Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Walmart: Always the No Price, Always

When you see a product on display with no price on it, it is not because the price is too low.

Today we saw an interesting example of merchandising - putting no prices on products and hoping people buy them anyway.

I had to go to the Dentist to get my teeth cleaned, and afterwords, it was nearly noon and we were on our way to Jacksonville.  We stopped to get gas, and I went in to get a coffee and maybe something to eat, as we had not planned ahead (!) for lunch.   Coffee was on sale all month for a dollar, and it was pretty good.  The breakfast sandwiches, however, were in a refrigerated case, and they had no price on them.   More disconcertingly, they had stickers on them that said, "sell by January 19th!" and today is the 9th.

I asked a clerk how much they were and she said $2.59 which is a lot of money for a badly made breakfast sandwich with a shelf life of two weeks.  I suspect they expect people who want food-on-the-go to run in and grab something and not care about the price, which probably works half the time.

We went across the street to McDonald's and got two of their dollar chicken sandwiches, but no coffee or fries (both over a dollar) which surely pissed off the franchisee, as the whole point of the "dollar menu" is to get you to order add-on items and pay more.   We beat the system, sort of, getting everything for a buck apiece.  Well, we didn't really win, as fast-food isn't good for you, and I could have made the whole thing for less than a dollar-fifty.

But I forgot about it until we went to Wal-Mart.  They had an end-cap display in the refrigerated section with five pound bags of frozen chicken wings, with the price clearly marked.  Above it was large bottles of Frank's Hot Sauce, which you need for chicken wings - but no prices marked.   I noticed that Wal-Mart is doing this lately - doing a lot more displays with impulse-purchase items with no prices on them, hoping you buy something and don't care or notice the price at checkout.   It is an interesting strategy.  It probably is illegal as well.

But it is an interesting gambit, and one to watch out for.   If the price isn't shown, odds are, it isn't a very competitive price.  They do the same thing at our local "Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market" or as we call it, "Ghetto Gourmet" (on the corner of "Community" and MLK boulevards).  They have ribs or shrimp on sale, and then the accompanying sauces next to them - with no prices.   They hope you overlook this.

On another note, Wal-Mart has ended its "price matching" policy, where they would match the price of any competitor for any product in the store.   The problem was, fraud.   As some folks online noted, you can load a webpage for a competitor, and then change the HTML coding on the page to change the prices.   Bored clerks don't bother to check (or know how to) and give you a price discount on a flat-screen TV or game console.   It got to be too difficult to administer, so they dropped the program entirely.

Quite frankly, I think Wal-Mart has turned a corner here - morphing from a low-price discount mart to the de facto grocery store, department store, and shopping mall, for much of America, particularly rural America.   For many people, Wal-Mart is the only game in town or more precisely, the only game in the county or even the next county, so you have to shop there, unless you want to drive 50 miles to another store.

As such, they no longer have to offer lower prices, but can start raising prices, slowly, and they no longer offer many of their famous discounted store-brand products.  Every time we go, another favorite "bargain" product either disappears from the shelves, or the price ratchets up.   The stores look more in disarray as they no longer care about how good they look - you have to shop there anyway, so it can look like hell.  And more and more pricing games are being played - and the customers are being played as well.

There is room in this space, perhaps, for a true low-price competitor.  The problem is, Wal-Mart can afford to lower prices in individual markets to the point where they can drive competitors out of business.   Once the playing field is cleared, they can raise prices yet again.

Always the NO price, always!