Are digital-only coupons discriminatory against the elderly and poor?
Many grocers find numerous advantages in emphasizing digital coupons. The digital shift, however, may be limiting access to coupons to technologically-challenged older and lower-income Americans.
Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and founder of Consumer World, checked more than 50 supermarkets and found about two-thirds offering some weekly digital-only deals. Ten of the chains doubled or tripled the number of digital-only deals offered in June 2022 compared to the same week a year earlier.
“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,” Mr. 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.”
As reported by CNN, Pew Research Center research from 2021 found that 39 percent of Americans over the age of 65 do not own a smartphone and 25 percent don’t use the internet. In the same year, Pew found 24 percent of adults with household incomes below $30,000 annually don’t own a smartphone and 41 percent don’t have a computer.
Grocers are incentivized to encourage shoppers to use digital coupons to reduce costs, see promotion response rates, track purchases and personalize offers.
Coupon distribution has declined over the years due in part to drops in newspaper circulation, but redemption rates have also shrunk. A 2019 study from Harvard University, Georgetown University and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf attributed the lower redemption rates in large part to busy two-worker households opting to forego coupon hunting for small savings.
Recently speaking to The New York Times, Sanjay Dhar, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, said he believes part of the reduced redemption rates is because older shoppers on fixed incomes seeking coupons are challenged finding them online. He said, “A lot of this isn’t driven by the response to coupons. It’s driven by coupons not reaching the right people.”
- Tech-Challenged Seniors Denied Digital Discounts by Grocers – Edgar Dworsky
- As more coupons move online, older and low-income shoppers get left out – CNN
- Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet – Pew Research Center
- Mobile Fact Sheet – Pew Research Center
- Rising Markups and the Role of Consumer Preferences – Harvard Business School
- As Prices Skyrocket, Coupons Are Harder to Find Than Ever – The New York Times
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that digital-only coupons discriminate against the elderly and lower-income households? Is there a path to incentivize most shoppers to connect digitally without mistreating the technology-challenged?