Price Chopper to pay penalty over use of coupons

ALBANY – The Price Chopper grocery chain – which has stores in Gloversville, Johnstown, Amsterdam and Palatine Bridge -will change the way it advertises and promotes its coupons in New York state and pay a $100,000 penalty under an agreement with the state attorney general’s office.

The agreement, which is the result of an investigation by the attorney general’s office, followed complaints about coupons issued by Price Chopper that failed to disclose restrictions.

The changes to the grocer’s advertising practices will help shoppers make informed decisions about purchases, according to a news release from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“In the current economy, it is more important than ever that consumers be presented with clear information about the terms and conditions of coupons and other sale offers,” Schneiderman said in the news release. “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. Today’s agreement ensures that consumers will be protected from misleading advertising at these stores in the future.”

The news release said Price Chopper advertised it accepted double coupons at its store locations without disclosing important restrictions that applied to that policy. After implementing a corporatewide policy that limited the doubling of coupons “up to 99 cents,” Price Chopper failed to disclose this restriction in its advertisements, leading consumers to believe $1 coupons would be doubled, the news release said. Before this corporate policy, Price Chopper’s double-coupon policies varied from store to store. A number of stores doubled coupons up to $1, whereas others restricted the face value of coupons that could be doubled, the news release said.

Under the terms of the agreement, announced Monday, Price Chopper is required to clearly disclose any face-value limits on coupon redemption. In addition to changing advertising practices, Price Chopper agreed to pay $100,000 in civil penalties and costs to the state.

In a response Monday, Price Chopper stated the attorney general’s portrayal of the grocery chain’s conduct was “false.”

“We were appalled and disappointed by the inflammatory press release distributed earlier today by the New York State Office of the Attorney General, as its portrayal of Price Chopper’s conduct is false, misleading and inaccurate in significant respects, and is not supported by the Assurance of Discontinuance to which Price Chopper agreed,” the store chain stated in a response on its website. “In fact, contrary to the press release, the AOD makes no assertion that Price Chopper acted intentionally to harm consumers or that its practices caused any losses, let alone millions of lost savings to its customers.”

Price Chopper says the agreement asserts the store chain inconsistently denoted in its advertising the dollar value limit of its double-coupon policy during select weeks in June 2011, January 2012 and April 2012 in Syracuse and Cortland.

“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,” Price Chopper stated.

In New York state, Price Chopper has 79 stores, with locations in the Capital Region, Utica, Syracuse, Binghamton, the North Country and the Mid-Hudson Valley.

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