Military members and their families have a wide variety of benefits at their disposal. Some of the more popular benefits are the Exchanges and Commissaries, which frequently offer significant savings compared to off-base purchases. Some estimates put the savings from shopping at the Exchange at close to 20% compared to off-base shopping, when factoring in lower prices and the absence of state and local sales taxes.
Unfortunately, access to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) ends for most veterans once they hang up their uniform for good. Only current servicemembers and retirees are able to access AAFES on base or shop through their online portal.
But that may be changing soon, as the Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted to recommend allowing online access to honorably-discharged veterans. This is expected to be rolled out in late 2017, pending final approval.
Here is some more information about this change:
Online Exchange Shopping for Honorably Discharged Veterans
Why offer online shopping through AAFES? There are two primary reasons. The first is to give access to these deals and savings to veterans who served honorably. The second, and just as important, is to boost Exchange revenues.
A portion of AAFES profits are used to fund Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs around the world. And lagging sales hurt their ability to fund these programs. Profits have been hurt by increased off-base competition, force reductions, base closures, and other issues.
Bonus benefit: AAFES hopes to further decrease costs to the consumer through increased efficiencies and larger bulk purchases. This may help them become more competitive with off-base vendors.
When Will Veterans Be Allowed to Shop at Online Exchanges?
The goal is to roll this out in late 2017, just in time for the Veterans Day Deals! There are a few things that need ot happen before the roll out happens.
The first is final approval of the proposal. But that is expected to pass, as AAFES wants to increase sales and revenues, and adding a larger customer base is the easiest way to do that. Additionally, the DoD is in favor of this because it passes more funds on to MWR programs, which reduces the need to use funds from continually strained defense budgets.
The next step is to finalize the verification system grant access to all veterans with an Honorable Discharge. AAFES is currently working with the VA and the DoD personnel centers to create a verification system. No word yet if this will tie in with the new Veterans ID Cards that are set to be issued in the near future. While the verification system might seem simple on the surface, it will require creating a robust data center that is able to not only verify identities and proof of military service, but also collect and securing sensitive information, including veterans’ names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.
What Are the Long-Term Benefits?
There are many. In addition to offering excellent deals to all veterans with an Honorable Discharge, AAFES will hopefully be able to offer more competitive pricing through a larger distribution center, and bases will receive more funds for their MWR programs.
Are Their Any Downsides?
It’s too early to say right now. But overall, I see this as a positive development. The implementation could be tricky, but hopefully that would be a one-time up-front cost, followed by annual maintenance. But the increased revenues from additional sales should more than make up for the added administration expenses. Beyond the added admin costs, there isn’t much negative impact. Online stores scale easily, which means added sales, and potential costs savings on the part of AAFES. The proposal also doesn’t include access to shopping on base, so there is no negative impact to the active duty counterparts, such as buying up base inventory, more crowded stores, and increased reliance upon military resources (security, parking, traffic, etc.).
Where Can I Learn More?
We will update this article when the official approval has been made (again, we don’t foresee any issues with this passing). In the meantime, you can read these AAFES Online Shopping for Veterans FAQ’s, courtesy of The Military Wallet.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Desiree Whitney Esposito