Test of Walmart’s ‘Savings Catcher’ an eye-opener
Walmart is testing a new grocery savings program in the Twin Cities. Last week I tried it. There were some surprises.
Walmart boasts that its “Savings Catcher” is an easy way for shoppers to save money. You can shop at Walmart and enter your receipt code online. If a rival store is advertising a lower price than you just paid, you collect the difference.
The first surprise: Despite media reports that Savings Catcher compares prices on 80,000 food and household products, it doesn’t actually pay off on 80,000 items. In the Twin Cities, it price-matches only groceries in that week’s ads for rivals such as Target, Rainbow Foods, Cub Foods and five others — a much smaller basket of items.
For instance, Target’s recent Sunday ad featured 47 food items that qualified for Savings Catcher’s price matching. If it’s not in a rival’s ad, it’s not included in Savings Catcher.
So far, Walmart is testing Savings Catcher in seven markets around the country. It’s also making a big push into the Twin Cities market — hometown of both Target and Cub Foods — which has heated up an already-sizzling grocery war.
Milwaukee supermarket analyst David Livingston views the Walmart program less as a big money-saver for shoppers than as ammunition in those grocery wars.
“It’s a little bit of a gimmick, a little PR move to remind people (of Walmart’s low-price claims) but it’s not going to be significant,” Livingston said. “But the competition won’t be able to do this.”
So how does Savings Catcher work? Shoppers first need to register at Walmart.com. If you don’t have computer access, Savings Catcher isn’t for you.
For folks who already have a Walmart.com account, “you don’t have to input any new information, other than the information on your receipt,” said Molly Blakeman, a Walmart spokeswoman in Bentonville, Ark.
Savings Catcher will price-check brand-name food items and household products such as toilet paper and shampoo, she said. It does not cover clothing, toys, electronics, housewares and so on.
As a test, I headed to Walmart’s new Cottage Grove SuperCenter. I did my family’s weekly grocery run, spending $134.14 on items we usually buy.
At the bottom of the receipt is a 21-digit code. You enter that number on your smartphone or computer at Walmart.com/SavingsCatcher.
After a couple of tries, I got a response — and the second surprise: “We have successfully received your receipt. Please allow up to three days for your receipt to be processed.”
Three days? Two days later I checked, to be told that “Savings Catcher isn’t finished. … ”
Then came a third surprise: The list of rival stores had changed. Walmart initially listed 10 retailers in the Twin Cities that it would price-check. But it has removed some and added others, so now it’s eight: Target, IGA (whose nearest store is in Prescott, Wis.), Walgreens, CVS, Cub Foods, Rainbow Foods, Kmart and Coborns.
Finally, after three days, Savings Catcher gave me the answer. I got a credit of $5.62 — about 4 percent — on my $134.14 bill. Considering that many online commenters had talked about saving a buck or two, that was a mild surprise, too.
One feature of Savings Catcher is that it provides details on items, stores and prices. Turns out, quite a few places advertised lower prices than I paid at Walmart:
-- Progresso soup was 88 cents cheaper at Cub.
-- A bag of mini-carrots was 11 cents cheaper at Coborns.
-- Lays potato chips were 70 cents cheaper at Kmart.
-- A package of Oscar Mayer hot dogs was 29 cents cheaper at Rainbow.
-- And a package of Scotch-Brite sponges was $1.13 cheaper at CVS.
In all, nine items were cheaper elsewhere, and the difference was electronically credited to my account, to be redeemed later at Walmart or Walmart.com — ensuring, for Walmart’s sake, that I have to make a return trip.
Separately, Savings Catcher calculates a second figure from your receipt called “Walmart Savings.” This tells you items you bought where Walmart already had the lowest advertised price, so you saved money.
Here, I was surprised to find an error — unless Kmart really did advertise a $3 pair of latex gloves for $11. Excluding that, my actual “Walmart Savings” total was 14 cents, not the $8.96 figure provided.
Walmart does identify Savings Catcher as a Beta program, with the Twin Cities a test market to work out the kinks and see how it functions.
Savings Catcher accelerates some trends already underway in retail. The rise of smartphones and price-comparison apps are giving consumers the ability to compare prices easily, even in the stores.
And the big players also are developing the next generation of promotions, beyond the traditional paper coupons and weekly circulars.
Target last year unveiled Cartwheel, a program that offers discounts via smartphone. More than 5 million people have so far registered for Cartwheel, especially younger shoppers, Target said last month.
Walmart wouldn’t disclose how many people are using Savings Catcher, but the company is touting it as both a time-saver and a money-saver for busy consumers.
“They don’t have to shop anywhere else,” Walmart’s Blakeman said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.