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Stores in N.J. would have to offer paper coupons under proposed bill

NJ.com 1/11/2023 Karin Price Mueller, nj.com

New Jersey could be the first state in the nation to require retailers to offer paper coupons after consumer groups expressed outrage over digital coupons that they say leave some shoppers out of the best supermarket sales.

A bill that will be introduced on Thursday in the state Assembly would require retailers to provide paper coupons of the same value as digital coupons, NJ Advance Media has learned.

“If companies are offering consumer discounts, they shouldn’t discriminate against people who may not have access to a smartphone or computer or internet,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, head of the Assembly Consumer Affairs committee and primary sponsor of the bill. “Those are the people who likely need the discounts the most. It’s discriminatory if they may not have access to (the coupons).”

The bill would be the first of its kind in the nation, consumer advocates said.

Before Thanksgiving, the advocacy groups sent a letter to the presidents of a dozen large supermarket chains, urging them to offer alternatives for the millions of consumers who miss out on the sales because they don’t have internet access, a smartphone or are not tech-savvy enough to take advantage of the offers.

The groups, including Consumer Reports, Consumer Action, Consumer World and PIRG, called the amount of money non-digital shoppers overpay “staggering.” They cited a package of steak that cost $9 more without a digital coupon and a 15-pound turkey that cost $15 more for those who can’t take advantage of the digital deal.

They also cited ice cream that costs twice as much without the digital-only coupon and a carton of eggs that costs 75% more.

“Hats off to Assemblyman Moriarty for introducing this first-in-the-nation legislation to require supermarkets to provide an offline alternative to `digital-only’ pricing,” said Consumer World’s Edgar Dworsky, who was a signatory of the letter to supermarkets. “We’ve asked stores to voluntarily stop charging higher prices to unplugged seniors and low income folks, but few have done it.”

Dworsky is encouraging consumers to write to the CEOs of the major supermarket chains to pressure them to implement an alternative to digital-only deals.

Stop & Shop, Acme and Safeway were among those who received the letter, the groups said.

Albertsons, the parent company of Acme and Safeway, said it makes “extensive use” of its rewards program when asked about the bill.

“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,” it said. “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.”

Stop & Shop didn’t didn’t immediately respond for requests for comment about the bill.

ShopRite, owned by Wakefern, which has more than 175 stores in New Jersey, did not receive the letter because it offers coupon kiosks where digital coupons can be added to in-store accounts in at least some stores, Dworsky said.

Nearly 40% of those age 65 and older do not own a smartphone, 25% do not use the internet and 43% of households with incomes under $30,000 do not have broadband internet access, the groups said, citing data from Pew Research.

The groups suggested several options to stores to make sure all consumers can take advantage of sales, such as including paper coupons being made available next to products that have digital sales and empowering cashiers to charge digital prices upon a consumer’s request.

“It is simply good business to recognize that all your customers deserve equal access to your offers,” they said.

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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at KPriceMueller@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @KPMueller.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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