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Walmart takes direct aim at competitors with new matching BOGO deal

Walmart may not be everyone’s favorite in customer service, but its buy-one-get-one deal matching will help shoppers.

Associated Press

Walmart may not be everyone’s favorite in customer service, but its buy-one-get-one deal matching will help shoppers.

Have you heard the joke about Walmart founder Sam Walton? He was buried 32 feet underground because, down deep, he's really a nice guy.

I mention it as no disrespect to the dearly departed but to appease Publix shoppers who take offense to any good news about Walmart. Like last week's announcement that Walmart is accepting buy-one-get-one free deals from other grocery stores in Florida.

Talk about riling up the troops.

"Not good enough for me,'' wrote one online commenter.

"I'll pay the difference,'' another said. "I can't take Walmart.''

More than a year on the retail beat, I've learned that Publix loyalists can't stand it when Walmart takes a jab at their store. How dare Walmart try to compete. There's just no comparison.

I get the sentiment. Publix stores are clean, bright and well-stocked. The workers are helpful and friendly and seem to enjoy their jobs. Baggers are so insistent about walking my groceries to my car that I sometimes let them.

But I also care about the bottom line. A box of Cheerios is a box of Cheerios, so why not get the lowest price?

Walmart went for the jugular when it decided to match BOGOs based on customer feedback. The buy-one-get-one deals are a big reason a lot of people shop at Publix — and to a lesser degree Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie. Sure, you might pay more for other products in the store but, if you factor in the BOGOs and other discounts, you can save money.

Take away the BOGO advantage, and the allure of Publix is diminished for some shoppers. (How much depends on how much you value customer service, cleanliness and other intangibles.)

I tested the new policy last week at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Tampa. I picked five items on BOGO at Publix: Northland cranberry juice, Eight O'Clock coffee, Progresso soup, Raisin Bran and Capri Sun.

All of them were in stock, which was surprising. Walmart has a reputation for being out of things, so I figured some of the items would be gone. And, really, it wouldn't have been Walmart's fault necessarily. How can we expect Walmart to stock up for a bunch of other stores' weekly sales?

I wasn't sure how closely Walmart was going to police my matches, so I stuck to items that were identical to the ones listed in Publix's ad. I didn't want a grumpy cashier calling me out for having the wrong size of Ragu sauce.

Turns out it didn't matter. My (already expressionless) clerk didn't say a thing when I told her these items were BOGO deals at Publix. She took my word for it. Wow. I left paying $14.40 for the five items, including $2.98 for two boxes of Raisin Bran. Be still my cheap heart!

At Publix (remember the Walton joke all you Publix fans), those same items would have cost $19.52.

Under the new policy, Walmart says you don't need to bring in a competitor's ad to get the BOGO deal, which is a departure from many matching deals. Just tell the cashier it's a BOGO, and she'll scan the second one for free.

Stores are supposed to keep a list of all the local BOGOs, but that can't be easy. Publix alone averages about 40 a week. So far, I haven't heard of anyone who has seen a cashier refer to a list, but maybe it's too soon for that.

Walmart officials admittedly say it will take a while to get all the employees up to speed. Some confusion is expected — and is happening.

Michael Whitehead said he was shopping at a Walmart in St. Pete last week but was told he could only have two BOGO deals. Wrong. There's no limit on BOGO deals per person, just a limit of two BOGO deals per item to prevent bargain hunters from buying out a product.

Another potentially tricky point is manufacturer coupons. The savviest coupon clippers know you get the best deal when you combine a BOGO offer with two coupons. Two boxes of Uncle Ben's rice for less than a dollar? Yes, it can happen.

Lori Gibson tried to do it at a Walmart in Largo last week but was denied and left in a huff, abandoning her $140 worth of groceries at the register.

It turns out the cashier and manager were mistaken. Yes, you can apply two manufacturer coupons on a BOGO deal. Publix does it, so Walmart is doing it, too.

I left Walmart thinking I should do this more often, though never on the weekends when the stores are packed and the lines are too long. Feeling empowered, I asked an employee on the way out if he could do something about all the trash in the parking lot.

He said he would get right on it. If Walmart is really listening to customers, he will.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow her on Twiiter @susan_thurston.

Walmart takes direct aim at competitors with new matching BOGO deal 10/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 7, 2013 10:43pm]

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