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Are States Trying To Ban Digital Coupons?

A new ally in Illinois has emerged for shoppers who feel discriminated against because they are not digitally engaged. A state lawmaker there has become the second in the country to introduce a bill requiring grocery stores that offer digital-only discounts to offer paper coupon equivalents as well.

In addition to this proposal, another similar measure was introduced in New Jersey earlier this year. Could this be a trend that catches on in statehouses across the country, and slows the push toward paperless coupons?

Natalie Manley, the Assistant Majority Leader of the Illinois General Assembly, introduced the Illinois bill. According to the proposed law, grocery stores offering digital coupons must also provide corresponding paper coupons to consumers. Grocery stores that violate the requirement commit unlawful practices.

A similar bill was introduced by Democratic New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty in January, which requires retailers to offer paper coupons of equal value to consumers who offer digital coupons.

When asked what motivated her to introduce a bill targeting “digital discrimination," Manley's spokesman declined to make her available for comment. The Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the only organization that showed its backing to the legislature, did not answer inquiries. Likewise, nothing was heard from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association that looks out for retailers across the state.

Moriarty suggested that industry input would be taken into account to refine the language of the proposed bill. However, Peppard noted that retailers are not often responsible for creating digital coupons, so it would be wrong to hold them accountable by demanding paper equivalents. According to Peppard, if this bill was put into action, it would be much harder for NJ-based companies to compete with large international online stores. His intention is to help those who may lack access to technology and thus have difficulty benefiting from discounts. He believes it is unfair and discriminatory for such individuals to be excluded from coupons and savings. This year and in the future, these bills will make "digital discrimination" a topic of discussion among retailers and manufactures. Furthermore, there is a chance they may agree on a compromise before they must come up with one due to state legislature.

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