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Stop digital-only coupon discrimination

Particularly during times of high inflation, supermarket shoppers should not be shut out of digital-only discounts

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A coalition of national consumer groups is urging leading supermarket chains to stop discriminating against senior citizens and low-income shoppers who cannot take advantage of a new wave of advertised digital-only discounts because millions of them do not have internet access or smartphones.
 
In a letter to the presidents of a dozen large supermarket chains, consumer groups urge them to bridge the digital divide by adopting a workaround so unplugged shoppers are charged the same low sale prices as connected customers. (Read the letter here.)
 
“Digital-only deals are inequitable. In many cases, consumers simply cannot access the online discounts that other customers can. Supermarkets need to provide an offline alternative,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s director of consumer protection.
 
“It’s digital discrimination, and the most vulnerable people are being shut out of these online discounts at the worst possible time, given record high inflation,” explained Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World.
 
A growing number of weekly specials advertised by some supermarkets for meat, fish, poultry, produce and store-brand items are “digital-only deals” that require shoppers to electronically “clip” the offers and add them to their loyalty card account to benefit from the sale price.
 
But, since 25% of seniors don’t use the internet and 39% don’t have smartphones, according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, they are effectively shut out of these deals. Similarly, 43% of low-income households lack broadband internet access.
 
Digital-only discounts can provide significant savings for shoppers with a smartphone. But an unplugged shopper could, for example, pay $9 more for this steak, or $15 more for a 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey, without the digital coupon.

 
Despite having online access, one in four shoppers say they may lack the technical ability to use a supermarket’s website or app, according to a recent survey by Consumer World.
 
The consumer groups recommend that supermarkets offer an in-store alternative to digital-only deals to accommodate digitally-disconnected and digitally-challenged shoppers:

  • Offer barcoded “clip or click” store coupons in store circulars for customers to choose their preferred redemption method (e.g., Vons and The Giant Company).
  • Empower cashiers to extend the digital discount upon request.
  • Provide physical store coupons next to digital-only deals for those who did not or could not electronically “clip” the offer (e.g., H-E-B).

The letter to supermarket executives was sent on Nov. 15 to the following chains: Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final, and Safeway. 
 
The consumer organizations pressing supermarkets to expand the way they offer digital-only deals are Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, Consumer World, National Consumers League, and PIRG.
 
 
 
 

 

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