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Wal-Mart’s new tool gives competitor’s prices and shoppers cash back

By Anne D’Innocenzio
AP Retail Writer

NEW YORK The “Every Day Low Price” king is trying to shake up the world of pricing once again.

Wal-Mart told The Associated Press that it has rolled out an online tool that allows shoppers to compare its prices on 80,000 food and household products to those of its competitors. The world’s largest retailer began offering the feature that’s called Savings Catcher on its website late last month in seven big markets that include Charlotte, Dallas, San Diego and Atlanta.

The move by Wal-Mart, which has a long history of undercutting competitors, could change the way people shop and how other retailers price their merchandise. After all, Americans already increasingly are searching for the lowest prices on their tablets and smartphones while in checkout aisles.

Shoppers do this so often that big retailers that include behemoths like Target and Best Buy have started offering to match the lower prices of rivals – but only if shoppers do the research on their own. The idea behind Wal-Mart’s online feature, on the other hand, is to do the legwork for customers.

The tool isn’t revolutionary. But Wal-Mart is the first traditional retailer to offer such a program, and if it’s successful, others may follow.

Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart Store Inc.’s U.S. discount division, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that shoppers are looking for “technological answers to saving them money and time.”

Wal-Mart’s “every day low price” model is under attack from online king Amazon and other competitors that sometimes offer items cheaper. On top of that, the retailer’s primarily lower-income customers continue to cut back on spending during the economic recovery.

As a result, Wal-Mart’s U.S. discount division recorded its fourth consecutive quarter of declines in revenue at stores opened at least a year, a critical yardstick for measuring a retailer’s health. The discounter also has seen a decline in the number of shoppers going to its stores.

Wal-Mart 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, Wal-Mart was testing it in four markets on an invitation-only basis. In late February, the company began rolling it out to the seven markets that also include Huntsville, Ala., Minneapolis, and Lexington, Ky.

Here’s how the tool works: A customer has to set up an account on Wal-Mart.com, then logs onto the Savings Catcher page and types in the number on their receipt. Savings Catcher compares prices of every item on the receipt to a database of advertised prices of competitors. The database is provided by an undisclosed third party that analyzes retail ads.

The prices at Wal-Mart stores are matched to competitive stores based on geographic location, but not online retailers.

The savings are issued on a Wal-Mart online gift card and the customers can accumulate savings or use the credit immediately. Shoppers can use the credit in stores or online by printing out the gift card receipt.

Anne Jurchak of Belmont was part of Wal-Mart’s focus group. She said she’s been getting back $5 to $7 on her weekly trips to Wal-Mart in which she typically spends $200 to $250. Jurchak used those savings to buy holiday stocking stuffers and a case for her e-reader.

As a part-time marriage counselor and mother of two sons, Jurchak, 41, a said she’s never had time to take advantage of price matching.

“They’re doing the work for me,” Jurchak said. “The only thing they’re not doing is putting the groceries away.”

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