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A&P loyalty cards for sale

For shoppers, there’s an awful lot of fallout from the bankruptcy of A&P. Most are concerned about the fate of their neighborhood stores, and wondering whether another grocer will move in to fill the void. Some are curious about the fate of the A&P brand names, after the company announced last week that it would be selling its intellectual property. But others are concerned and even appalled, that A&P is also selling off its own customers’ data – in an apparent complete violation of the company’s own privacy policy.

Can they even do that?

They sure can.

As part of the sale of A&P’s intellectual property assets, including store names, slogans, websites, and social media profiles, the company is also making available for sale 5.5 million customer data records, and about three-quarters of a million customer email addresses. Waldbaum’s and Pathmark discontinued their loyalty programs last year, and The Food Emporium assets were not included in the sale announcement (Update: court documents filed on November 3rd state that Key Food has bid $1.75 million for the Food Emporium name, website, mobile app and e-commerce business – but not its customer data.)

If you have an A&P or Super Fresh loyalty card, however, everything from your name, address, phone number, email address and purchasing history could end up being sold to the highest bidder.

If you recall the paperwork you filled out to join that loyalty program, this part may sound familiar: “We respect our customers’ concern for privacy. We will not sell or rent our customers’ names, addresses (street and e-mail), or phone numbers to any other company.” That’s word-for-word from A&P’s “my+REWARDS Card Privacy Policy.”

Shouldn’t A&P be prevented from selling your data, then?

A spokesperson for Sard Verbinnen & Co., a public relations firm handling media inquiries for A&P during its bankruptcy process, declined comment about the proposed sale, or precisely what customer information is included.

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But the hard truth is that the promises A&P made in its privacy policy, are about as good as the promises it made to pay its creditors. Bankruptcy, unfortunately, kind of works that way.

Hilco Streambank, the company A&P has entrusted to manage the brand name and data sales, is currently seeking bids. Ultimately, it will be up to the bankruptcy judge to approve any proposed sales.

So should customers be concerned? It depends. “The real question is, exactly what data is being sold? Name, address, all transactions and items purchased?” loyalty marketing expert Brian Woolf told Coupons in the News. “The second question is, who is the buyer? If another food retailer, I wouldn’t be too concerned. If a privacy raider, I would be.”

This issue has come up before, in several recent high-profile bankruptcies. Borders bookstore sold its customer data in 2011, just as RadioShack did earlier this year – but not before several state attorneys general, and the Federal Trade Commission, got involved. RadioShack ultimately reached a deal, approved by the court, to withhold sensitive information like credit card numbers, dates of birth and social security numbers. And the company that acquired RadioShack’s remaining customer data had to contact each customer, notifying them of the purchase and giving them a chance to opt out from having their personal information transferred.

Spokespersons for the FTC, and for the Attorney General in A&P’s home state of New Jersey, did not respond to requests for comment about their position on A&P’s proposed customer data sale.

It’s worth noting that the customer information being offered for sale, only comes as part of a package deal with other store assets. Anyone who wants to get a hold of A&P or Super Fresh’s customer data, will also have to buy the A&P or Super Fresh name, trademarks, websites, store software and other intellectual property. A “privacy raider” would have to spend a lot of money on things it has no interest in, if all it really wants is customer information. And the bankruptcy judge might not even allow it.

It’s more likely that another grocer would purchase the store assets. And if a grocery retailer wants to buy the A&P name and reboot the chain, who better to share the news with, than A&P’s own loyal customers?

So perhaps privacy, and promises, aren’t what they used to be. But then A&P isn’t what it used to be, either. And that, in the end, is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Background photo by 401(K) 2013

4 Comments

  1. We are an coupon clearinghouse representing both manufacturer agents and retailers from coast to coast. Who can I contact to advertise on the newsletter?
    Thank you!

  2. Great article — thanks for looking into this!

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