Dominick’s Just for U Aimed at…1990s Web Users?

Though I rarely accept products for review on my blog, a recession has a way of making an offer of free food hard to say no to. A month ago, the PR firm supporting Dominick’s Just For U coupon-card campaign offered me $200 in gift certificates to try out the service. The nearest Dominick’s supermarket is a small hike from where I currently live in the Fulton River District, but, hey, $200 is what it is.

I accepted and was asked to share some of the gift cards around and to write a post within a week or two of receiving them. The PR firm asked me to do that sharing with my readers, but I chose to shift some of that free gift-card bounty on to the homeless, instead. I also let the PR firm know that a week was too short a time to ask anyone to offer an opinion on a lifestyle product. To really know how you feel about them, you have to live with them first, no?

So I lived with Just for U for a month. And as it turns out, a month is enough. Just For U works by linking your existing Dominick’s Fresh Values customer card to the web. Once linked, you sign onto the Just For U website and, in a page from Peapod, browse through online aisles of food, clicking on “special” coupon deals on products you’re interested in buying in the store. When you’re done, you print out or email yourself  copy of your deals list, then go shopping with it.

I’m a single man living in urban America. Admittedly I’m a home cook and strive to meal-plan. But, in general, do I have the time or the patience to sit down, sign-on, search for coupon deals, and then run to the supermarket that, in all likelihood, I’m actually headed towards in the early evening, running late from a client meeting/interview/argument at the post office?

Not really, no.

That extra, time-consuming step pretty much made Just For U more of a pain than a pleasure for me to use. It just didn’t feel convenient. Worse, once you get to the Just For U website, it’s needlessly clunky and not at all intuitive to find your way around. Using it reminded me a lot of navigating 1990s websites on Netscape: unclear navigation; inconsistent fonts; a relative lack of feedback for important mouse clicks; and an overall feeling that the importance of usability trials had not yet been discovered by the Columbuses of the web design world.

Unfortunately, you can’t escape that tepid website experience–or the need to waste time and paper by printing out a deals list–by using a JustForU mobile app to do your deal shopping from the convenience of your smart phone once you’re firmly inside an actual Dominick’s. No mobile app exists, and the Just For U FAQ page makes it clear that one isn’t forthcoming, either. Yes, I k,now I can email myself a deals list, but if you’re asking me to shop with my smart phone in my hand, it’s incumbent upon you to make that experience as easy and useful as possible.

I really wanted to like Just For U. The gift cards were put to good use, and I can see how it might work for a mom or dad sitting down to plan a biweekly grocery expedition for their family. Then again, I don’t know any busy moms or dads who have enough time or patience on a Saturday or Sunday with kids to actually do that. Instead, I was just left with the feeling that Dominick’s Just For U campaign didn’t receive nearly enough thoughtful strategy up front or thoughtful design in its architecture and features as it should have to make it actually, well, worth using. I hate to say that, because without Dominick’s, I wouldn’t be able to find my favorite highly non-pork chicken Andouille sausage.

But if I had to use the JustForU website every time I set out to buy that sausage, I might just go to Jewel, eat the pork, and talk it out with God on Friday night, instead.

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UPDATE (11/10/10): According to the Dominick’s PR firm, parent company Safeway is in the process of creating an iPhone app. So, potentially more to come…

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