retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Albany Times Union reports that "the settlement of an investigation into coupon policies at Price Chopper stores resulted in a war of words between state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office and the Capital Region-based supermarket chain."

According to the story, Price Chopper agreed to a finding by the Attorney General's offices that it needs "to clarify its coupon rules to customers and pay $100,000 in penalties and costs," because its double coupon promotions "were limited by 'material restrictions' that were not made clear in its advertising, and varied by region."

But what Price Chopper really objects to is a line from the announcement press release quoting Schneiderman as saying that Price Chopper used "deceptive business practices to mislead price-conscious consumers and extract hard-earned money from them by hindering their ability to shop competitively and save on groceries."

Price Chopper spokeswoman Mona Golub tells the Times Union that the company was "appalled and disappointed by the inflammatory press release distributed earlier today... as its portrayal of Price Chopper's conduct is false, misleading and inaccurate in significant respects." She adds that the settlement "makes no assertion that Price Chopper acted intentionally to harm consumers or that its practices caused any losses..."

Golub goes on: "Our decision to sign this agreement was reached after considering the likely cost of alternative actions and because settling the matter will allow us to focus on serving our customers, including offering double coupons up to (99 cents) in all 130 of our stores." She tells the paper that the company has accepted accountability, but that "the matter involved nothing more than a failure to consistently apply and communicate the chain's policies."

The New York Attorney General's office said that the statements from the announcement press release will stand.
KC's View:
Listen, I think it is entirely possible that Price Chopper's coupon policies were inconsistent, hard to understand and even misleading to the uninitiated. Frankly, I think that whenever any chain gets into the weeds of double coupons and zone pricing, it is possible for consumers to get confused. I also think it seems likely that Price Chopper believes that the NY Attorney General may be applying unfair standards.

But I've gotten to know the folks at Price Chopper reasonably well over the years, and while I'm sure that they apply hard-nosed business practices to every deal, transaction and promotion, and look for every possible advantage, I also think that they would not do anything that would lead customers to believe that they were being ripped off.

And so I understand why they're annoyed by the NY Attorney General's position.

The reality is that in today's environment, one has to fight back against such assertions, because they live on. When I was a very young daily newspaper reporter, I remember doing a particularly critical story about a local politician, who called me in to berate me ... but then finished the conversation by noting that "today's newspaper story would be used to wrap tomorrow's fish," and so he wasn't really going to worry about it. (That was his way of letting me know that in his mind, I was insignificant.)

That's not true anymore. Today's news stories live forever. And so Price Chopper has to fight back.