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Supermarket Sweepstakes’ Free Entry Method Challenged

In early June, a number of the Albertsons Companies supermarket chains (Acme, Albertsons, Carrs, Jewel-Osco, Pavilions, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw’s, Star Market, Tom Thumb, and Vons) began running a “Flavor Adventure” sweepstakes game with over $6-million in prizes. The more you spend in the store, the more entries you get.

Sweepstakes email

But, no commercial enterprise can require you to spend money in order for a chance at a prize — that is the classic definition of an illegal lottery. They have to offer a simple, free method whereby anyone can enter without making a purchase. That is called an “alternate method of entry” (AMOE). So at the bottom of the company’s email shown above in (too) tiny type is information about that free means of entry with the magic words “no purchase necessary.”


No purchase necessary disclosure footnote

That footnote says to find out the free AMOE you have to visit this link (called “rules”) or for all the details, this link called “Official Rules.” They both take you to the same place. [Note: URLs depersonalized]

Buried in those rules is the free method of entry:


Free means of entry

Rather than tell you in simple terms where to send in an entry, like your name and address on a 3 x 5 card, or provide a specific URL, it just says to go to the promotion website, click on the menu, and then the rules button, etc. Didn’t I already click on the rules and now it telling me to do it again. And which menu on the website am I supposed to click?

But let’s play along. Going to the promotion’s website, [page varies for non-loyalty club members] brings us here. There is no menu, but there is a “play now” button and farther down the page yet another link to the official rules.

If you click “play now” the next page gives you a pop-up that among other things says you have to be a loyalty club member to participate (itself a questionable requirement), and yet another instruction to “See Official Rules for free method of entry.” OMG. Do you feel like you are being sent in circles?

Start playing

And when you click “start playing,” then you get yet another screen with instructions to see the rules about playing for free:

Start playing 2

And if you click that button, you get yet another button to start the game.

Play now

Clicking that button brings up what appears to be the actual start of the game… but nowhere to be seen is how you enter the sweepstakes without having to demonstrate that you bought groceries at the store.

Game 1

I invite intrepid readers to spend time reading the rules, and trying various options on the website to find where exactly the free method of entering the sweepstakes has been hidden and to report in the comments what steps you had to go through to get there. There is an answer and believe it or not, you have not seen the most obnoxious part yet!

In our view, the free means of entry that Albertsons Companies has created is illusory because of the complicated series of hoops they created for nonpurchasers to follow that most people will likely abandon. In essence, the alternative means of entry has failed of its essential purpose. And if that is the case, a consumer-sympathetic judge might deem the Albertsons promotion to be an illegal lottery.

Why would any company make it so difficult for their customers (and noncustomers) to participate in this game? Then it dawned on me. What if it was in their financial interest to make it harder? A scan of the official rules provided a possible answer.


unclaimed prizes

Of the over $6.6-million in prizes being offered, only $1.25-million-worth are prizes over $25 for shoppers. That means as much as $5-million of the smaller prizes if they go unclaimed never have to be given away. Obviously, we don’t know the company’s motivation in designing the sweepstakes as they did.

We posed some very pointed questions in multiple inquiries to the Albertsons Companies’ PR folks, including whether they consumer-tested the no-purchase-necessary-method of entry to see if average humans could follow their instructions. They did not respond.

This promotion cries out for action by the FTC and the consumer bar.

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Congratulations, You’ve (Not) Won Free Chipotle for a Year

Last Friday (the 13th) was MrConsumer’s lucky day. He got an email from Chipotle, the Mexican fast-food chain, congratulating him on winning “free Chipotle for a year.” Opening the message revealed a celebratory animated graphic raining down burritos.

Chipotle email heaader
Chipotle raining burritos

There was no fine print. Clicking the link in the email brought me to my Chipotle rewards account, but the only things there were two offers to get free guacamole or a side and chips if I made separate $5 purchases.

Chipotle w $5 purchase rewards

That’s it? That’s their idea of free Chipotle for a year, a promotion they launched last week?

To claim my prize, I looked for and found the sweepstakes official rules online. It appeared to have two parts. In one part, over 3000 rewards members would be chosen to win free Chipotle for a year, and in the other, the company would spin some type of wheel of fortune and select members to win the free year’s worth of food. I assumed that that must have been how I won.

In reading the rules further, the company defined exactly what they meant by the “Chipotle for a Year Prize” — and it wasn’t just free guac and chips.


Chipotle prize

So, how do I collect the prize? Going to Instagram and sending a message to @Chipotle seemed to do nothing. So, I sent a message via Twitter to the company and they quickly replied.


That’s it? We goofed. We’re sorry?

So we wrote to the PR folks and the chief marketing officer at Chipotle asking what happened, how many customers were affected, and what they were going to do for those people to make up for misleading them into thinking they had won the big prize. The company did not respond despite multiple inquiries.

Online buzz, however, suggests what actually happened. It appears that Chipotle mixed up their mailing lists and offers. On January 13, those reward members whose birthday was January 12 were slated to receive a birthday message offering free chips and a side, but instead they were sent the free Chipotle for a year winners’ notification.

Some five hours after the errant email was sent, a new one from the company arrived apologizing for the error and offering one free entrée as a goodwill gesture.

Chipotle apology

What do you think? Should Chipotle provide a little more than a single burrito to these disappointed customers or was that really enough?

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Is the Domino’s Random Food Giveaway a Lottery?

Domino’s just launched a huge national advertising campaign promising random customers who place an order using Domino’s own delivery service a chance of receiving some additional free food items with their order.

Domino's free


According to the promotion, one in fourteen customers placing a delivery order will get a freebie along with the food they pay for.

Domino's free

There’s just one problem. Paying a price for the chance at a prize is considered an illegal lottery when conducted by a company even in this context. Oops.

But not so fast. In tiny print in their commercials and elsewhere, those magic words “no purchase necessary” appear as they are required to into order convert what would otherwise be an illegal lottery into a legitimate sweepstakes.


In the official rules, you can send in a request to get a game code by return mail.

B. Request a Code by Mail:
(i) During the Promotion Period, participate without purchase by requesting an entry code (“Code”) by hand printing your name, home mailing address, valid email address, and date of birth on a piece of paper and mailing it along with a self-addressed stamped envelope [emphasis added] in an envelope with proper postage to “Domino’s Surprise Frees Giveaway,” c/o Merkle, Inc., P.O. Box 5005, Department 848994, Kalamazoo, MI 49003-5005.

So, for your expenditure of $1.10 for postage both ways (soon $1.16), once you receive the code, you will have a 1-in-14 chance of winning an e-gift card worth $13.49.

For those who make purchases anyway from Domino’s, potentially getting free food with your order is a nice extra benefit. But for those who want to play the game for free, it is just a roll of the dice, so save the postage.