Retailers face backlash for digital-exclusive coupons

New Jersey retailers may soon have to rethink their digital-only coupon strategy. Advocates say seniors and low-income shoppers, who often lack access to technology and the skills to use it, are the losers.

Congressman Paul Moriarty, District D-4


Under a bill sponsored by District D-4 Rep. Paul Moriarty, Garden State will require retailers to offer equal-value in-store offline shopping to accommodate both the digitally disabled and the digitally unconnected. This will be the first nationwide request to provide alternative coupons.

Congressional Bill 5076, introduced January 12, was referred to the Congressional Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Moriarty.

In an interview with NJBIZ about the measure, the lawmaker said: It is discriminatory to only offer discount coupons to those who have access to the internet, laptops and smartphones.

“I don’t think many of these companies are intentionally trying to alienate. It’s often a convenient way to reach consumers on mobile phones and iPads,” he added. I was. “But there are quite a few people who are not on the phone all the time…they are still paying customers.”

The legislation comes at a time when consumers and public interest groups are putting pressure on the supermarket industry to “help bridge this digital divide.” In November 2022, a coalition of advocates from Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, Consumer World, the National Consumers League, and Public Interest Research Group called on grocers to end digital-only discounts and take advantage of the internet. said it is discriminatory against low-income shoppers who cannot. Elderly people who are unfamiliar with access and technology.

In letters to leaders of major U.S. grocery chains, including Albertsons, the parent company of Acme Markets and Kings Food Markets, and Ahold Delhaize, owner of Stop & Shop, the group advertised itself on store shelves and signs. I was targeting a transaction that was , require customers to redeem offers through their loyalty program accounts online or through apps, similar to circulars and TV commercials.

“While the digital version of manufacturer coupons poses similar inaccessibility issues for those who are not digitally connected, we are committed to the digital version of store-issued coupons and the availability of fresh meat, seafood, produce, and store brands. We’re focusing on products, and featured sale items on select name-brand products, offering exclusive digital-exclusive discounts for a limited time,” they said.

Digitally connected customers can get significant discounts, according to the coalition, but the practice offers much-needed grocery store savings for shoppers without smartphones, internet access, or tech know-how. According to the Pew Research Center, 39% of Americans over the age of 65 don’t own a smartphone and 25% don’t use the internet. The survey also shows that 43% of households whose income is less than her $30,000 do not have broadband access to her.

supermarket produce

As a result, the coalition offered a $15 discount on a 15-pound turkey exclusively digitally, citing a grocery chain circular that advertised saving $9 digitally, citing unplugged shoppers as “grocery”. It estimates that there are still “millions” of people paying a staggering amount of money. steak package.

Edgar Dworsky, founder of consumer education site Consumer World, said: “This is digital discrimination and the most vulnerable are being barred from these online discounts at the worst possible time given record high inflation. “Large supermarkets need to offer offline alternatives to the digitally disconnected so they can enjoy the same savings that online shoppers enjoy.”

The coalition also proposed several ways chains could offer alternatives to digital coupons.

For example, some franchises such as ShopRite and Food Lion offer in-store coupons of equal value in addition to digital coupons. It also offers in-store kiosks where shoppers can add discounts to store cards, proponents said.

The coalition also recommended practice by Albertsons’ California chain Vons and Pennsylvania-based franchise Giant. Giant uses barcoded “clip or click” store his coupons on flyers, allowing shoppers to choose their preferred redemption method.

Supermarkets should also encourage cashiers to charge ‘digital-only’ sales prices at the request of shoppers and allow customer service representatives to refund digital discounts if they miss them. said the union.

According to Dworsky, the supermarket industry’s response to the coalition’s call has been “silence” or a “misleading PR spin.” He now writes to consumers, writing to the chief executives of major chains, to “offer unplugged customers the same lower selling prices paid by more digitally enabled shoppers.” We ask that you find a way to

“Be Mindful”

Moriarty was first drawn to the issue after reading media reports about the efforts of consumer advocacy groups, stating: I am very interested in the field of fairness – those issues have always interested me.

In 2018, Moriarty co-sponsored measures against discrimination against consumers who pay for goods and services in cash. The bill, which was later signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, makes it illegal for sellers to require buyers to pay on credit only and not accept cash under the Consumer Fraud Act.

“It’s about paying attention to who’s there and who you want to serve. And being inclusive,” he said. “This has been a big buzzword for a decade and a half. But inclusiveness is about more than skin tone, size and gender … We are taking steps to provide access.”

Moriarty said he is confident the paper coupon bill will be supported in the state legislature and has secured a sponsor for a related bill in the state senate. , penalties are collected and enforced by state consumer affairs offices. If violated, he could be fined $2,500 for the first violation and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations.

Lawmakers also said they were open to working with industry stakeholders to modify the proposal to include options beyond paper coupons, such as in-store kiosks and point-of-sale discounts.

Offering these alternatives isn’t as easy as it sounds, grocery chains say. said Donna Zambo, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Iselin-based supermarket cooperative Allegiance Retail Services LLC. She determines and determines that the offer is available and funded exclusively through the digital coupon medium. ”

She continued, “This puts the burden on local New Jersey retailers to match and fund these national offers in paper form, thus putting New Jersey retailers at a huge disadvantage. I put it in.”

Its retail network spans more than 125 supermarkets in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania under banners such as Foodtown, Passmark, Gristedes and D’Agostino, “providing our members and their customers with the highest quality products. We are committed to providing the best value at the cost possible,” added Zambo.

Mary Ellen Peppard, Vice President of the New Jersey Food Council


Mary Ellen Peppard, vice president of the New Jersey Food Council, which is made up of food retailers and their supplier partners, noted that digital coupons have grown in popularity over the past few years, with redemption rates surpassing traditional paper coupons. said to exceed

“Although the proposed legislation is well-meaning, it will ultimately result in fewer coupons and less savings for shoppers. Business models are evolving beyond paper coupons. and manufacturers are now partnering to take full advantage of digital personalization, ultimately benefiting consumers through efficient, real-time and targeted savings,” said Peppard. I’m here.

“Food retailers are eager to offer their customers the best personalized deals. Digitization allows customers to maximize their savings based on their personal preferences and buying habits,” she explains. Did. “Plus, digital girlfriend coupons can be delivered to customers sooner than traditional paper coupons, resulting in immediate savings.”

Adds Peppard: If the bill is passed, retailers will no longer be able to offer some of these savings to New Jersey customers. ”

Representatives for Keathby-based Wakefern Food Corporation, the largest retailer-owned grocery cooperative in the United States, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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