Consumer groups are asking grocery chains to review digital coupons, saying the offers discriminate against shoppers who don’t have smartphones or reliable internet access.
For example, Kroger in Cincinnati is advertising frozen turkey for 60 cents a pound this week; with a digital coupon, the price drops to 49 cents per pound. And Stop & Shop in Somerville, Mass., offers half a pork loin for $2.99 a pound; with a digital coupon, which 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 in one way or another,” said Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and former assistant attorney general in Massachusetts who runs the website Consumer World.
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 the companies to ensure that offers available in digital format. and non-digital formats.
Kroger and Smart & Final did not respond to requests for comment. A Stop & Shop spokesman said the grocer will review the letter.
Albertsons said it offers digital deals as a way to reward customers in its loyalty program who can download deals into its apps. But the company said many of its stores also have customers present weekly flyers to cashiers so discounts can be applied.
Dworsky said that can be difficult, as customers and cashiers don’t always know that handout presentation is an option.
Albertsons also noted that it owns Vons, a California chain that Dworsky has praised for offering “clip or click” coupons in its flyers, which allow customers to clip out coupons or download them.
Pennsylvania-based Giant Co. also offers “clip or click” coupons, Dworsky said.
“We will continue to provide in-store assistance to rewards users to help ensure they get the best experience and value possible,” Albertsons said in a statement.
Dworsky said some stores offer refunds to customers who request the digital price, but that requires an effort from the customer. He wants stores to ensure that cashiers honor digital offers upon request, or even have Texas-based HEB Grocery Co. place physical coupons in its stores next to advertised offers.
Dworsky said seniors likely lack smartphones or Internet access, or the technical skills to figure out how digital coupons work.
Smartphone access 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 those aged 65 and over.
The same study found that 25% of people aged 65 and over do not use the Internet.