- A coalition of consumer rights and public interest groups is calling on supermarkets to rethink digital-only deals, claiming that they disadvantage “tens of millions” of customers who don’t have internet access or who are not tech savvy.
- In a letter to a dozen major grocers, the coalition claims that some implementations of digital-only deals may violate the Federal Trade Commission Act and state laws, without specifying which ones. “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,” Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer World, wrote in the letter.
- The letter claims that non-digital customers can overpay a “staggering” amount and that this period of high inflation is especially hurting shoppers who can’t easily preload digital offers onto their loyalty cards.
The letter specifically addresses sale items featured in store circulars, TV advertising, store signs and shelf tags that promote a final price that’s only available after a shopper loads the offer electronically onto their store loyalty card or account, but notes that digital-only versions of manufacturers’ coupons can pose similar inaccessibility issues.
The letter claims that digital-only deals can potentially mislead consumers into believing they can access those savings with just their loyalty card.
Nearly one-third of 950 shoppers weren’t able to correctly explain how to redeem an advertised digital discount, according to a survey in September by Consumer World, the letter noted. For shoppers who do understand how the deals work, 25% had technical difficulties accessing them, the survey found.
The letter provided examples of how digital-only deals can financially burden consumers who cannot preload the offers onto their loyalty cards, including images of two offers: one where a customer would pay $9 more for a package of steak for being an “unplugged shopper” and another where they would pay $15 more for a 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey.
Citing Pew Research, the letter said 39% of people age 65 and older do not have a smartphone and 25% do not use the internet, while 43% of people with incomes under $30,000 do not have broadband access.
“It is unfair that large segments of the population cannot avail themselves of publicly advertised prices when there are ways for stores to easily make these offers available to the digitally-disconnected,” the letter said.
The letter continued: “It is unfair that some stores may be taking advantage of shoppers’ misunderstanding of how to obtain the advertised price and thus are charging them higher prices than the ones promoted. It is unfair that clear instructions on signage and in advertising of how to obtain the digital-only advertised price is missing from many store promotions.”
The letter suggests that grocers turn to one or more remedies and provided five suggestions:
- Offer “clip or click” coupons tied to barcodes for store circulars
- Allow cashiers to charge the digital price upon request or when a shopper shows a digital pass
- Let customer service personnel provide refunds for missing digital discounts
- Offer physical store coupons next to digital-only deal products
- Install coupon kiosks so shoppers can add digital coupons to their accounts in-store
Some grocers are already using some of these methods, the letter noted, such as H-E-B, which provides physical store coupons alongside digital-only deal products, and Food Lion and ShopRite, which offer coupon kiosks.
Mouseprint.org, an online blog that services Consumer World, said that the letter was sent to the following grocers on Nov. 15: Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market/Shaw’s, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final and Safeway. Dworsky signed the letter on behalf of Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, the National Consumers League and Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG).
Albertsons told The Associated Press that it offers digital-only deals to reward shoppers in its loyalty program but that many of its stores let customers present the weekly circular to cashiers to get the discounts applied. The grocery chain also said its Vons chain, which Dworsky noted offers “clip or click" coupons in its circulars, lets customers cut out coupons or download them to their apps.
“We will continue to provide assistance to users of the rewards program in the store to help them ensure they get the best possible experience and prices," Albertsons said in a statement to the news outlet.
Stop & Shop told The Associated Press it would review the letter, and Kroger and Smart & Final didn't respond to the publication’s inquiries.