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Ho Ho NO: Unplugged Shoppers Face Higher Grocery Prices

UPDATE: On January 12, a New Jersey assemblyman filled the first bill in the country requiring retailers who offer “digital coupons” to also provide paper ones of equal value to those customers who do not have internet access.

The millions of seniors who don’t use the internet (25% according to Pew Research Center) or who don’t have a smartphone (39%) are being charged substantially higher grocery prices than their more tech-savvy counterparts because they cannot clip the e-coupons necessary to be charged the advertised sale prices in the store. Unplugged lower income shoppers face the same roadblock. (See our recent story.)

Look at just the front page of this ad from a Washington, DC Safeway store right before Christmas advertising in-store prices. Note how much more an unplugged (“non-digital” in red) shopper pays versus a digital shopper:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Safeway non-digital prices

Just on those five items being purchased in-store, a non-digital shopper even if a member of the store’s loyalty program would have paid $67.03 compared to just $42.73 for a shopper who was able to clip the digital offers before going to the store. That is almost $25 more for the very same items.

Similarly, at this Star Market in Boston, an unplugged shopper would pay over $29 more for just these seven items.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Star Market non-digital prices

In November, five national consumer organizations including Consumer World called on a dozen leaders of the supermarket industry to make an offline alternative available in their stores to disconnected shoppers so everyone could have an equal opportunity to pay the same discounted prices. The response has been silence from them or a bit of misleading PR-spin.

Now it is your turn to speak up and speak out telling supermarket executives how “digital-only” sale prices unfairly discriminate against the millions of shoppers without internet access or smartphones. Urge those companies to make a new year’s resolution to find a way to offer their unplugged customers the same lower sale prices that more digitally-capable shoppers pay.

So… please consider sending an email to the CEOs of Albertsons Companies (which owns Acme, Albertsons, Carrs, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Safeway, Shaw’s, Star Market, Tom Thumb, and Vons), The Kroger Company (which owns Baker’s, City Market, Dillons, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less, Frys, Gerbes, King Soopers, Kroger, Marianos, Metro Market, Payless, Pick ‘n Save, QFC, Ralphs, and Smiths), and Stop & Shop.

The Albertsons Companies: Vivek.Sankaran@Albertsons.com

The Kroger Co.: Rodney.McMullen@kroger.com

Stop & Shop: Gordon.Reid@stopandshop.com

Perhaps together we can help convince stores to treat all their shoppers equally and fight inflation a little more easily.

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Amazon Accused of Misrepresenting Fast Prime Delivery

Amazon PrimeRecently, two California consumers filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon claiming that the company misrepresents how fast it delivers products when you have a Prime membership.

On their website, Amazon promises free same-day or one-day delivery on millions of items. In other places, they promise two-day shipping.

The lawsuit contends that in many cases the company does not deliver on the promise.

*MOUSE PRINT:

… in opting to purchase [Prime] and pay a monthly $12.99 monthly fee for the Product, Plaintiff Brittain relied on the expedited shipping speed attributes, which are undoubtedly material to the reasonable consumer. During the time span when Plaintiff Brittain paid for [Prime], on at least three occasions, Defendant Amazon failed to provide her with the advertised benefits of [Prime]. and deliver her ordered goods within the marketed shipping speed of two days or less.

The suit contends that the plaintiffs would not have bought the membership or would have paid less than the current $139 a year or $12.99 a month had they known of the longer delivery times that they would experience.

In claiming misrepresentation and unfair practices, the lawyers are seeking restitution and damages for all affected California Prime members.

So what has your experience been with Prime? Do you typically get the same day, next day, or 2-day delivery that the company promises?

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Advocates to Grocers: Stop Digital Discrimination of Unplugged Seniors

A coalition of national consumer organizations 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 in-store digital-only discounts because millions of them do not have internet access or smartphones.

Read about the issue in our original story.

In a letter to the presidents of a dozen large supermarket chains, the consumer groups (Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, Consumer World, National Consumers League, and PIRG) are urging them to help bridge the digital divide by adopting a workaround so unplugged shoppers are charged the same lower sale prices as connected customers are.

“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. “Big supermarkets need to provide an offline alternative to the digitally-disconnected so they can reap the same savings that connected shoppers enjoy.”

In the past couple of years, more and more weekly specials advertised by some supermarkets for meat, fish, poultry, produce, and store brand items are so-called “digital-only deals” (see sample ads). They require shoppers to first go online to electronically “clip” the offers to add them to their loyalty card account to be charged the sale price in the store.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Sample supermarket FAQ about digital-only offers:

Q. Can I still take advantage of these coupons if I don’t have a smart phone or a computer?

A. These coupons are only available electronically. Manufacturers continue to offer paper coupons through local newspapers.

But, since 25-percent of seniors don’t use the internet and 39-percent don’t have smartphones according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, they are effectively shut-out of these deals. Similarly, 43-percent of low income households lack broadband internet access.

Digital-only discounts can provide significant savings for connected shoppers. But an unplugged shopper, for example, could pay $9 more for this package of steak, or $15 more for a 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey because he or she cannot clip the required digital coupon.

Digital only items

Even on smaller purchases, the amount a digitally-disconnected shopper overpays can be significant. In the following examples, he or she is paying twice the price for this tub of store brand ice cream and 75-percent more for this carton of eggs.

ice cream and eggs

This week, stores across the country are offering digital-only sale items like these.

Not only are people without internet access shut-out of digital discounts, so are the one-in-four shoppers who despite having online access 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 have suggested five ways that supermarkets can offer an in-store offline alternative to digital-only deals to accommodate both the digitally-disconnected and the digitally-challenged shopper:

1. Utilize barcoded clip or click store coupons in circulars so the customer can choose their preferred redemption method (e.g., Vons and The Giant Company).

2. Empower cashiers to charge the digital price upon request.

3. Empower customer service personnel to provide refunds for unredeemed digital discounts.

4. Offer physical store coupons next to digital-only deals for those who did not/could not electronically “clip” the offer (e.g., H-E-B).

5. Install coupon kiosks where digital coupons can be added to one’s account in-store (e.g., ShopRite and Food Lion).

The letter to supermarket executives was sent on November 15 to the following chains: Kroger, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Star Market/Shaw’s, Ralphs, QFC, Jewel Osco, Randalls, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Smart & Final, and Safeway.

Feel free to offer your opinion of whether supermarkets should make accommodations for seniors and others who don’t have internet access or smartphones to be able to pay the digital price for advertised sale items in stores.