By Anne D’Innocenzio
The “Every Day Low Price” king is trying to shake up the consumer world again.
Walmart has rolled out an online tool that compares prices on 80,000 food and household products with competitors. If a lower price is found elsewhere, Walmart will refund the difference to shoppers in the form of a store credit.
The feature called “Savings Catcher” was revealed on its website late last month in seven big markets: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.; Dallas; Huntsville, Ala.; San Diego; and Minneapolis. The tool compares advertised prices at retailers with physical stores, and not at online rivals.
The move could change how retailers price their merchandise as shoppers search for the lowest prices on their tablets and smartphones while in checkout aisles.
Target and Best Buy have started offering to match lower prices — but only if shoppers do the research on their own. The idea behind Walmart’s online feature is to do the legwork.
Citibank launched a similar program two years ago that sends Citi credit card customers a check for the difference if Citibank finds a lower price from an online retailer. But Walmart is the first traditional retailer to offer such a program.
Ken Perkins, president of retail research firm Retail Metrics LLC, said the move will “put pressure on everyone else to follow suit.” But he and other industry watchers voiced concerns that the tool doesn’t compare prices of online retailers.
Walmart doesn’t have any plans to add online stores to the test.
Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart Store Inc.’s U.S. discount division, told the Associated Press that shoppers are looking for “technological answers to saving them money and time.”
Walmart built its business on staples such as milk, bread and laundry detergent. But the “every day low price” model is under attack from dollar stores and grocery stores in addition to Amazon.
Walmart’s U.S. division has recorded four consecutive quarters of declines in revenue at stores opened at least a year.
In 2011, Walmart made sure workers had the advertised prices of competitors on hand at the register, eliminating the need for shoppers to bring in an ad from a rival store. Walmart’s policy does not include matching prices with online rivals.
Walmart said the idea for Savings Catcher was born last year during a focus group. The idea instantly resonated with the group, the retailer said, and by last summer, Walmart was testing it in four markets on an invitation-only basis.
Here’s how the tool works: A customer has to set up an account on www.walmart.com, log onto the Savings Catcher page and type in the number on their receipt.
Savings Catcher compares prices of every item on the receipt to a database of advertised prices of competitors that’s provided by an undisclosed third party. The tool doesn’t apply to general merchandise such as clothing or electronic gadgets.
Walmart prices are matched to stores based on geographic location. Any difference in prices is put on a Walmart online gift card. Customers can accumulate savings or use the credit immediately. They can redeem in stores or online by printing out the gift card receipt.
The company declined to say when the program could be expanded nationally.
Shopper Anne Jurchak, part of Walmart’s focus group, said she’s been getting back $5 to $7 on her weekly trips to Walmart in which she typically spends $200 to $250.