As Americans grapple with record inflation in grocery prices, many are turning to digital coupons to save on their supermarket bills. But these digital-only offers often exclude those hardest hit by the rising cost of food and other household basics, according to consumer advocacy groups.
In an open letter to the supermarket industry dated November 15, a coalition of national consumer groups said digital-only offers “digitally discriminate”, excluding many shoppers – especially those who are elderly, have limited income or do not have access to the Internet or a smartphone.
“This is digital discrimination, and the most vulnerable people are being excluded from these online discounts at the worst possible time given record inflation,” Edgar Dworsky, founder of the Consumer World site, said in a statement. “Major supermarkets need to provide an offline alternative to digitally disconnected people so they can realize the same savings as connected shoppers.”
For example, Kroger stores recently announced a digital sweet potato deal at 19 cents per pound. To obtain this price, customers had to download a digital coupon online on loyalty cards or via an application on a smartphone. The regular selling price, according to the sales circular, was 99 cents per pound.
The group’s letter to supermarket executives urged them to adopt ways to enable the digitally disconnected to access these savings. Not being able to access these digital deals results in higher grocery costs, the group said in its letter to Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market/Shaw’s, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final, and Safeway.
Reached by phone Saturday night, Dworsky said he only heard from Albertson. Dworsky said they thanked him for the letter and said “our online/mobile coupons are featured in our weekly flyer to help drive digital and in-store engagements. For seniors who can’t -not having access to digital, they are invited to present the flyer/announcement to the cashier for discounts at checkout.”
The Free Press has contacted Kroger, which has more than 100 locations in Michigan, for comment.
Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, National Consumers League and Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) worked with Dworsky, a longtime consumer lawyer and advocate who started the project.
Dworsky’s website reports on various consumer news. Dworsky also founded mouseprint.org, a website dedicated to tracking consumer prices, exposing the fine print in advertisements, product claims and more.
In its letter, the coalition cited a 2021 Pew Research Center study that found that 25% of seniors do not use the internet and 39% do not have a smartphone. The Pew study also found that 43% of low-income households “do not have access to high-speed internet”.
Consumers without internet access aren’t the only ones missing out on digital economies, according to a Consumer World survey.
“One in four shoppers who, despite having online access, say they don’t have the technical ability to use a supermarket’s website or app,” the survey found.
The coalition’s letter said advocacy groups were focusing on digital versions of coupons issued by stores and showcasing items for sale that included branded products. He also provided examples of significant savings that the “unplugged customer” missed because the customer was unable to clip the required digital coupon. Among them: a digitally disconnected customer could pay up to $9 more for a pack of steak and $15 more for a 15-pound turkey.
Here are alternative methods described in the letter to supermarket executives for “digital challengers” to take advantage of digital savings:
- “Click or click” barcoded store coupons in store flyers.
- Allow cashiers to charge the digital price upon request or upon presentation of a digital pass.
- Provide refunds for missing digital discounts.
- Offer physical store coupons alongside digital-only promotional products for those who didn’t/could not electronically “clip” the offer.
- Set up coupon kiosks where digital coupons can be added to their store account.
The letter stated that some supermarkets had initiated some of the above practices.
“We ask that you help bridge this digital divide as at least some of your stores promote ‘digital only’ offers by providing an offline alternative through which the digitally disconnected can benefit from all grocery sale price you advertise weekly,” the letter read.
The letter also made it clear that the advocacy groups were referring to items for sale featured in store flyers, TV advertisements, store signs and shelf labels that “promote a final price available only after this offer has been loaded.” electronically to the store’s loyalty card or account”.
Contact Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press food editor, and send food and restaurant news to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.
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