⚫ A bill seeks to level the playing field for shoppers with no phone/internet access

⚫ Coupons available online would have to be available in-store as well

⚫ Critics of the bill say the move could result in fewer discounts for shoppers

Some lawmakers in New Jersey want to make sure that coupons made available online are also available in-store. But could that rule actually result in fewer savings for shoppers?

Business groups joined at the Statehouse to fight back against a proposal that eventually received the green light on Monday by an Assembly panel.

Under the bill, coupons that can only be accessed by shoppers through their computers, tablets or smartphones would also have to be made available in-store, offering the same price or discount as what's being offered online.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, a primary sponsor of the bill, said the proposal aims to give equal opportunities to residents who may not have easy access to the internet or a smartphone.

"It's about fairness, it's about equity," Moriarty said. "It's about not marginalizing people and discriminating against certain classes of people."

NJ businesses fight for digital-only coupons

Retailers aren't sure how'd they get that done, even with a year to prepare. And there are fears the move could result in fewer and less valuable coupons available in the Garden State.

Althea Ford, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, told lawmakers before their vote that when creating coupons, retailers establish a budget of money that they're willing to eat in order to offer the savings.

And with a digital-only audience, savings per coupon may be significant.

"If retailers are required to now offer coupons to conceivably any and every individual, the cost savings per coupon may be impacted," Ford said.

Retailer coupons vs. manufacturer coupons

ShopRite, which has close to 200 locations in New Jersey, already offers access to digital savings for people with no access to a phone or computer. According to the retailer's website, shoppers can visit a customer service desk and get digital coupons loaded on to their account.

Select chains offer in-store kiosks that give shoppers access to the savings offered online, but the practice is not commonplace.

These alternatives, though, are only for coupons created by the retailer. Mary Ellen Peppard, of the New Jersey Food Council, noted that online manufacturer coupons come from suppliers through national channels.

"Retailers don't create these coupons, they don't control or direct the coupons," Peppard said.

Critics of the bill believe that the move would force manufacturers to indicate on their digital offers that they are not available in New Jersey, since in-store alternatives wouldn't be an option.

Moriarty's bill was advanced Monday by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee by a vote of 7 to 3. Prior to this week's vote, it was advanced by committees in both the Assembly and Senate in May.

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