopper (except insofar as its promotion is why it’s now in hot water). It says it spent more than $250 million on the promotion since 2009 but now wants to shift its focus back to more competitive grocery pricing. That’s what customers really want, the company says, and soon that’s what they’re going to get. (We’ll see.)

Actually, many customers really want both low gas prices and cheap groceries. Some — like politicians who pretend they can provide gold-plated services without taxes — think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect both. (They’re the ones now threatening to take their business to Chopper’s competitors.)

But the truth is, there’s no free lunch (or gas). A company that spends $250 million on a promotion like this isn’t getting the money for it out of thin air. Where a government can always borrow (as the federal government has repeatedly), a company either has to raise prices, lay off workers or pay them less, cut stockholder dividends — or live with a lower bottom line.

In days of yore, soap companies gave away glasses or dishes; grocers used S&H Green Stamps; gas stations even gave away cash with scratch-off-style lottery tickets. Retail gimmicks continue to come and go, satisfying customers who think they’re getting something for nothing, and frustrating those who know better.

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April 30, 2012
12:10 a.m.
DougPeek says...

it was never really that great unless you had a vehicle with a huge gas tank. most cars have a tank under 20 gallons. spending 100 dollars to save two dollars is not worth it. And it is limited to Sunoco gas which is not the cheapest around. Price Chopper's problem is it got complacent and service declined. You can get faster check outs at Shop Rite and Hannaford with more courteous cashiers!

April 30, 2012
7:05 a.m.
Starman says...

Price Choppers Gas program was a scam to the consumer. All they did was to shift saving from the groceries to the gas pump. So in the end, you were NOT saving any money.
A trip RIP-OFF!

April 30, 2012
8:21 a.m.
justapto says...

Give me a flyer with real savings inside. Keep your 'free' gimmicks for the fool who is easily conned!

April 30, 2012
9:37 a.m.
cfield says...

Maybe the Gazette should give out free gas, in return for reading their crappy paper

April 30, 2012
5:33 p.m.
biwemple says...

Calling it a scam is absurd and makes it sound illegal. If you bought a $50 gift card from PC (for some other store), you received a card worth exactly $50 in goods\services and still got the gas discount for purchasing that card. How would PC be scamming a customer then? Sure they raised costs on some items to cover it. Every big grocer has deals to get you in the store to buy something on sale and then, while you're there, get you to buy other things that have a slightly higher cost to cover these 'Loss-leaders'. The gas discount is just a variation of this tactic. Don't shop at PC solely to get a gas discount - that's just foolish.

May 1, 2012
1:18 p.m.
catherine9966 says...

Today's consumer is spoiled and expects everything for nothing. Businesses like Price Chopper are in business for a reason - they hope they'll make money. Bad consumers bad!

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