MSE News

Elderly and vulnerable being 'unfairly discriminated against' as supermarkets shift discounts to apps, says 74-year-old shopper

Some elderly and vulnerable shoppers feel they are being "unfairly discriminated against" as supermarkets restrict savings to their apps, meaning those without a smartphone are unable to take advantage of deals and discounts. (MSE) reader Peter (who didn't want to disclose his full name), aged 74 from North Wales, told us he feels frustrated that those who can't afford a smartphone, don't own one, or don't know how to use one, are missing out on savings that could make a real difference during the cost of living crisis. It follows similar comments made to MSE by 75-year-old shopper Malcolm Haddon last year. 

When MSE compiled data on supermarket shopping schemes after speaking to Peter, we found that Asda and B&M only allow shoppers to access specific discounts or rewards via their apps, while Lidl and new M&S shoppers need to use their websites or apps (and even then your device can be no older than an Android 6 or iPhone 5 with Lidl). To use Sainsbury's Smart Shop, meanwhile, shoppers need to have its app or visit a store with handheld scanners. 

For more ways to slash your shopping bill, see our Supermarket shopping tips guide. 

How to access supermarket loyalty schemes and discounts

We've contacted all of the major supermarkets to find out which loyalty or shopping schemes still allow customers to use a physical card to redeem offers, here's what we found:

How to access supermarket loyalty schemes and price discounts

Supermarket Can you access savings online? Can you access savings via an app? Can you access savings using a physical card?
Asda Rewards (1)
Iceland Bonus
Lidl Plus
Marks and Spencer Sparks (2)
My Morrisons
Sainsbury's Smart Shop  (3)
Sainsbury's Nectar
Tesco Clubcard

(1) Currently being trialled in 48 UK stores. (2) Existing customers with a physical Sparks card can continue to use them. (3) You can use handheld scanners instead of the app in selected stores only. 

'I don't know how to use a smartphone and others like me are being unfairly discriminated against'

Peter told MSE he feels people his age, or those who don't want or can't afford a smartphone are being left out as supermarkets move to a digital-only, or digital-first approach. He said: "I'm not daft, I've used computers for 40 years or more but I froze at what I was comfortable with, which is a laptop.

"I don't use smartphones because I fear for the security of them and I don't know how to use one. I'm concerned that people in my age group or older, or even younger who can't afford a smartphone are being discriminated against with the push to get everything onto apps. 

"With raging inflation food prices are going through the roof and this price discrimination is affecting those who can least afford to keep up with the cost of living."

What do the supermarkets say?

Here's what the major supermarkets told us:

  • Asda does not currently have plans to bring out a physical card despite its rewards scheme still being in its trial phase. 
  • B&M told it currently doesn't have anything in place for people who don't own a smartphone. It suggested that people who don't have a smartphone could join local online groups instead and get insider bargains from there.
  • Lidl said that while customers without a smartphone can't access Lidl Plus, it does continue to offer vouchers in other forms including in leaflets, online and in stores, and in newspapers. 
  • M&S said it scrapped physical Sparks card when it revamped the scheme in 2020 - though existing users can continue to use theirs.
  • Sainsbury's argues that SmartShop is available in the vast majority of its stores either through the mobile app or SmartShop handsets - though it's unclear how many stores include the physical handsets; we've asked and we'll update this story if we get a response. The supermarket added that it continues to accept physical Nectar cards and vouchers.

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