Annoyed by grocery store loyalty apps? Here’s how to save anyway.
Saving at the supermarket used to be simple: Everyone got the sale price. Then, stores began offering loyalty cards, which required customers to scan a plastic card or key in their
phone number at checkout to activate discounts. Now, many grocery store chains are replacing those loyalty cards with smartphone apps. You've seen the ads proclaiming, "Go digital
and save even more!" To do this, though, you must have a smartphone. Then you 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 issues digital coupons. Before each shopping trip, you must open the app, sort through the available coupons, choose the ones
you want and click to add each one to your account. When you check out, you either scan your plastic loyalty card (or a digital replica on your phone) or key in your phone number.
That activates all the "clipped" coupons. If there are no glitches at checkout - such as coupons not activating - you get the advertised savings. Otherwise, you pay the full price.
According to Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky, who examines weekly store sale circulars, shoppers who don't use a store's loyalty app may pay two to three times more for a sale
item. The process can be confusing, though. An informal survey of Consumer World readers in September 2022 found 1 in 3 consumers could not explain how to get the digital-only
price. "I'm able to do it, but not everyone can," Dworsky says. Dworsky and other consumer advocates say these app-centric grocery deals could penalize the digitally disconnected.
"Millions of seniors who don't use the internet or own a smartphone, as well as lower-income shoppers without broadband access, are shut out of these offers. Loyalty apps are a way
to give fewer and fewer people the advertised sales price," Dworsky says. The apps have pros and cons, says Adam Schwartz, president of CouponSurfer. On the positive side,
consumers get savings on products and can select the specific coupons they want. "The bad is you manually have to select each coupon," he says. "It's time-consuming. Some apps are
difficult to work with, and performance varies." Many consumers feel frustrated by the switch. "Shopping should not be work," says Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst in
Atlanta who shops at multiple supermarkets. "Different stores have different apps. Some have no app. You can clip in advance, but many of us don't," he says. "So, often you stand
in front of an item you found on sale. You have to open the app, open the phone camera, scan a bar code and only then get the sale price. "The average customer doesn't have the