My Walmart is Cheaper than Your Walmart
Have you ever wondered if different Walmart stores charge different amounts for the same products?
I kind of assumed that they had the same prices across their stores, but once I began analyzing that assumption, I started having doubts. Would the prices be the same across all 50 states? No way. What about between stores in Southern California and Northern California? Probably not.
And once the mechanism for these differences in price were in place, why not tinker with the prices on a per-store basis? Too complicated? What about price matching? Could Walmart be forced to price-match their own products from different stores?
To test this idea, I'd have to visit two Walmarts at the exact same time. Ok, probably on the same day would be fine.
Around noon on Monday, November 19th, 2012, I visited the first of three Walmart stores. The store was in Folsom, California, an affluent suburb of Sacramento. I noted the prices of 17 grocery items, then scrambled across town to check a second, then a third Walmart.
Here's what I found: There is a variance of prices on identical items at different Walmart stores.
The item list is detailed below. After the item name, there are three prices in this order - Folsom, Rancho, South Sacramento
Absolut Vodka, 750ml bottle - $16.97 $16.97 $16.97
I had the 1.75 bottle on my checklist, but Walmart doesn't carry that larger size.
The Walmart in Folsom had the bottles out. The Walmart in Rancho Cordova had the bottles (which one clerk described as "the good stuff") up front next to the registers, and the Walmart in South Sacramento had the liquor in a locked case, where the Absolut was tucked behind a red sticker advising the dangers of alcohol consumption.
Apples, Gala - $1.35 lb $1.47 lb $1.47 lb
This was the first thing I saw when I walked into the Walmart in Rancho Cordova. A big bin of Gala apples with a huge, guaranteed low price, 12¢ more than the Folsom store.
Avocados 68¢, 78¢, 78¢
Avocados were more expensive in Rancho Cordova and in South Sacramento. The Walmart in South Sac was fairly destroyed. This was the Monday night before Thanksgiving, and things were getting a little ragged in the aisles.
Ice Cream, Country Rich 4.25 liter tub - $6, $6, $6
Of 17 items checked, this was one of nine things that had the same price across all three stores.
Peanuts, Planters 34.5oz - $6.48, $6.48, $6.48
The same price across all three stores
Frozen Chicken Breasts, 3lb sack of skinless, boneless - $7.48, $9.77, $7.48
The Rancho Cordova stores had these chicken breast bags for $2.29 more than the other two places.
Chicken Pot Pie, Swansons - 78¢, 88¢, 88¢
Once again the Folsom store had lower prices than the other two stores. Ten cents isn't a lot, but it is a 12.8% difference in this case.
Dove Bars, box of 3 - $3, $3, $3
This price was uniform across the three stores. Dove and Magnum bars had a spot next to each other, away from the non-premium ice cream bars.
Magnum must have been having a promotion, because they had floor and door stickers on the freezer. In South Sacramento, the Magnum sticker was obscuring my view of the Dove bars. If this is a planned assault on Dove's shelf profile, it is a pretty egregious one.
Tuna, Starkist 5oz. can 94¢, 94¢, 94¢
This price was uniform across the three stores. The price was also the same for tuna in oil or in water.
Cheddar Cheese, Cache Valley 2 lbs. block - $8.48, $8.58, $8.58
Look at how strange that is. This cheese is 10¢ cheaper in Folsom, barely enough to notice.
Milk, Low fat Great Value, Gallon - $3.28, $3.48, $3.48
Cheaper in Folsom. These price differences were particularly jarring when they were accompanied by giant banners in the stores, proclaiming them to be the lowest price possible. when just down the road milk is available for less, at ANOTHER WALMART STORE.
Peanut M&Ms, 12.6oz bag - $2.98, $2.98, $2.98
The same price across all three Walmart stores
Apple tray, 42 oz. $9.88, $9.88, $9.88
The same price across all three stores. Look how overpriced this tray of apple slices is. Apples are 8¢ an ounce in this exact same store, not 20 feet from this stupid tray. 42 ounces of apples should be about $3.54, but I guess that doesn't factor in the price of the 22 grapes and the caramel sauce.
Of course, this tray of sliced apples would probably be $15 at Safeway.
No wonder Alice always brings corn chips to the department potluck lunch.
DiGiorno Pizza, rising crust, triple meat - $5.47, $4.98, $4.98
Here's an item which was more expensive at the Folsom store. The other seven items with a price variance had lower prices at the Rancho Cordova and South Sacramento stores.
Coffee, Maxwell House 29.3oz tub - $7.98, $7.98, $7.98
The same price across all three stores. This is equivalent to $3.26 for a 12 ounce bag.
Beer, Budweiser 36 cans - $18.87, $19.97, $19.97
The Budweiser in Folsom was $1.10 less than in Rancho Cordova and South Sacramento. I should also mention that the beer in South Sacramento was on the shelf, not in a refrigerated case.
Ham, Oscar Mayer sliced Family Size 1 lb. - $4.98, $4.98, $4.98
The same price across all three stores
Of seventeen choices, nine grocery items had a different price depending on the store. The price difference favored the Folsom store, an affluent suburb, over the Rancho Cordova and South Sacramento stores, non-affluent sections of Sacramento county.
That is, the stores in poor neighborhoods had higher prices, not the other way around. Perhaps the customers in more affluent neighborhoods had better access to alternative grocers, or perhaps the poor neighborhoods were more expensive to operate a store, necessitating premium prices.
I may not be able to guess the reason for price variances based on this comparison and my stab at demographics, but I'm happy to know about it. I feel like I figured out a secret.