Where Walmart gets it wrong: The comparison-shopping challenge

The Sunday Chicago Tribune has an interesting ad (Sec. 1, Page 7 - or click to zoom) comparing an identical shopping list at Walmart and at Jewel. They compare identical items' prices at both stores, then note that the Walmart list is $14.43 cheaper than Jewel. In a big, red circle, the ad notes "SHE SAVED 13%!"

I always shake my head when I see comparisons like these, as they're incredibly misleading. Good shoppers know that the same items' prices can fluctuate wildly, and because there are both good and bad times to buy the same item, any store that has these items currently on the higher end of the high/low price cycle is going to appear to "lose" the challenge. These compare-the-list challenges also always assume the shopper wants to buy this list of items this week, regardless of price.

So, let's break it down. Quite a few items on this list should not have been bought at all at these prices if the shopper was aiming to save the most:

Item Walmart price Jewel-Osco price Sale Price you should pay, post-coupon Notes
Tide Laundry Detergent - 100fl.oz. $11.97 $11.99 $2.99 or less for 50-ounce bottles It's usually cheaper to buy two 50-ounce bottles during a sale, with coupons, than it is to buy that large bottle. Then, STOCK UP! In Nov. 2011, these Tides were $1.93 after a CVS deal. In Sept. 2011, 56oz. Tide was $2.99 after a coupon stack.

Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Snack Crackers - 30oz.

$6.98 $7.69 .99 each for 7.2oz. bags (Buying five would cost $4.95) It's tough to find Goldfish coupons, but the small bags go on sale for .99 regularly. You're almost always better off buying many small bags, on sale, than ever buying that big carton of Goldfish. The Baby Cheddar Goldfish have 7.2oz. of crackers in side. Buying five bags would cost $4.95 and give you 36 ounces of Goldfish. If there are any coupons, you'll do even better.
Welch's 100% Grape Juice 64oz. $3.78 $4.49 $1.49 I would NEVER buy this product at more than $2 per bottle. It goes on sale for $1.99 pretty regularly, and there are often $1-off-2 coupons available to drop that to a nice $1.49.
Capri-Sun Lemonade Juice Drinks 10-6fl oz. $2.48 $2.49 $1.79 With recent "Buy 2 Get 1 Free" coupons available, you could do even better here, but these do go on sale for $1.79 regularly.

Quaker Oats Quick - 1 Minute - 42oz.

$4.12 $4.69 $2.99 Again, both of these stores' current prices are very high. It's often cheaper to buy the boxes of individual Quaker packets, and there are Quaker coupons fairly often too.

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter - 40oz.

$6.44 $6.79 $2 per 16oz. jar (buying three jars would cost $6, but give you 48 ounces of peanut butter) This is another situation where buying smaller jars would save you more money, especially during a coupon deal. Don't be brand-specific, and, when the sales are crazy-good, stock up. Meijer had 16oz. Skippy for less than .05 per 16oz. jar in Sept. 2011!
Barilla Plus Penne Pasta, 14.5oz. $2.12 (shopper bought two) $2.39 (shopper bought 2) $1.29 The Barilla Plus doesn't drop to .99 as often as the other Barilla varieties, but anything over $1.50 for this is just ridiculously high.
Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix - 32oz. $2.54 (shopper bought two) $2.50 (shopper bought 2) $1.99 This product is involved in Jewel's "Buy 10, Save $5" instant-savings sales on occasion, and I've never paid more than $2 per box for it. $1.50 is an even better price, and we do see that on occasion.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner - 14oz. $2.25 $2.29 $1.67 You can get these for less than $1.50 too if there are coupons involved, but just last month in April, Walgreens had them on sale 3-for-$5, or $1.67 each.
Country Time Pink Lemonade Drink Mix 19oz. $2.50 $2.99 $1.99 As summer approaches, look for coupons for this to arrive in the inserts too, but I would not pay more than $2 per canister.
Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty 75 sq. ft. $5.38 $6.49 $1.49 Jewel just had this on sale last week for $2.99! With a $1.50 printable coupon, it was $1.49. Both of these prices are ridiculously high.
Hefty 35qt. Freezer Bags 35ct. $2.98 $4.79 $1.99 These go on sale, and there are coupons out for them regularly. I think even $1.99 is on the higher end of what I'd pay here, but it's still much better than paying either of the comparison prices.
General Mills Chocolate Cheerios Cereal - 11.25oz. $2.98 $3.79 $1.49 Dominick's has had these on sale not long ago for $1.99 per box. With a $1-off-2 printable, they were $1.49.
Old El Paso Hard & Soft Taco Dinner Kit 11.4oz. $2.50 $1.79 $1.29 Jewel's pre-coupon price is actually pretty good here. But, if it had been purchased with a $1-off-2 coupon earlier this year, the price could have dropped by another .50.
Thomas' Plain Mini Bagels 12ct. $2.98 $4.69 $2.99 These go on sale for $2.99 fairly often, so Walmart's price here is fair. There are also not a lot of coupons out for these.
Kellogg's Special K Strawberry Fruit Crisps 10ct. $2.78 $3.49 $1.99 When these are on sale, they're still kind of high (to me) at $2.49. But with a $1-off-2, you could drop these to a better $1.99. CVS has had Special K items involved in their "Spend $30, Get $10" past sales too -- if I really wanted these, I'd stock up and involve them in a promo like that.
Quaker Chewy Dipps Chocolate Chip Granola Bars - 6ct. $2.19 $2.25 $1.49 These go on sale for $1.99 often, and with a $1-off-2 coupon, the price gets even better.
Snyder's of Hanover All Natural Pretzels $2.68 $3.00 $1.99 When these go on sale for $2.49, use a $1-off-2 coupon and pick them up for $1.99. Jewel also has a "Spend $15, Save $5" SavingStar promotion running right now on Snyder's of Hanover. Even with no coupons, the shopper could have bought five boxes at Jewel and dropped the total to $10, or $2 each.
Pompeian Balsamic Vinegar 16fl. oz. $2.72 $3.69 $1.49 Mejier often has 50% off sales on Pompeian products. While this usually sells for $2.99 at Meijer, during that sale, it's $1.49.
Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 32oz. $8.72 $11.39 $2.99 for 16oz. (buying two would cost $5.98) Again, Meijer has Pompeian on sale 50% off regularly. When there are coupons available, go with the smaller bottles here to save the most. The 16oz. bottle is regularly $5.99, but at 50% off, it's $2.99. As recently as February
of this year, a $3 printable coupon made it FREE! During another sale, Pompeian was totally FREE after a store and manufacturer coupon stack at Meijer. But in the absence of a crazy sale, $2.99 for 16oz. is a good price.
Kraft 100% Parmesan Grated Cheese, 8oz. $3.50 $3.99 $2.99 This is rarely super-cheap, but $2.99 is better. I have gotten better deals lately buying fresh Parmesan too, if you're not brand-specific. I recently had an ecoupon for a bag of Dominick's Lucerne brand of 8oz. fresh Paremesan cheese shreds that dropped the price to $1.99.
Kraft Philadelphia Regular Cream Cheese Spread 12oz. $3.58 $4.69 $1.99 for 8oz. (buying two would cost $3.98 but give you more cheese.) When the 8oz. sizes are on sale for $1.99, it's a much better per-ounce price. For this example, if we bought two on sale for $1.99, we would pay $3.98, but we'd have 16 ounces of cheese. That's about .25 per ounce versus Walmart's price of about .30 per ounce.
TOTALS: $92.82 $107.25 $62.58 By shopping during sales with coupons, this shopper could have potentially saved $30.24 over the Walmart total and $44.67 over the Jewel-Osco total. That's about 33% savings over the Walmart total, and about 41% over the Jewel-Osco savings. And, in the cases of some of these products, the shopper would have brought home larger quantities of the same items for less money.

Walmart's hidden costs

This was an excellent post. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is too see that commercial for Walmart.

What they should be doing...a complete analysis of the cost of supporting a Walmart in your community. Remember what you think are low prices at Walmart actually are hidden in the rise of your taxes and also lead to further government spending.

I would rather pay $1.00 more for 10 items if I know that the store clerk at Jewel can take home a paycheck and feed their children and have healthcare versus a Walmart clerk getting a paycheck that still may not be able to afford decent support for family and lack of some hint of quality healthcare....

Group has made excellent points!

This is great

Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!

what low prices?

I had to buy some ribs last weekend (I went away for the weekend, promised to bring ribs, and them promptly forgot to bring them). I almost fainted when I saw that country-style ribs were $3.59 a pound! I've never paid more than 99 cents a pound - usualy 69 cents a pound! I looked all over the store for a better option and there was none. What an expensive mistake to make!

Crazy, isn't it?

We wanted ribs for grilling out today, and Walmart is much closer to our house than Target, so earlier this week we took the Target ad to Walmart hoping to match their $1.97 price on Hormel Always Tender pork ribs. Walmart stocks Tyson ribs instead of Hormel, and their equivalent price was $3.89/lb! NO thanks!

I had no idea I could save so

I had no idea I could save so much money just by using coupons, I'll make sure to look out for them more often! Usually I do most of my shopping online, but I prefer to buy my groceries from the local grocery store.


We laugh at that Wal Mart commercial. The guy says the shopper paid almost $5 for a box of cereal at Jewel but the Wal Mart price is ONLY $3!! Really, when was the last time any of us paid over $1 for cereal, let alone $3 ( or GASP! $5)?

Walmart Prices

I used to be a BIG Walmart shopper, I could not wait for the Super Walmart to open in Johnsburg. That was before I became a huge fan of couponing that I started pretty much one year ago. Now I very rarely buy anything at Walmart. Combining sales, coupons and cats totally beats Walmart prices. Price matching is fine and dandy, but they don't offer Cats or the "buy X amount of items and get $X off instantly deals. Those are the big stock up times that Walmart just can't price match. And, their produce, meats and deli items are extremely high. Even the local "mom and pop" store beats their prices on those items. Thanks Jill for all you do!!

shopping comparison

I do shop at our Wal-Mart (almost) superstore and enjoy the fact that I can price match and use coupons. It saves me gas and since I am disabled, much easier on me.I do keep a SMALL stockpile so I can use coupons at the appropriate time of the sales cycle. My husband does stop during a BOGO vitamin sale at Walgreens since he has a lot of prescriptions. Anybody sign up for the Nature Made site and do the points deal? I just received a $7 coupon due to this. Hubby is off to the BOGO vitamin sale tomorrow with the $7 coupon. Take a look at their site and see for yourself!

That's when Walmart becomes a contender!

When you can price-match lower sale prices and do it all in one place, then Walmart is definitely a contender. If you're pricematching, you can "force" their prices down into the cycle-low range of their competitors, then do one-stop shopping. But again -- I don't think those are the kind of shoppers they're trying to attract with this kind of advertising.

Yeah but...

Obviously, their ads are appealing to the non-couponing crowds. I appreciate the ELP store, Walmart. I like that they don't play around with prices and with High/Low cycles.
Jill, I think you're great, and I have saved so much money thanks to you. I will just always be a Walmart fan... sort of. If it weren't for a store like Walmart, imagine how high the prices would be elsewhere. They have helped keep prices low at other stores who have to lower their prices to compete with Walmart.
Walmart's point is that everyday shopping is cheaper at Walmart, and that is true. Sometimes we need something and we can't wait 8 weeks for the sale at Jewel. I did my own comparison on some items we buy and it too was cheaper than Jewel, and some of the items were on sale at Jewel, while using my preferred card. Jill, you certainly make finding the lower price easier than it used to be, but people that work 2 full time jobs, like I do, don't always have the chance to do the math to compare price per ounce, etc..

As for the receipts not looking right, I would assume there would be legal issues with printing an exact copy of a Jewel receipt so they probably made their own list and also didn't want to include the taxes which are different everywhere you go and the ad is reaching all of Chicagoland where Jewel's primary business is.

Jill is awesome!!!!!

Sad but true...

I've seen many carts that look similar to this list and it has always amazed me. Even before couponing at this level I did watch sales and stocked up when things were on sale at least to some degree.

Funny how things do change though...not too long ago I thought Walmart had pretty good prices and if I needed something and there wasn't a sale, I'd head there. Now when I go into Walmart I look around and shake my head at my own past stupidity.


those don't look like register receipts.
am i missing something.


It's an ad from tomorrow's Chicago Tribune. They are comparing receipts for prices at two St. Charles, IL area Walmart and Jewel-Osco stores.


i get that but don't look any receipts i have.
they look funny.
no taxes on it.

preferred card?

Was this shopping trip using Jewels preferred card?

I personally think unless you price match at Walmart, you overpay. Walmart should mention this policy in this ad. I think saving 13% is almost nothing. If I do not save at least 50% then I feel I am being a lazy, wasteful shopper. I get a real thrill when my receipt says I have saved 90% or more like it did at Jewel during the Ken's/Lowry's sale 2 wks ago!!!

I just shook my head in the

I just shook my head in the comparison: 13% to JEWEL? Seriously? They are by far the most expensive grocery store in the Chicagoland area (perhaps together with Dominicks). Saving 13% compared to the most expensive competitor? Not impressed. Now if it was 13% to Ultra Foods, or possibly Food 4 Less, I'd be more impressed.

And yeah, Jill nailed it on the head that no one watching their pennies would pay those kind of prices for groceries. Which means that the ad isn't aimed at the right target audience.

It's actually aimed at their 'right' target audience --

those that don't pinch pennies and obviously don't access coupon sites!! :) My DH is up on all things finance and he says 'we' are NOT the clientele stores want ... even the stores you think welcome us. We're sort of like the relative you have to invite to xmas dinner ... but really hope they don't show.

It's a dirty job but someone has to do it...:-)

I'll gladly take on that role because the "relatives" are looking out for their own bottom line but I have to look out for mine.

I may not be the one they want to show up but I come and do my thing, I am polite and do not leave a mess behind and I play by the rules.