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Loyalty cards are out, but competitors’ coupons are in at Shaw’s. Meantime, the grocery chain is finding out the hard way that it still needs to stick price tags on everything. In all but a half dozen stores, that is, because they’re shutting down.

Got all that?

Three unrelated developments could change the way New Englanders do their shopping at Shaw’s – if their store is still around. And at least some of those developments are worth watching, if you shop at Jewel-Osco or Acme as well.

First, the coupon-related development: beginning tomorrow, Shaw’s will be accepting competitor coupons for a limited time, through July 31st. “There are no exclusions to the competitor locations – grocery stores, pharmacies, retail/department stores, are fair game,” a Shaw’s spokesman said (with echoes of another store’s incredibly lenient competitor coupon policy). Store coupons for specific items, as well as dollars-off-your-total-order coupons will be accepted. The offer is being described as a “test”, with no guarantee about what will happen after July 31st.

There’s also no guarantee the offer will be extended to Shaw’s corporate cousins – but it’s a possibility. Shaw’s and Star Market, along with Jewel-Osco, Acme and Albertsons, were acquired by a group led by Cerberus Capital Management earlier this year. And recent changes introduced in one chain, have eventually been made in all of them: New lower prices. No more loyalty cards. No more eCoupons.

Albertsons went even further, eliminating its chainwide coupon policy in order to let each location make its own rules. So far there’s been no sign of that happening at the other Cerberus-owned chains. But depending on how Shaw’s test of competitor coupons goes, there’s a chance Jewel-Osco and Acme might follow suit.

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Another development at Shaw’s that Jewel-Osco and Acme shoppers won’t want to see, though, involves store closings. Shaw’s announced this week that it’s shutting down six locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Here’s the full list:

465 William South Canning Blvd. Fall River, MA
11 Berdon Way Fairhaven, MA
666 Washington St. Stoughton, MA
280 Winthrop St. Taunton, MA
100 Franklin St. Westerly, RI
1500 Diamond Hill Road Woonsocket, RI

Cerberus has been downplaying any speculation about large-scale closings, which many had feared, given the company’s history (read: “Changes Coming to Albertsons, Acme, Jewel, Shaw’s and Star Market”). But it’s still a bit worrisome – especially for those who shop and work at the soon-to-be-shuttered stores, which are expected to go dark no later than August 3. “The stores identified have not been profitable for quite some time,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Despite the best efforts of the company and our associates, we have not been able to reposition them to better compete in the marketplace and don’t anticipate being able to change this trend.”

Finally, in another development that won’t affect Shaw’s shoppers directly – at least not yet – the chain has gotten slapped about price stickers. In January, Massachusetts finally changed an ancient law that required individual price stickers on each and every grocery item (read: “Mass Confusion in Massachusetts? Grocery Price Tags Disappear Overnight”). The catch? Stores have to apply for a waiver, after ensuring that shoppers have access to handheld or in-aisle scanners to double-check for themselves that an item’s actual price matches what’s printed on the shelf. Shaw’s has not applied for a waiver, so it still sticks price tags on everything.

At least, it’s supposed to.

The same department that issued a cheery news release last week, announcing that Shaw’s and other grocery chains in Massachusetts all scored 100% in price-accuracy tests (read: “Let the Government Do Your Grocery Shopping!”), this week announced that Shaw’s flunked a related test. Undercover shoppers found that the scanned price of items at Shaw’s all matched the shelf price – but they also found that a majority of items checked were missing their mandated price stickers. As a result, Shaw’s is being fined $8,000. “The issue is price transparency as well as accuracy,” a Division of Standards spokesperson said. “What we found during the course of our investigation was concerning enough that the Division of Standards will be sending staff out to all Shaw’s Supermarkets in the Commonwealth to ensure that the item pricing law is being followed.”

For its part, Shaw’s said it had “reinforced to our Massachusetts stores that they must be diligent in making sure all items in their store are properly marked,” adding that the chain “recently initiated thousands of price cuts across all of our locations, which may have contributed to the results.”

If other Shaw’s locations are found to be missing price stickers, the chain could be fined up to $200 for every single item that’s missing a price sticker. So enjoy those new lower prices, the card-free savings and competitor coupon policy. Because if Shaw’s doesn’t make sure there are price labels stuck onto everything, pronto – those new lower prices may not last for long.

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