Consumer advocates to grocers: digital coupons are unfair to seniors

BOSTON — Mary Wozny is in her late 70′s and doesn’t like computers. She still uses a flip phone, so accessing a digital grocery store coupon on a smartphone is out of the question.

“I don’t like [the idea of digital coupons],” Wozny said. “I don’t use a computer and if you don’t have a computer how are you going to get the coupon?”

There are millions of shoppers without smartphones or internet access. A 2021 Pew Research study found 39 percent of people age 65 and older don’t own a smartphone, and 25 percent don’t use the internet. Consumer advocates argue the proliferation of grocery store digital coupons are cutting a large population of senior and low-income shoppers out of potential deals.

“You need to have internet access and a smartphone or you’re not going to get the sale price,” Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky said.

Dworsky and a group of consumer advocates sent a letter last month to 12 of the country’s largest grocers, asking the companies to provide non-digital alternatives for shoppers who can’t access digital coupons.

“Stop discriminating against seniors and low-income folks who don’t have internet access,” Dworsky said. “All we’re asking for is come up with some offline alternative, some way for a senior citizen who doesn’t have a smartphone to be able to get the same deals that tech-savvy folks get.”

The letter, co-sponsored by Consumer Action, Consumer Reports, National Consumers League and the Public Interest Research Group, includes examples of digital coupons and the difference a non-digital shopper would pay, including $9 more for a steak and $15 more for a turkey.

“The amount of money non-digital shoppers overpay can be staggering,” the letter said. “We believe the use of digital-only offers…may constitute and unfair act under the Federal Trace Commission Act and similar state laws.”

Albertsons Companies, owner of Shaw’s and Star Market, said it makes extensive use of its rewards program to provide special pricing to loyal customers.

“While we primarily offer this pricing through our website or our banner store for U app on a smart phone, many of our stores also allow for individuals who may not have digital access to present the weekly circular to the cashier for the discount(s) to be applied at the register,” Albertsons said in a statement.

Wozny said she misses the days when clipping coupons from the weekly circular ads was enough.

“If you have a coupon, you go and you show and they deal with you. Otherwise, it’s very difficult, especially for our generation,” Wozny said.

A Stop & Shop spokesperson referred Boston 25 to the Food Industry Association for a statement.

“Whether online or in-store, shoppers of all ages have the power to opt-in or out of an ever-expanding suite of hybrid-shopping options—from digital coupons to in-store signage, print circulars, direct mail and in-store promotions. The fact that grocery stores have adapted to provide these various options demonstrates that they are trying to help more—not less—customers access better deals. In fact, no matter a shopper’s age, the printed in-store circular reigns supreme as the most effective strategy in reaching grocery customers,” an FMI spokesperson said in a statement to Boston 25.

Wozny said she misses clipping coupons from the weekly circular ads.

“If you have a coupon, you go and you show and they deal with you. Otherwise, it’s very difficult, especially for our generation,” Wozny said.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW