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    Retail giants accused of locking out older, vulnerable shoppers from digital loyalty schemes

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    Supermarkets and high street stores risk penalising older and vulnerable shoppers by reserving their best deals for customers who use smartphone apps through loyalty card schemes, experts have warned.

    According to retail analyst Mintel, four out of five shoppers are a member of at least one loyalty card scheme. However, with many schemes becoming digital-only, experts are warning those who choose not to – or cannot – use a smartphone could be paying “disproportionately more” for their weekly shop. 

    A third of over-75s do not use the internet – approximately 1.6 million people in the UK – according to the charity Age UK. More than two-thirds cannot use it safely because, for example, they struggle with passwords and understanding how security checks work. 

    “Increasingly, offers are being pushed purely in the digital space,” said Caroline Parkes, chief strategy officer at global marketing agency RAPP. 

    “With such high levels of over-75s not using the internet, let alone having a smartphone or being able to understand how apps work, you’ve got a huge proportion of what can be a very vulnerable part of society who cannot get access to [certain deals].”

    Dan Wilson, vice-president of supply chain consultancy firm Proxima, said retailers were eager for customers to use apps because of the amount of data that can be collected.

    “Data is incredibly valuable,” he told The Telegraph. “It tells supermarkets what you are buying, which allows retailers to provide customers with tailored offers. But a lot of that data is also taken down the supply chain, as major brands will pay big sums for it.”

    In January, the Competitions and Markets Authority launched an investigation into loyalty schemes, looking particularly at whether customers felt forced to sign up to loyalty cards to avoid paying higher prices, and whether the system risked excluding any groups. 

    For example, younger shoppers could end up paying more as many loyalty schemes, including Tesco’s Clubcard, are only open to over-18s.

    Graham Wynn, of the British Retail Consortium, which represents retailers, said: “Retailers are committed to providing value to their customers, and loyalty schemes, which are open to all, are one of many ways that retailers offer their customers genuine bargains on a daily basis.”

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