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End of senior discount could change Kroger buying routines

Gazette-Mail file photo
Rebecca Douglas, of Sissonville, shops at the Ashton Place Kroger in Charleston shortly after the remodeled store opened in 2014.

Earlier this month, Kroger announced price cuts for about 3,000 items in store locations across the country. The grocery chain says it is the fifth consecutive year it has made large-scale price cuts, with 2017 having the most price reductions yet.

But Kroger introduced the price cuts at the same time it announced the end of a program that will affect most of its West Virginia stores: the senior discount program.

The price cuts have already begun, while the discount program will end May 23. All West Virginia Kroger locations, except those in the Wheeling area, will undergo the changes.

Through the senior discount program, Kroger customers age 59 and older receive a 5 percent discount off their purchases every Tuesday, according to a Kroger customer service representative.

West Virginia isn’t short on senior citizens who can take advantage of the program. The Mountain State has a higher rate of senior citizens compared to the United States average. Census Bureau estimates tab 18.2 percent of the Mountain State as being 65 or older, while the nationwide average is 14.9 percent.

Allison McGee, spokeswoman for Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic Division, said in an email that the changes are a part of Kroger’s endeavors “to bring our customers the most value for their dollar.”

“Our customers tell us that they want more everyday savings,” she said. “That’s why we decided to reduce prices in a big time way last week As a result, Kroger is discontinuing the 5 percent senior discount which applied on Tuesdays.”

These types of discount programs are particularly important for seniors, according to Tom Hunter, a spokesman for AARP West Virginia. He said since seniors are often living on a fixed income, even discounts on a smaller scale can go a long way.

“Any increase older households see, they may implement strategies to adjust for changes in their weekly grocery shopping,” he said.

Hunter said these strategies could include seniors taking advantage of more coupon offerings and making fewer impulse purchases.

Some senior customers may go to a different grocery entirely. Marsha Wagers, a 64-year-old retiree living in Huntington, said she has been using Kroger’s senior discount program for years. Every Tuesday, she goes to the Kroger just a few blocks away from her home to use the discount.

“I like Kroger, I really do,” Wagers said. “But at the same time, I live near the border with Kentucky and Ohio. There are plenty of other places I could go to.”

Wagers said she talked with Kroger employees during her last shopping trip that said the end of the discount program will hurt business.

“Everything is costly for seniors,” she said. “They are people that could really use a break.”

McGee said Kroger believes the changes will ultimately be a net benefit for senior customers.

“The lower prices apply every day, not just Tuesdays,” she said. “It’s more convenient for them. In addition, our senior customers can continue to use print and digital coupons, our fuel rewards program and special promotions throughout the year.”

Although the price cuts can certainly help, John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, said it’s nearly impossible to determine whether seniors will see a net benefit from the changes.

“It’s really on a purchase-by-purchase basis,” he said. “Not everyone is going to be buying the same discounted items.”

Deskins said he understands why Kroger would implement a senior discount program, but not why the company would get rid of it for several locations. Seniors are much more aware of fluctuations in price than other customer groups, he said.

“If I go to Kroger, I’m not going to pay that much attention to the price changes, because I probably want to get out of there fast,” he said. “But seniors are more price-sensitive. My grandmother looked at the Kroger ads all the time. Shopping there would be a huge, daylong event for her.”

McGee said a “competitive environment” led Kroger to reduce prices on the items, which includes meat, natural foods, grocery items and health and beauty aids in each store.

The price reductions were based on the items most frequently purchased by customers, McGee added. She said Kroger does not know if these types of price cuts will continue in the years to come.

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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