Saving money in the supermarket used to be easy: Everyone got the retail price. Then stores started offering loyalty cards, which required customers to scan a plastic card at checkout or enter their phone number to activate discounts. Now many grocery chains are replacing these loyalty cards with smartphone apps.
You’ve seen the ads that say, “Go digital and save even more!” But you need a smartphone to do that. Then download an app and create an account or use your phone number to link it to your existing loyalty card. Once a week (or sometimes more often) the store gives out digital coupons. Before any shopping spree, you need to open the app, sort through the available coupons, select the ones you want and click to add them to your account. When you check out, either scan your plastic loyalty card (or a digital copy on your phone) or enter your phone number. This activates all “clipped” coupons. If there are no disruptions during the payment process – e.g. B. Unactivated Coupons – get the advertised savings. Otherwise you pay the full price.
According to Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky, who studies weekly sales newsletters, shoppers who don’t use a store’s loyalty app may pay two to three times as much for a sale item. However, the process can be confusing. An informal survey of Consumer World readers in September 2022 found that 1 in 3 consumers could not explain how to get the digital-only price. “I can do it, but not everyone,” says Dworsky.
Dworsky and other consumer advocates say these app-centric grocery stores could penalize those who aren’t digitally connected. “Millions of seniors who do not use the internet or do not own a smartphone, as well as lower-income shoppers without broadband access, are excluded from these offers. Customer loyalty apps are a way of giving fewer and fewer people the advertised retail price. ‘ says Dworsky.
The apps have pros and cons, says Adam Schwartz, President of CouponSurfer. On the plus side, consumers get savings on products and can select the coupons they want. “The bad thing is that you have to manually select each coupon,” he says. “It’s time consuming. Some apps are difficult to use and performance varies.”
Many consumers feel frustrated by the switch. “Shopping shouldn’t be work,” says Jeff Kagan, a tech industry analyst in Atlanta who shops at several supermarkets. “Different stores have different apps. Some don’t have an app. You can cut ahead of time, but a lot of us don’t,” he says. “So you often stand in front of an item that you found in the sale. You have to open the app, open the cell phone camera, scan a barcode and only then will the sales price be displayed.
“The average customer doesn’t have the time or inclination for that,” he adds. “In my opinion, these stores are using technology to increase sales but are losing a segment that doesn’t want to play along.”
Other customers have raised privacy concerns. Using an app means you’re giving stores the right to track your shopping habits, whether it’s how many donuts you buy or your favorite spaghetti sauce. While this tracking can be beneficial — some stores send coupons for the products you buy most or alert you to product recalls — it still feels a bit intrusive.
Not everyone dislikes the apps. Susan von Seggern, a publicist from Los Angeles, opens the app for Ralphs once a week, checks the coupons, and then “cuts out” the ones she thinks she or her husband could use. “Then I go to the clipped tab and sort by expiration date, look at the items that will expire in six days, and put them on a written shopping list to make sure I buy them before the offers expire,” she says.
Von Seggern gets a thrill as she sees a checkout total drop from $230 to $200 after using her loyalty card. In addition, her purchases are converted into points toward discounts of up to $1 per gallon of gas when she fills up at a Ralphs station. The savings add up to 20 to 30 percent each week, she says.
In a perfect world, stores would make the deals they advertise available to everyone. In the meantime, here are some ways that those unwilling or unable to handle smartphone grocery apps can still make savings.
1. Shop at stores that don’t use loyalty programs
A handful of supermarkets still allow all shoppers to get the best price for their purchases. Publix, a grocery chain in the southeastern United States, doesn’t need an app to get sale prices. Occasionally, Publix includes paper coupons in their store flyers for additional savings, but anyone can redeem them. You might even want to consider a major retailer like Walmart or Target.
2. Look for alternatives to digital
Some Safeway and Albertsons stores offer “clip-or-click” coupons that give shoppers a choice of printed or digital versions. Each week you can click on an offer in the app or cut out a paper coupon from the weekly flyer. Another chain, HEB, places physical coupons alongside sale items in-store, but also offers the option of digital clipping.
3. Share a map
If privacy is an issue, Schwartz suggests gathering a group of friends and joining a loyalty program with a single phone number and email address.
4. Look for kiosks
Schwartz has seen some stores install kiosks where you enter your phone number or swipe your rewards card to automatically add custom offers to your loyalty account. These offers – which take effect when you scan your card at checkout – are in addition to the savings offered to all award card users.
5. Clip manufacturer coupons
Newspaper coupon inserts are decreasing, but sites like CouponSurfer, Coupons.com, P&G Good Everyday, and even some grocery store websites can still provide you with coupons to print at home.
6. No app? Still, ask about the deal.
Cashiers can often use a generic in-store loyalty card that they keep at the checkout to charge you for the digital price upon request. Just ask when you check out.
7. Make your voice heard
If you believe in these apps, take your concerns to a manager. Better yet, call the company’s 800 number or get an email or corporate office address from the store and complain. Dworsky says, “If enough shoppers continue to ask about offline alternatives to apps, maybe stores will listen and make changes.”
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Denver-based author Laura Daily specializes in consumer protection and travel strategies. Find them at dailywriter.net.
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