Are Grocery Store Customer Surveys Worth Your Time?

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"Thanks for shopping with us! And make sure to visit our website and give us your feedback. You'll get 50 extra fuel points for filling out the online survey -- and you can enter once a week!"

If you've ever gotten one of these after-sales pitches from your grocery store checkout clerk, you may have wondered -- 50 "points"? Huh! That sounds pretty good, but what is it really worth? Well, we've crunched the numbers for you, and in the following few paragraphs, we'll explain exactly how much filling out a customer feedback survey is worth to you.

Origin of an Idea

Supermarkets awarding points for feedback is a relatively new phenomenon in the grocery store game. It began, if you recall, back when a sharp spike in oil prices in the mid-2000s led to a similarly sharp spike in consumer gasoline prices. Back then, supermarkets such as Kroger (KR) and Giant decided to encourage loyal shoppers to spend more by rewarding them with "points" on their store loyalty cards -- which could be traded in for discounts on gasoline purchases like so:
  • For every $1 you spend at the grocery store, you earn a point.
  • Collect 100 points in a month, and you can trade that in at the gas station (by swiping your loyalty card) for a $0.10 discount on the price of a gallon of gas.
  • Points would generally expire at the end of a month, or 30 days after accrual, or some variation on that schedule -- to encourage continual repeat grocery shopping.
With us so far? OK, so out of this scheme grew the idea of supplementing these gas points with extra points for filling out customer feedback surveys. In this way, supermarkets were paying a sort of virtual currency to have their customers help them identify trouble spots and improve their operations -- while at the same time further ensuring customer loyalty. (At least in theory.)

The way these surveys work today, when you get your checkout receipt at the supermarket, it contains a time-and-date stamp, and a unique identification code that, when entered on the supermarket's website, will permit you to fill out a survey giving feedback on your latest grocery shopping adventure. Complete that survey and you'll get 50 points added to whatever number of points you've already accumulated -- points that can likewise be traded in for a discount on your gasoline purchase.

Easy-peasy. But is it worth it?

Supermarket Math

Cheap gas sounds great in principle, but to find out precisely how great of a deal it is, we took the Kroger feedback survey out for a spin, to try to nail down the economics of this deal. After completing a purchase, we sat down and filled out the online survey, attempting to nail down the monetary value of the time required to fill out one of these surveys. Here's how the math worked out:
  • It took about 6 minutes to complete (your mileage may vary).
  • At 6 minutes per survey, hypothetically, we could complete 10 surveys an hour (albeit, that hour would have to be spread over at least 10 weeks, because Kroger only accepts one survey per customer per seven days).
  • At 50 gas points a survey, times 10 surveys an hour, Kroger is therefore compensating you with 500 points an hour of survey work.
  • 500 points, times 10 cents off each 100 points, equals a maximum savings of 50 cents off a gallon of gas purchased.
  • According to USA Today, the most popular vehicle in America today is the Ford (F) F-series pickup truck, which says has a 23-gallon fuel capacity. That's about twice the size of the average small car's gas tank, but to be very generous to Kroger, let's assume its average customer uses his or her gas points to fill up an F-150 from empty.
  • Under this scenario, 50 cents in per-gallon savings times 23 gallons equals $11.50 saved for an hour of time invested in filling out surveys. (Note that in practice, you might need several months to rack up all 500 points used in this example, saving perhaps 20 cents a gallon for 200 points one month, 10 cents a gallon for 100 points the next, and 20 cents for 200 points the next.)
Result: Filling out a Kroger (or Giant, or Safeway, or Wegmans) survey might deliver for you the equivalent of an $11.50 hourly wage, assuming you: (a) fill out each survey quickly; (b) maximize the value of your gasoline purchases by filling up only when you're "running on fumes"; and (c) fill up a very large vehicle with a very large gas tank.

Under other scenarios we ran (e.g., smaller car, partial fill-up, fewer than 500 points), the savings from gas points, and consequently the value of filling out a grocery store customer feedback survey, could work out to savings less than the hourly U.S. minimum wage. And of course, if you're already earning more than $11.50 an hour, then even under the most optimistic scenario, filling out grocery store customer feedback surveys will be a "money-losing" proposition for you.

Simply put, you can probably earn more doing an hour of other work than you could save on gas expenditures by filling out customer feedback surveys. Or if you value your free time... maybe you'd be better off doing no work at all.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith doesn't own shares of any of the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and check out our one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.
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