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[20 comments]

Walmart makes ad price comparisons easy

March 24, 2014

Walmart in some markets has launched a new price comparison tool, The Savings Catcher, that enables shoppers to instantly conduct extensive local price checks.

After being tested last summer in four markets on an invitation-only basis, Savings Catcher was rolled out to seven markets: Dallas, San Diego, Atlanta, Charlotte, Huntsville, Minneapolis and Lexington.

Here's how it works:

  • A customer sets up an account on walmart.com, logs onto the Savings Catcher page, and types in the "TC number" number from the bottom of their receipt. Walmart's app can also scan the barcode on the receipt;
  • Savings Catcher compares the prices of the items at the time of the purchase on the Walmart receipt to prices advertised on weekly print ads from nearby stores;
  • If an advertised price is found to be lower than the same exact item at Walmart, the customer receives a Walmart Rewards eGift Card for the difference.

An undisclosed third-party comes up with local competitor prices across channels. In Minneapolis, for instance, those compared include: Aldi, Cub Foods, CVS, Family Dollar, Hy-Vee, IGA, Rainbow Foods, Shopko, Target and Walgreens.

The tool compares prices on 80,000 food and household products, excluding general merchandise like apparel or electronic gadgets. Online prices are not compared. Prices are matched only on branded items that are published as "on sale" by competitors. That means neither private label products nor non-sale prices are in the mix. Loyalty savings such as many found at drug stores also are not compared.

Customers still have the ability to match prices at the register by showing the cashier a competitor's ad.

Anne Jurchak, a 41-year-old mother and early tester, gets back $5 to $7 on her weekly trips to Walmart in which she typically spends $200 to $250.

"They're doing the work for me,'' Ms. Jurchak, who lives in Belmont, NC, told The Associated Press.

Having customers key in their sales receipts could provide rich insights around customer purchases. But the tool could particularly help Walmart recapture its low-cost leader reputation amid competitive threats from dollar stores, Aldi and others.

"The genius of Walmart's Savings Catcher program is that it adds a new dimension to its price match guarantee while continuing to make it incumbent upon shoppers to take the initiative," Carol Spieckerman, CEO of newmarketbuilders and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, told The City Wire. "Walmart can satisfy shoppers who are truly price sensitive and message value and price transparency to everyone else without lowering prices across the board. It offers the best of both worlds."

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:WMT] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

How does The Savings Catcher complement and augment Walmart's existing price guarantee program? How do you expect competitors to respond?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How effective will Walmart's Savings Catcher be in helping the chain improve its image as a low-price leader?

Comments:

Living in Atlanta, this was big news last week. Except they made it seem like an instant price checker in stores, which it turns out isn't true. It does take some of the arguing with a customer service person out of the equation, but you still have to buy the stuff at Walmart first.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

This is a nice tool for Walmart. As Carol said in the article, this helps WM satisfy price sensitive shoppers, without lowering prices across the board. Excluding private label and non-sale items, gives WMT a lot of leeway. The big win is that WMT comes off looking like the good guy who always offers the lowest price, which reinforces its brand message.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Am I the only person in the universe that remembers Tweeter, and its price guarantee? Tweeter was a mid-line electronics chain in New England that first expanded and then was collateral damage in the plasma wars of 2006. In the mid-90s, it instituted just this policy.

You didn't have to check. You didn't have to ask. The company had people combing the newspapers. If they found a lower price on an item you'd purchased at Tweeter within 30 days, they'd automatically cut you a check.

I expect competitors will respond exactly the same way they have for the past decade. Get better on service, emphasize private label (which is ALWAYS cheaper than National brands and for many of them has become a selling point), and prove that the basket price differences are not so great.

Look at it this way: Walmart has been hammering Publix on price for the past couple of years. Publix was just rated America's favorite grocer by the ACSI. Walmart was rated its least favorite. Publix has an excellent private label program. Walmart, not so much.

Is this new program a game changer? I suppose it makes it easier for some people who are really fixated on the low-low-lowest prices. Maybe it adds a bit of pop against Dollar stores. But I think in the end, it remains a zero sum game.

I'll say it one more time. Private label demolishes the concept.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Looks like a great move to re-cement the idea that Walmart is going to be the low cost provider. It will draw a lot of press and comments on social media. As long as it works, it will be somewhat of a game changer. If it fails to do what it says it will do, it will end up being a very costly mistake. It will be interesting to see how the other players in the low-cost category respond.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

Seems to be a lot of work for a little savings. Soon the other "big boys" will have an app that works easier and faster without the check-in you have to do on this.

This is all well and good. But you still have to find the items on the shelves at Walmart, which is not always easy. My wife and I went to the local Walmart Supercenter this weekend looking for a few items that are usually less expensive there. The only and recurring problem is they were out of stock. Ask someone for assistance and you might as well be an alien with the "Are you kidding me?" look they give you.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

It does two things: 1. Reinforces Walmart's low price claim that has been eroded by extreme value retailers, especially the dollar stores. 2. It collects insightful purchase data that allows it to further refine its value pricing & localized pricing strategies. Such insights should prove invaluable as Walmart develops its omnichannel strategy.

I expect the other technology driven competitors, e.g., Amazon, to respond with something comparable fairly shortly.

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Richard J. George, Ph.D., Professor of Food Marketing, Haub School of Business, Saint Joseph's University

Core to Walmart's brand is being the low cost leader. The Savings Catcher program further supports their commitment to "saving people money so they can live better." Sure there are a bunch of limitations and stipulations on what gets compared, but the Savings Catcher is something concrete that can't help but boost Walmart's low cost leader perception. This is important as dollar stores continue to nip at Walmart's heels on price. Yet, it really doesn't solve private label's ability to seriously undercut any branded item.

For those people that had been doing the comparison already, now the work is done for them as long as they register and use Walmart.com. This reduces uncertainty for the customer (did I really get the lowest price on my last shopping trip?), and adds to Walmart's trust and brand quotient. For Walmart, they are likely to increase their Walmart.com traffic, this is important to Walmart since research and retailer testimonials show that customers using more than one channel to engage with their favorite retailer spend more. And Walmart really wants to improve their comp store sales.

Just wondering if the Savings Catcher becomes a big hit with consumers, will that put pressure on Walmart to expand the service beyond grocery as well as accelerate to more markets? Will consumers have any influence how Walmart structures the comparisons?

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Mohamed Amer, Vice President, Global Integrated Retail Unit, SAP

Walmart is reinforcing to their customer that they are the low-price choice. That is the lane they have chosen and they are doing what they can to prove to their customers that they want to win in the low-price game.

In addition to this excellent program, they are going to be able to track who uses the program, what they buy and more, creating some excellent data for the Walmart marketing geniuses to use.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

As a Huntsville shopper, I've watched Publix and Walmart go back and forth over the past year trying to outdo the other on prices. I think Walmart's Savings Catcher will help Walmart once again reinforce its low price leadership, but I don't see it siphoning shoppers from Publix, which matches other retailer prices, accepts competitors' coupons and still doubles coupons (up to 50¢). All of that and not having to deal with cranky Walmart customer service associates....

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Kelly Tackett, Research Director, Planet Retail

On the surface, Savings Catcher is a way for Walmart to reinforce and prove the low cost guaranteed. I think the data collection element part of this program is just as important to Walmart, who continues to innovate new ways to bridge digital and physical shopping. Walmart has nothing to lose with Savings Catcher, and plenty to gain in terms of incremental sales from the gift cards given and personalized shopping data they will no doubt put to use. Competitors always find ways to return Walmart's serve, and this time will be no different. The real winner from this heated competition is usually the consumer.

Kim Souza, Editor, The City Wire

I'm expecting other retailers are reviewing the Sherman Act at this time. This didn't pass the sniff test when I first heard about it, and predict Walmart got a little too aggressive.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

While this is better than post purchase trips to the customer service desk, it requires some consumer effort that seems unnecessary. It could be fully automated (easily!) by using a shopper club number or CC number entered into the POS at time of purchase.

In any event, this is definitely another negative step towards commodifying products , something I'm always warning about. While consumers get a small win on this one, competitors (especially mom and pops) will feel the pain.

I think in the long run this is bad for manufacturers whose product/brand value keeps getting reduced to price. In time, either they will be faced with lower margins, have to reduce product quality, or will only be able to sell to large retail outlets whose purchase volume makes up for cheaper wholesale prices.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

The Savings Catcher does an excellent job of augmenting Walmart's existing price guarantee. It also ensures that the shopper comes back to Walmart by putting the money saved into their e-gift card system. Some competitors will respond while others will watch and see what happens.

Tom Borg, Business Expert, Tom Borg Consulting, LLC

"An undisclosed third-party comes up with local competitor prices across channels." Is the NSA doing this price checking for them? I have a guy who price checks Walmart here locally, and one time he was asked to leave by the store manager or they were going to call security. They don't like anyone checking on them, but in this case they'll employ an army of price checkers to make their program looks good.

Business is getting harder and harder to make a profit these days, and this will make it even tougher for independents to survive. That being said, Walmart is vulnerable on the perishables, and they know it, which is why we check prices on meats, deli, bakery, dairy, and frozen, and they don't like it.

With a booming economy (NOT) everyone is trying to have the lowest price, which is just not possible, so let's see in a year how this works out. Maybe I'll hire invisible drones to do my price checking.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

The process is not sustainable! Walmart may plan for these customers to be the first line of defense.

I think Anne J. is really doing Walmart's job, not visa versa. Should be an eye opener though, especially in those hotly competitive markets.

I see this as all good for the customer.

'vgallese'

This is yet another fascinating work-around for Walmart, which has steadfastly avoided a frequent shopper card program but which apparently hungers for shopper data. Along with its Scan & Go mobile phone app, the Savings Catcher provides new input into its analytics by giving shoppers a reason to share their transactions. Savings Catcher cannot be anonymous. This is a major inflection point for the Great Wal.

It appears to me that the comparison price information is scraped from Web-published circulars in each geography - a simple enough process with current technology. The unnamed vendor might also employ a few data entry clerks in each market to input from print circulars each week, but that would be slow and prone to inaccuracy.

Amazon supposedly scrapes the Web for competitive prices too, and I suspect this process is evolving rapidly to a new norm - at least among online retailers. Try a search for "web+scraping+prices" to see how much activity is underway in this realm.

I'm also aware of several vendors who are perfecting ways to use shopper crowd-sourcing and scanned paper receipts to capture price and basket data across multiple retailers. Tracking actual prices paid is interesting in a different way compared with tracking advertised prices.

Since Savings Catcher benefits will be limited to rebates of price differentials on advertised, branded items, most shoppers will earn just a few dollars back by participating. Walmart will soon be boasting about the aggregate millions in new savings from this program, however, as part of its continuing effort to sustain its lowest price image.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Here is a great lesson in the economies of scale which demonstrates how to minimize potential loses without wasting money and increasing production costs in the middle of a fiscal year plan. This will save Walmart millions in market pricing surveys and updates, while at the same time enlisting the consumer to provide the information almost free of charge. I am confident that one or more could argue if this was the intention of the company when the plan was placed in the market, but there is little doubt for the potential of the process.

Great idea which holds a lot of benefits for all that are willing to participate. I will now start looking for the internet news that shares how housewives from Anywhere, USA figured how to get $250.00 weekly orders for $50.00 or less using their coupons and the company's software.

'gjarnoldjr'

The Catcher is a great tool for the shopper in a time when there are all kinds of apps you can use to figure out good deals in your area. The Catcher's trick? It does the work for you and extends how Walmart can best serve its customers.

Great move by Walmart - no matter their rating on FAV Store reports, etc.

Sam Walton would be proud.

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

Why can't the information be entered into Walmart's local computer systems and given instantly to the consumer when they check out?

Walmart already has the competitor sale price data. If they are serious about providing the lowest prices, just do it. Also, why not include private label? Doesn't Walmart have more power than anyone when it comes to getting PL at the very lowest price? Sure they do, but the fact is they don't want to compete, they want us to feel like we are getting something special.

Come on Walmart, quit playing games, either "Be The Man" or wimp out.

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

The Savings Catcher benefits Walmart in 3 key ways:

1. Strengthens Walmart's position as a loss leader.
2. Allows them to capture more consumer data.
3. Drives repeat traffic. 

Expect competitors to follow the leader (or try to).

Arie Shpanya, CEO, Wiser

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