Hy-Vee, the Midwestern U.S.’s friendly neighborhood grocery chain, promises “a helpful smile in every aisle.” Little did they know, however, that the smiles lately may have been coming from employees and customers who were happily robbing them blind.

The Iowa-based grocer this week announced the end of two popular shopping and savings programs. One may have had something to do with preventing theft. The other definitely did.

The first change impacted Hy-Vee employees who were being a little too generous with their company-provided perks. In 2019, Hy-Vee launched an employee discount program “with specific guidelines that would allow employees and one member of their household” to get a 10% discount. But “over the past several months,” the retailer explained in a statement, “a significant uptick in the amount of users utilizing the Employee Discount who were not living in the same household or living in other cities was identified, in addition to other fraudulent practices and loopholes that were occurring within the program… that needed to be addressed immediately.”

So as of this week, the employee discount is history. That means all employees of Hy-Vee – as well as, apparently, many of their family, friends, acquaintances and distant relations – are paying full price again.

Hy-Vee’s statement didn’t elaborate on the extent of the abuse. But according to Iowa’s WIO-TV, in a video shared with employees, a corporate representative explained that in one instance, a single employee discount code was used in five different states – all within an hour. In another case, one employee was accused of using their discount to purchase merchandise in bulk to resell.

Hy-Vee says it is “in the process of revamping the program” and aims to reinstate an employee discount – with greater controls – by mid-April.


One program that won’t be reinstated by mid-April, if ever, is Hy-Vee’s Scan & Go self-checkout app, which allowed shoppers to bypass a traditional checkout by using a smartphone app to scan items as they shopped. In a terse statement posted on its website, the retailer announced that “Hy-Vee’s Scan & Go service will be disabled, effective Monday, February 20″ – the same day that the employee discount program ended.

Hy-Vee has had little to say about that change, except to say that Scan & Go wasn’t popular enough to justify continuing it. But the retailer wouldn’t be the first to pull the plug on self-scanning. New York-based Wegmans did it last year, and was blunt about why – theft.

“Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing from this program prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state,” Wegmans explained back in September. Despite the fact that “users have told us they love the app and the convenience it offers,” Wegmans said, continuing to trust shoppers to scan their purchases with their own phone – and actually pay for it all – was simply unsustainable.

Hy-Vee’s self-scan app was still in the process of being rolled out and wasn’t even available in all of its stores yet. The retailer didn’t say whether concerns about fraud may also have played a part in its decision, or whether the fact that fraud forced the end of the employee discount program on the very same day was linked in any way – or just a heck of a coincidence.

Many self-scan fans aren’t happy about the loss of Scan & Go, though many fans of saving money are particularly displeased about the employee discount decision. Count Iowa’s Democratic state Senator Claire Celsi among them. “There are so many things Hy-Vee could have done to solve this problem besides suspending the program and blaming employees,” she wrote in a tweet, criticizing Hy-Vee’s move to suspend the employee discount.

But at least that discount will be back. Not so for the five-finger discount that some self-scan shoppers may have been granting themselves. Hy-Vee management may promise a helpful smile in every aisle – but for at least the near future, those smiles might just be accompanied by some extra-watchful eyes as well.

Image source: Hy-Vee

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