ContributorsPublishersAdvertisers

Letter to supermarkets: Stop digital-only savings discrimination

The Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Free Press
 2022-11-27
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1AwCGG_0jOvDNs100

As Americans grapple with record inflation in grocery prices, many turn to digital coupons to save on their supermarket bills. But those digital-only offers often exclude those who are hardest hit by the rising cost of food and other household staples, consumer advocacy groups say.

In an open letter to the supermarket industry dated Nov. 15, a coalition of national consumer advocacy groups said the digital-only offers "digitally discriminate," shutting out plenty of shoppers — especially those who are elderly, have limited incomes or lack access to the internet or a smartphone.

"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," Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World website, said in a statement. "Big supermarkets need to provide an offline alternative to the digitally-disconnected so they can reap the same savings that connected shoppers enjoy."

For example, Kroger stores recently advertised a digital offer on sweet potatoes for 19 cents a pound. In order to get that price, customers needed to download a digital coupon online to loyalty cards or via an app on a smartphone. The regular sale price, according to the sale circular, was 99 cents per pound.

The group’s letter to supermarket executives urged them to adopt ways to allow the digitally disconnected to access those savings. Not being able to access those 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 evening, Dworsky said he has only heard from Albertson's. Dworsky said they thanked him for the letter and stated that "our online/mobile coupons are featured in our weekly circular to help drive digital and in store engagements. For seniors who may not have digital access they are welcome to present the circular/ad to the cashier for discounts at the register. "

The Free Press has reached out to Kroger, which has more than 100 locations across Michigan, for comment.

Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, National Consumers League and Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) worked with Dworsky, a lawyer and longtime consumer advocate who initiated the project.

Dworsky's website reports on a variety of consumer news. Dworsky also founded mouseprint.org, a website dedicated to tracking consumer pricing, exposing fine print in advertisements, product claims and more.

In its letter, the coalition cited a 2021 Pew Research Center study that found 25% of seniors don't use the internet and 39% don't have smartphones. Pew's study also found that 43% of low-income households "lack broadband internet access."

Consumers without internet access are not the only ones who miss out on digital savings, according to a Consumer World survey.

"One in four shoppers who, despite having online access, say they may lack the technical ability to use a supermarket’s website or app," the survey found.

The coalition's letter said the advocacy groups focused on digital versions of store-issued coupons and featured sale items that included name-brand products. It also provided examples of significant savings that the "unplugged shopper" missed out on because the shopper couldn't clip the required digital coupon. Among them: A digitally disconnected customer could pay as much as $9 more for a package of steak and $15 more for a 15-pound turkey.

Here are alternative methods outlined in the letter to supermarket executives allowing "digitally challenged" to take advantage of digital savings:

  • Barcoded “clip or click” store coupons in store circulars.
  • 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 next to digital-only deal products for those who did not/could not electronically “clip” the offer.
  • Install coupon kiosks where digital coupons can be added to one’s account in-store.

The letter noted that some supermarkets have initiated some of the above practices.

"We are asking you to help bridge this digital divide to the extent that at least some of your stores promote 'digital-only' deals by offering an offline alternative by which the digitally disconnected can benefit from all the grocery sale prices you advertise each week,” the letter stated."

The letter also made clear that the advocacy groups are referring to sale items featured in store circulars, TV advertising, store signs and on shelf tags that "promote a final price available only after loading that offer electronically onto one’s store loyalty card or account."

Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky and send food and restaurant news to: sselasky@freepress.com. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.

Support local journalism and become a digital subscriber to the Free Press.

Comments / 0

Comments / 0