⚫ Advocates say many shoppers are shut out from using digital coupons

⚫ A bill aims to increase access to savings that can only be clipped online

⚫ The proposal is being interpreted as an additional burden on retailers

Not everyone is tech-savvy and can enjoy the perks of digital savings at the store.

In an effort to make sure the elderly and disadvantaged aren't left out, New Jersey lawmakers have advanced a measure that would force retailers who offer digital coupons to also make identical coupons available to customers in store.

"You can have an in-store kiosk, it can be done at point of sale," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester. "We are open to ways of offering discounts to people that may need the discounts the most but can't get them, like my 102-year-old mom."

Moriarty's bill was given the green light by the Assembly Consumer Affairs committee on Monday.

Originally, the measure specifically required stores to create paper versions of their digital savings, which did not sit well with business advocacy groups.

An additional amendment to the bill drastically reduces the proposed penalties for violators. Now a first offense would be subject to a $250 fine, compared to the original proposal of $2,500. Subsequent offenses would cost violators $500.

According to Charles Bell, who spoke to the Assembly panel on behalf of New Jersey Citizen Action, there are hundreds of thousands of senior citizens in the Garden State who either don't own a smartphone or don't use the internet. On top of that, at least 10% of New Jerseyans don't have access to a fast broadband internet connection.

"We're living in a really tough economy right now where many consumers are working to make every dollar count," Bell said.

Prior to voting in favor of the measure, Assemblyman John Catalano, R-Ocean, said it should be up to a retailer whether or not they want to duplicate their digital coupons for in-person use.

"I'm just not happy when we're forcing retailers to do something that is going to add another expense for them," Catalano said.

A Senate version of Moriarty's bill has not yet received a committee vote.

"I think it's good to make sure that people that are on the margins can still participate and get discounts," Moriarty said. "I wish that all stores felt that way. Sometimes we have to incentivize them with legislation."

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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