Several years ago, I posted here about the self-defeating nature of couponing, Running with Scissors. It, by far, was the most successful post I’ve written here or anywhere, earned Freshly Pressed status from WordPress and reached thousands of people worldwide.
Within the last two weeks, I’ve seen how two of the largest retailers in North America have taken advantage of the environment to further nickel and dime their customers.
First, risking life and limb to venture into my local Walmart, I found a few items we needed in the house and noticed the prices weren’t merely non-competitive, but anti-competitive with other vendors in town. (With the best price in town across town, and the weather here having taken a 36-hour dump all over the roads, it wasn’t practical to do any more driving than absolutely necessary.) So I popped open Walmart’s website and found their price match policy, which has changed from one of the more lenient and consumer-friendly policies in retail (and, when coupled with Walmart’s savings tracker, became a great tool for thrifty types) to virtually no price match policy at all:
“We do not match [list redacted] Competitor advertised price” followed by “The manager on duty as [sic] the final decision on any Price match.” and “Walmart reserves the right to modify the terms of this policy at any time.”
Long story short, Walmart can move the goalposts whenever they want, up to and including refusing to price match items found on their own website or their recently-acquired jet.com.
I asked the young gentleman at the checkout about it, and he confirmed, along with a sympathetic ‘I know’ when I lamented the change.
Remember when Walmarts all had “WE SELL FOR LESS” plastered on every store? Yeah, there’s a reason they don’t have that on their stores anymore. They’ll sell for whatever they want, and you’ll like it or love it.
Secondly, Hipster Walmart aka Target has aggressively deployed digital assets for a while: after jacking their storewide markup 5% when they introduced the debit RedCard (something confirmed to me by a Target rep at the time) they introduced Cartwheel, the digital companion that helped find extra discounts on items in the store. Cartwheel has always been a handy tool, particularly when they added manufacturer coupons into the app and then rolled the app wholly into Target’s base one while adding a wallet feature. All cool stuff.
Several trips to Target ago–because the RedCard discount takes care of state tax where I live–I scanned a few items from my shopping list to find hits on discounts and coupons. Who doesn’t like that?
I went to the checkout, rang up, checked my receipt and saw that none of those items showed the customary, itemized Cartwheel discount. I checked the app again, and one item that connected for a discount was only for a particular size of the product, while the other was linked to a coupon that was for the product in general, but a specific variety. Why should the app give me offers on products I scanned for different items?
To Target’s credit, I brought up my concerns with a manager, who gave me credit for the coupon (which he didn’t have to) and offered to share my concerns with local and regional management, agreeing with me that the app shouldn’t connect the customer with offers on products that weren’t scanned. That is misleading at best, deceptive at worst.
Nevertheless, this is where we’re at: the largest retailer in the country has stopped competing with other outlets, while another of the largest stores in America has given their shoppers an app that gives them a false sense of savings. In fairness, it is incumbent upon the consumer to know what they’re buying and the offers they’re trying to use, but it is bad faith–and approaches the need for antitrust intervention–to flatly avoid competition in refusing to price match and it can be construed as deceptive to give a customer offers that don’t apply to the things they need.
All of this is a counterbalance to the ways in which couponing has turned a simple trip to the store into a byzantine and quixiotic attempt to beat the house, when the American marketplace is not and should not be a casino. A Target run shouldn’t resemble Supermarket Sweep; going to Walmart shouldn’t require a liberal dose of lube. Yet, we are so attuned to thinking that coupons and discounts are somehow exploiting the system that we uncritically accept any coupon or discount as somehow taking advantage when that is seldom the case and misses the actual point: sales, coupons and gimmicks exist to get people to spend more, not less.
The best deal is always good value on a good product. Everything else is designed to get further into your wallet.