Consumer groups want grocers to drop digital-only offers

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A coalition of consumer groups is calling on grocery chains to redesign their digital-only coupons, saying the offers discriminate against people who don’t have smartphones or reliable internet access.

Digital-only deals — advertised online or on store shelves — can offer significant savings, but they typically require customers to electronically clip a coupon in a grocer’s app or on its website.

For example, a Kroger in Cincinnati, Ohio is advertising frozen turkey at 60 cents a pound this week; with a digital coupon, the price drops to 49 cents per pound. And a Stop & Shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, offers a half pork loin for $2.99 ​​a pound; with a digital coupon, that drops to $1.79 per pound.

“There’s nothing wrong with digital coupons as long as they’re fair and everyone can take advantage of the advertised price one way or another,” said Edgar Dworsky, consumer advocate and former Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts who manages the Consumer World site. .

Dworsky and others – including Consumer Reports, Consumer Action, the Public Interest Research Group and the National Consumers League – sent letters this week to Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop and Smart & Final urging them to ensure that offers are available in both digital and non-digital formats.

Kroger and Smart & Final did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Stop & Shop said it would review the letter.

Albertsons said it offers digital offers as a way to reward its loyalty program customers, who can download the offers into their apps. But the company said many of its stores also allow customers to present the weekly flyer to cashiers so discounts can be applied at checkout.

Dworsky said that can be problematic because customers and cashiers aren’t always aware it’s an option.

Albertsons also pointed out that he owns Vons, a California-based chain that Dworsky praised for offering “clip or click” coupons in its flyers, which allow customers to clip coupons or download them to their apps. Pennsylvania-based Giant Co. also offers “clip or click” coupons, Dworsky said.

“We will continue to provide support to users of the in-store rewards program to help ensure they get the best experience and prizes possible,” Albertsons said in a statement.

Dworsky said some stores offer refunds to customers who request the digital price, but that requires the customer to go the extra mile. He wants stores to make sure cashiers will honor digital offers when requested, or even go all out with Texas-based HEB, which places physical coupons in its stores alongside advertised offers.

Dworsky said older people are most likely to lack access to a smartphone or the internet or the technical know-how to understand how digital-only coupons work.

Access to smartphones varies widely by age group in the United States, according to a 2021 study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The study found that 96% of people aged 18 to 29 own a smartphone, compared to 61% of people aged 65 and over. The same study revealed that 25% of people aged 65 or over do not use the Internet.

—Dee-ann Durbin, Associated Press

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