More Sales Insanity, This Time From Walmart

by Paul Michael on 11 April 2011 19 comments
Photo: Zach Klein

Sometimes this world really makes me wonder how even the smallest things got so weird and screwed up. I had already written about my adventure at Hobby Lobby. In this case, I was buying a movie set from Walmart.

It was recently my birthday, and my folks back in England sent me some money to buy myself something nice. I knew just what I wanted, too — the latest BluRay Back to the Future boxed set.

As it was released some time ago, I figured the price for this was now well below the initial price of $79.99. And sure enough, a little Internet browsing revealed it was as low as $37. The lowest prices were online, as they always are, but I saw that Walmart had the boxed set on sale for $39.99. Rather than waiting for a week or two to arrive in the mail, I figured I could pop in and get my boxed set immediately. Nice!

Here are screen shots from Walmart.com. As you can see, they’re a little confusing.

Back to the future box set

The first states that this particular boxed set is not sold in stores. Bummer, it’s the one I wanted. Then I clicked to the next screen and saw that I could have it shipped to a store.

Ship to store image

But before I ordered, I talked to a guy in the office who said Walmart stores do carry that boxed set, and it must be a mistake. With the nearest store being 10 minutes from work, I popped in on my lunch hour to pick it up.

Sure enough, there it was on the shelf. Identical. But wait a minute. The price was $59.96, almost $20 more than the exact same product online.

DVD set on shelf

I talked to a store clerk, brought up the site on my cell phone, and showed him that the same product was for sale $20 less online.

“Ah, but that version doesn’t include digital copies,” he said. “That’s why they’re different prices.”

I then pointed out that both versions include digital copies. It's the same exact boxed set.

He looked quickly between the screen and the shelf. He scratched his head. Then he said “Well, that’s the special price for ordering online. It will be delivered to you direct from Walmart’s warehouse; it won't come here.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

But then I showed him the “free ship-to-store” option, which basically means that it will be shipped straight to this store. And that’s madness, because it’s already at the store, right on the shelf in front of me! He then looked off into space, thought for a second, and said, “Sorry, nothing I can do; you need to order online." And he walked off.

So, Walmart, can you explain this please? Why do customers have to go through the process of ordering online to save $20 when the exact same product is in the store (even though your website lies and says it’s not) and ready to be purchased? Why take the time and trouble to ship a product to a store that's already in stock at that store?

It seems nuts that your customers who take the trouble to drive to the store must pay $20 more for the product than those who order online first, and then drive to the exact same store to pick it up. What’s the rationale here?

And when a customer shows you the differing prices, wouldn’t it be wise to discount the in-store product to match the online price? You’re getting the same amount of money for it, and you’re just making a paying customer wait a whole week (or two) longer to get an identical product.

Does anyone else have any stories that are just as confusing? Am I missing something here? So far, no one I’ve talked to from Walmart can offer an explanation other than “prices in store differ than prices online.”

I have purchased the boxed set, by the way. I paid the $39.99, and instead of choosing free site-to-store, I chose free shipping. Why? Because it’s easier for me, and it will arrive in five days less than if I pick it up from the store. The store that already has it! Why, I have no idea.

Online shipping information

I don't know who is figuring all of this out over at Walmart, but it’s making my head hurt. Come on guys, and get this silly process straightened out, please.

Additional photo credit: All other images by Paul Michael
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Guest's picture
Nick

I've noticed the same thing twice from Best Buy in the last month or two. Once was for a bluray ($16.99 online, $29.99 in store), the other one was for a home theater receiver ($349.99 online, $499.99 in store). Luckily, Best Buy's policy is to price match either local competitors and/or Best Buy's online price, so I was able to get both for the discounted price.

Guest's picture
Guest

I had a similar situation at Best Buy once. A computer cable was $40 more in-store than online, and nothing they could do about it. The store staff admitted at the time that much of what they sold online was cheaper than in-store, even with in-store pickup. Strange.

Guest's picture
Jennifer

I noticed this last week too! A season of Supernatural was $17.50 online, with ship-to-store available, and about $40 in store.

Add this to the "things that totally suck about Walmart" list.

Guest's picture
Guest

They must make more money shipping (on trucks already coming to the store) an already paid for copy than for you to go there and pick up one off the floor. They'd rather have definitely sold copies for less, than ones sitting on the shelf for more. This kind of discrepancy has been going on for a while with them, it's nothing new.

Guest's picture
Guest

That's part of it, yes. Any time products take up space ("real estate") the company has no way of knowing just how long some products will remain there before they sell. Almost every company I've ever shopped with, including hobby shops and card stores, will order you things to pick up if you pay in advance. All they have to do is stick it in the back until you come and pick it up. It takes up none of their most valuable shelf space and they don't have to worry about "selling" it.

That said, if you show up in the store with proof of the lower price on their own website, they *should* match the price...but I do the Ship to Store option for Wal-Mart. I can order all my things and go in there and pick them all up at once. It saves me time instead of picking everything out separately at Wal-Mart.

Guest's picture
CWill

About a year ago, my husband and I were planning to purchase a wide screen TV. We'd checked out Sam's in person and on-line (prices the same for the same product) and several online stores. We found the TV we wanted, almost identical to one at Sam's that we liked, at Wal-Mart's online store for $20 less. We thought we'd save time and buy it at the Wal-Mart in town, except when we went there, it was $20 more than the online price. The explanation was that Wal-Mart online is basically it's own store, separate from the physical stores, and many times the price was cheaper. We were annoyed enough by the shenanigans that we drove 30 miles to Sam's and bought the TV there. I didn't feel like rewarding the local Wal-Mart owner; he lost a sale over a $20 difference on an $800 TV. I know his profit margin had to be higher than $20, but his complete lack of concern over the stupidity of it all was more than I could take!

Guest's picture

Walmart stores are locally owned franchises. They do not "compete" with each other. If you find something at a different Walmart for a lesser price, they will not lower the price for you at the store you are in. The same goes for online. I imagine the reasoning for the "not available in stores" label is simply that that particular price is not available in stores. I think it is stupid, too. I also think it is pretty dumb the employee had no understanding of the pricing structure of the store he is working at.

Guest's picture
crowe

Wal-Mart stores are all company owned. There are no franchises. I thought that was pretty common knowledge.

They also have a very complicated pricing model, and to operate with such low profit margins (around 3%), they have to. There's a much higher cost to carrying inventory in a store than there is at a regional distribution center. Because the sales forecast is much less certain at the store level than the regional level, they have to carry more inventory in the stores to avoid shortages.

I know $20 is a big difference in this case, but the real answer is to suck it up and wait the 5 days. If you think you're better at pricing and logistics than Wal-Mart, open a competing business and see how it goes. Good luck.

Guest's picture
Hillarie

I had same situation with a product at Target about six months ago. I don't remember details, but I do remember forgoing the purchase altogether in frustration. The store should honor the online price. Period.

Guest's picture
AvidShopper

The reason is because there is a surplus of those items in the Wal-Mart Warehouse - not at the store. When you place an order and do site to store shipping Wal-Mart does not go and pick the item off of the shelf and put it aside for you. The item is actually shipped from the warehouse to the store.

As an avid reader of your blog and a constant bargain hunter myself, I am a little surprised at your reaction to this experience.

Guest's picture
Auyeung

The online prices are for those people who look for coupons, if you're aware of the price difference, you save money.

One reason they might not want to adjust the price is that there's a chance they may lose money. If they only had four copies in the store, and they sold all four at the online prices, it's a potential loss of $80 in sales since they could've sold all four for $60 each. (Assuming four potential customers came in looking for the same item before they had a chance to restock)

Guest's picture

The premium that is paid is for immediacy. If you want something NOW, and can't wait a few days, then the comes with a price. (Why does no one question why plumbers charge a premium for coming out on a Sunday? The work is not actually any different than the work you would do on a Monday.)

As much as we would like to, we can't tell someone else how to run their business.

Guest's picture
Guest

I just heard on the radio yesterday (NPR) that Walmart honors all retail competitors price lists. For example; If you find it cheaper at say "Target" and show them the ad, they will match the price at the register and apparently ALL cashiers have the ability to price match by entering the amount manually rather than scanning. The term is deemed "Add match Policy."

I wonder if they will match their own price at the register when you find an item on their website cheaper than in their store?

I would think that they would...

I would hope that they would...

More information on this can be found at the following link:

http://risnews.edgl.com/retail-news/Walmart-Expands-Product-Assortment-1...

Guest's picture
Guest

They won't. Local competitors print ads only. If it's on sale, but not in their flyer, it's a no.

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't know about Walmart, but when I used to work at Target we would run into the 'Target and Target.com aren't the same thing' head-scratcher plenty of times. Yes, I said "when I *worked* at Target", meaning even the employees are pretty powerless to get a straight answer. The chain of command means that it's a game of telephone when you want an explanation on something like this, that isn't in the training materials. The best I ever understood it, Target stores and Target.com had different management somewhere close to the top. It meant that every now and then someone would bring in something they bought off the website and wanted to return that the store didn't sell or carry (and therefore couldn't accept), and we'd have to bluff our way through an explanation.

Guest's picture

I see this all the time, and I understand it has to do with the cost of carrying inventory. There is less store space than warehouse space, so holding the cost of the product at the store is going to take up more real estate and have a higher cost associated with it.

That being said, BUY ONLINE ALL THE TIME! I wrote an article about this last month myself, brick and mortars cannot compete with online retailers, even if they are owned by the same company.

Guest's picture
Guest

While I'm not a representative of Wal-Mart or any other store, I've worked retail for most of my life and I'm pretty sure I can answer your question.

See, most people walk into a store, see something they want, and buy it. That's just your average person. A much smaller percentage of people are researchers. We look at all the prices at a bunch of different stores, figure out the cheapest way to get it, and our determination is rewarded by a little extra green in our pockets. The company makes more money off the impulse buyer, but the researcher comes out better if they're the patient sort.

Is it a crappy system? Sure. It's a multi-national, billion-dollar corporation. They're in it to make money and there are tons of people who wouldn't think twice to just grab the DVD and hand over the cash (or more likely credit).

But let's back up a step. All of these policies are made at a national level. The guy who made them, the one who knows how people operate and how to get more money out of them, he's probably never set foot in that store. It's probably been thirty years since he worked on a sales floor. He will never hear your complaint, even if you call the 1-800 number and complain. His system works 99% of the time anyway, so they're not going to change.

Can you get the DVD for the online price in store? Sure. Just keep on complaining up the management tree until you find someone who will break the policy for you. The store manager almost always will, just so you don't go to corporate. The powerless nobodies in the store who've had to listen to you complaining about a 20-year old movie for the last 45 minutes will come up with a clever nickname for you and will groan every time you enter their department.

Guest's picture
Lisa

My husband and I had the exact same experience at a Wal-Mart store when trying to buy the first season of Glee on DVD. We had seen it online for a low price (even cheaper than Amazon) but when we went to the store to get it, it was $10-20 more. My husband pulled up the Wal-Mart.com page on his iPhone and showed the store clerk, who said there was nothing he could do. We even asked if we could order it online right then and there and take the store's copy home as our "ship-to-store" option. He said no, they had to actually ship a copy to the store and we would have to take the shipped copy once it came in. So we left and ordered from Amazon instead. Madness!

Guest's picture
Guest

I HAVE TO RESPOND TO THIS:
Okay a store front has overhead. Staff for you to yell at, someone personal for you to interact with; they also have the overhead of the physical building to account for.
Online has none of that therefore it is cheaper for the company to send directly from the warehouse. You can't avoid that overhead price and still maintain the store fronts.
This the stupidest rant I have ever read. You are an intelligent person you present yourself well this has to dawn on you somehow. Now, all you greedy people who want more for less can continue to order online and continue to see big business recording record profits while your LOCAL Storefronts go under, please understand that You and your gotta have it this minute its all madness attitude created this market, continue and watch everyone’s jobs fly out he window.
Wake up and realize the responsiblity you have in this horrible market.