Stories of a Smart & Final Crackdown
Earlier this week I wrote about an amazing Amex Offer at West Coast grocery/warehouse chain Smart & Final. The offer gives a $25 statement credit after a $50 purchase and it can be used 3 times per enrolled card.
This deal is fantastic for three reasons. First, the credit is 50% of the purchase amount which is rare. Second, the fact that you can use it three times is even rarer. Finally, Smart & Final carries a variety of gift cards which puts it over the top.
Unfortunately when things seem to good to be true, sometimes they are. Over the past few days I have heard from readers who have had serious issues trying to purchase gift cards. Some stores said they only accept cash/debit for gift cards while others have been treating people suspiciously. I have also had some issues myself.
During my first trip to Smart & Final earlier in the week, my wife and I bought a few gift cards to simply test the market. While we were able to buy them without a huge issue, the cashier began acting suspicious despite the fact that she didn’t even ask to see id.
Then yesterday when I returned to the store, I had a different cashier who was glad to help me. After a few transactions the register needed an override and over came this lady. She then grabbed all of the gift cards I was buying and disappeared to the back of the store. A few minutes later she returned and said they weren’t going to let me buy the gift cards. In her exact words, “My manager said we aren’t doing this anymore.”
Of course I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I asked to speak to the manager. He eventually came out and questioned me as to why I am purchasing the gift cards and I explained the situation. He obviously didn’t buy it because he asked for one of my cards so he could call the bank to verify it was mine. I allowed him to do that and a few minutes later that same lady cashier came back and rang me up without even acknowledging anything.
Later in the day I was in another part of town and happened to be near a Smart & Final. Thankfully during that trip I had a friendly cashier and I was able to finish up on all of my Amex cards. (My wife still has a few to go.) The crazy thing is that a reader emailed me and told me she was denied at that very same store earlier in the day. In other words, different cashiers are saying different things and the atmosphere is generally not very friendly.
So Why the Warning
Whenever hoards of people descend on businesses and begin behaving in an abnormal way, it raises red flags. As far as I can tell Smart & Final doesn’t really have a corporate policy in regards to gift cards. It really seems to be handled store to store and there isn’t a true limit as far as I can tell.
I am almost certain that after the past few days the managers have contacted corporate about these incidents. As I mentioned before some stores are already saying cash only and I wouldn’t be surprised if the corporate office makes this an official policy given the concerns of the managers. Smart & Final is a relatively small chain so decisions like that can be rolled out fairly quickly.
What I Purchased
While I was able to purchase a fair amount of Visa gift cards that I can use to load Serve and pay bills, my wife and I also purchased several hundred dollars of gas cards, a few movie cards and even some restaurant gift cards. I see it as a 50% discount on purchases I would already make.
One final reason to consider heading out to get these cards sooner rather than later is the selection. Stores often don’t stock up on Visa gift cards regularly, so another hobbyist may buy all of the gift cards you are looking for. Lets just say the store at which I had the run in with the manager is out of their very modest supply of $100 Visas.
I sincerely hope I am wrong about Smart & Final, but the run-in with the store manager yesterday left me feeling a bit strange. There is a lot of fraud in the gift card space and if the chain sees their gift card sales have skyrocketed overnight, they may begin to tighten the clamps.
The best solution I think is to head out and try to maximize this deal as soon as possible. Find a friendly cashier and try to visit during less busy times so they don’t mind you doing multiple transactions. It probably wouldn’t hurt if you bought some groceries as well! Oh, who am I kidding, you guys aren’t going to buy any groceries!