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15-minute drive reveals different Wal-Mart prices

It's no surprise finding different prices for the same item at different grocery stores.

It's also no surprise finding different prices for the same products within the same chain in different regions.

But how about the same products at the same stores that are just 15 minutes apart?

I bought 16 randomly selected food products for this unscientific review at the Wal-Mart stores in St. Petersburg on 34th Street S and in Pinellas Park.

The total bill was more expensive at the St. Petersburg Wal-Mart (78 cents). It's the details on the receipts that are most telling.

A 5-pound bag of pure cane, Wal-Mart brand sugar was $1.97 in Pinellas Park and $2.16 at the St. Petersburg store.

Watermelons had the biggest price difference, with the St. Petersburg store costing $4.88, 63 cents more than Pinellas Park.

But not everything was higher in Pinellas Park. Tropicana Orange Juice was 14 cents cheaper in St. Petersburg.

Wal-Mart says the difference is simply that prices are set based on nearby competition.

"We look at those as very different markets," said Melissa O'Brien, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. She said the pricing is based on the pricing at other retailers near each store.

Consumers also should be aware that the posted price can differ from the price at checkout.

A sign hanging above the milk section read, "Great Value, Whole Milk, One Gallon $3.97." The register rang it up as $3.78, the same price as Pinellas Park.

Though the result was in my favor, the concern is when the scanner registers a higher price.

O'Brien said the store probably did not change the sign for the milk price before it changed in the computer. "We always aim to make sure our signage is correct," she said.

But sometimes, as the milk case shows, it isn't.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

15-minute drive reveals different Wal-Mart prices 08/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 5:48pm]
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