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Millions of Older Shoppers Shut Out of Digital Coupons

Without a mobile phone or internet access it can be difficult to get a discount on groceries

A grocery shopper's point of view holding up mobile phone displaying an online coupon  in the  frozen food aisle.
iStock / Getty Images

Getting a deal on chicken breasts or eggs at the grocery store is tougher for older adults without a mobile phone or internet access. That’s because, according to a review by consumer advocacy group Consumer World, a growing number of supermarket chains are saving their best deals for the digitally connected. ​

With 25 percent of older adults lacking internet connectivity and 39 percent without a mobile phone, according to Pew Research, many older consumers are missing out on these deals. That’s made worse in the current high inflationary environment, with prices soaring for everything from food to gasoline. ​

“More and more supermarkets across the country are offering digital-only deals,” says consumer advocate and Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky. “You have to have the supermarket apps or go on to their website to find the particular offer. We’ve got millions of seniors who are not connected to the internet who lose out.” ​

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In the past, smart shoppers would clip a coupon from a newspaper, flyer or magazine to bring with them to the grocery store. Or they’d show their loyalty card at checkout. Supermarket chains are adding an extra step by requiring you to go online and load the coupon into your account or mobile app. Some supermarkets have been extending the digital deals beyond dry groceries to include meat, fish, poultry and produce, according to Consumer World. The items are replacing some of the traditional weekly specials. ​

“Digital discounts are no deal for many seniors. They are a clever ploy by big supermarket chains to get people into the store knowing full well that many of them will wind up paying more than the advertised price,” Dworsky commented in the report. “A substantial number of shoppers don’t have online access, don’t understand how to take advantage of digital offers, or won’t be able to follow the cumbersome online procedure no matter what their age is.”​

Consumer World checked in with about 50 supermarkets across the country and found two-thirds advertise some weekly digital-only deals. They include: 

• Albertsons

• Acme

• Baker’s

• Dillons

• Fred Meyer 

• Frys Food

• Food Lion

• Jewel Osco

• Kroger

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• Pick ’n Save

• Ralphs

• Randalls

• Safeway

• Shaw’s 

• ShopRite 

• Smart & Final

• Smith’s

• Star Market

• Stop & Shop​

Consumer World did find a handful of supermarkets that provide consumers with choice in how they access coupons. Giant Food uses clip-or-click systems in which customers can choose how they redeem the discount. H-E-B also offers physical coupons in the store for customers who don’t have internet access. 

What can be done? 

There are programs in place to help older adults get access to the internet at an affordable rate. The Federal Communications Commission runs the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a monthly discount of up to $30 (and up to $75 for those living on tribal lands) to help low-income households pay for high-speed internet service, also known as broadband, and additional funding to support the purchase of internet-connected devices. The program is available for households with incomes of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and those in which someone receives government benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, or free or reduced-price lunch.   

As it stands, 20 internet service providers, including AT&T, Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon (Fios only), offer high-speed internet access through the program for no more than $30 per month. You can also rely on family and friends to help you access digital coupons, or visit the public library to get online. “The answer in terms of accessing online coupons is getting people online,” says Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “There are still paper coupons, but there’s so many more options online.”

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