Tag Archives: Walmart

Are sales a thing of the past?

shoppingWhat drove you to choose the stores you did for holiday shopping? Did sales or promotions influence your decision to shop at a particular store? Sales drive a lot of sales, but some analysts are predicting sales may become a thing of the past.

The website, Coupons in the News, had access to an industry report from retail consultant AMG Strategic Advisors on this issue. Coupons in the News reports that AMG predicts that within three years everyday low pricing will replace sales and promotions.

According to the report, 65% of shoppers said they “expect certain products to be on sale and, if they are not, they will wait until they are on sale to purchase.” Some items are on sale at frequent intervals making it easy to stock up during the sales, and wait until the next one.

walmart dollar stationCoupons in the News points out the failure JCPenney experienced trying to wean consumers off these predictable sales, but points out the grocery business is different. Walmart already has an everyday low price model, and it’s been successful with it.

While Walmart is king, it’s worried like everyone else. The grocer is attacking regional grocery giants in retail markets across the country. Since when is Walmart concerned with Giant Eagle? Marketing experts say it shows every retailer is fighting to preserve the bottom line.

My previous reports for NewsChannel 5, have also shown a huge surge dollar stores. There are now more of these type stores than McDonald’s. Many are creating stand-alone stores rather than putting them in strip malls. The stand-alone stores offer more grocery items like frozen and perishable items. It makes you feel like you’re in a real grocer.

Even Walmart and Target are offering dollar bins in prominent parts of their store to compete with the dollar stores.

Save-A-Lot and Aldi have also been successful brands in this new type of environment. They’re not known for their sales, but their low prices.

Of course the economy has helped spur these stores along, but it also shows you can have low prices without sales.

Grocers already experimenting
Coupons in the News said nationally grocers are already testing these low price models including Ralphs, Food Lion, and Kroger.

Locally, Giant Eagle is experimenting with a similar policy. The grocery giant in our region froze prices through the holidays on more than 300 items. This week, the grocer extended the price lock through the winter. While some would argue Giant Eagle’s prices are not the lowest around, I think this is a strategic strategy and marketing technique to make you think it offers low prices. The technique makes you think you’re getting a bargain.

The retailer also is branching off with it’s sister grocer, ValuKing. The store’s motto is “to count on low prices every time you shop.” They don’t run sales, because their prices are low every day.

During a recent store visit for a NewsChannel 5 story, Valu King Senior Vice President John Tedesco said, “We don’t run weekly specials. And we don’t play the high-low game, so this is an everyday low price. This is our everyday price on bananas 28 cents a pound.”

The store keeps prices low by cutting one of its biggest costs — labor. You bag your own groceries and items are displayed on crates and boxes rather than store shelves.

Executives said that while they buy most items including organic, deli, and fine cheeses they won’t buy a few items like diapers because they can’t get bulk prices on them.

What is the future?
While eliminating sales may seem like a drastic move, Coupons in the News said AMG pointed out that 60% of brand-name products are sold at regular prices without sales. Many products don’t go on sale, so would consumers really miss them?

Coupons in the News didn’t seem as optimistic that sales will disappear in three years as predicted, and I agree that it won’t be mainstream in three years. Sales will always be important because they strongly influence consumer behavior.  However, I think we’ll continue to see changes and a new environment will emerge that makes us less dependent on sales to save money.

It makes sense that a retailer like Giant Eagle has two different brands that employ the various marketing techniques. It’s a safe bet as I’m not sure one marketing strategy is proven to be lead to more or less success.

As more stores emerge that offer everyday low prices, consumers will change their behavior that makes them less reliant on sales.

The one thing that appears definitive — stores are experimenting and consumers need to be prepared. Look beyond the sales and look at the unit price so you know how much you’re really paying for the product you’re buying.

What do you think? Click comment below.

Cut your cell phone and landline bills in half

phoneIf you want to save money, your phone bill is a good place to start looking for savings. There is no need to spend a lot for cell phone or landline phone service. Third party companies, not associated with the major phone companies, are giving you more options to save.

iPhone 4A prepaid cell phone plan is the best way to cut your bill in half. These plans used to be marketed to people with poor credit who couldn’t qualify for a phone plan, but now they’re becoming mainstream. Pre-paid plans are now being used by consumers who simply want to reduce their phone bill. Some of the plans are offered by third party companies, while others are offered by the phone company itself.

One of the more popular ones is offered by Straight Talk. Walmart sells the plans, but you can also buy the service directly from Straight Talk online. The company offers a $45 unlimited talk, text, and data plan for smartphone users. That’s far less than the traditional plans for similar service that typically start at $75-80.

You need an unlocked phone for this service, but spending several hundred dollars upfront for the phone may be worth it because you are not tied into a hefty monthly charge or contract. Some users say that while it’s advertised as “unlimited” there are limits on the data you can consume before being throttled. I couldn’t get a straight answer on this, but a techie who uses it said he stays below 2 GB to avoid potential problems.

My NewsChannel 5 story breaks other prepaid plans and the limits with each one. Most cost around $50 a month.

Save on landline service
phone resized
Straight Talk is now offering you the chance to save on landline service too. The cost is $15 a month. My mom pays $43 a month for basic phone service. The cost is outrageous, and I’m ready to switch her to save her $28 a month.

You need to buy a $99.99 wireless home phone device to make this possible, and then you pay the monthly fee. You can keep your old number by porting it.

What’s unclear is whether your phone number remains unlisted. My mom pays $5.50 a month to keep her phone number out of the phone book. That’s an outrageous price, and she said it’s gone up considerably in the last few years.

phone book 3I read all the fine print on Straight Talk’s website, and can’t find anything about keeping your number private. I called customer service and none of the options really applied to what I needed. They were mostly for existing customers. I hit a few options when prompted, and was hung up on twice.

On my third try, I finally hit the correct prompts to get connected to a customer service representative. Or, so I thought. I sat on hold for more than 23 minutes, when I finally gave up and hung up the phone.

That’s the big tradeoff with Straight Talk. It’s hard to get straight answers because it’s hard to reach customer service. You get what you pay for in a way. If the little details are not important to you, it’s a good option for you. However, I have a feeling many of the people holding onto their costly landline phone service are not exactly willing to try new technology without asking lots of questions and reading all the fine print.

The other option is magicJack, but it requires some technical know-how to use it. A computer was once a requirement, but now you just need a router or Internet service.

That company makes it clear you can keep your private number for no additional fee, but it won’t work for my mother who doesn’t own a computer and has no desire to get one. I’m sure many people with landline phones fit into this category.

The bottom line: there are options out there to cut your phone bills in half. In my opinion, it’s worth some of the tradeoffs if you’re going to save some money. People who have made the switch seem happy they did. They’re celebrating all the way to the bank.

Survival guide to Black Friday week

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

The much anticipated Thanksgiving week has arrived. Get the aspirin ready if you’re travelling or planning to shop. Put the scale away and get the beer ready if you’re planning to be lazy and watch some football and eat. Don’t expect the hype over the shopping season to end next week. There’s a lot at stake this year for retailers, so  there will be sales throughout the season.

While we typically think of Black Friday as the shopping day after Thanksgiving, the unofficial holiday is getting redefined. Call the new shopping deals on Thursday whatever you want — Gray Thursday, Black Friday Creep, or Black Thursday.  No matter what you call all these deals, here’s a shopping survival guide:

1. Black Friday is really a week or month-long tradition
Much of the focus is on the Thanksgiving Day sales, but really they start Monday. Many retailers will tempt you with deals leading up to Black Friday aka Thanksgiving, so be on the lookout.

2. Don’t just line up – log in
Just as many amazing deals will be offered online as in the store. If you’re like me and hate the crowds and lines, just log into your computer. Start on Monday and keep looking. The deals online will last throughout the season, but they’ll be big especially this next week culminating with Cyber Monday a week from today.  Don’t forget to check Thanksgiving morning. That’s when many dealhounds grab their discounts.

If you shop online, log into Ebates first so you can earn cash while shopping. Click here to read more about earning money while you shop

3. Expect surprises at Walmart
Protests are planned at more than 1,000 Walmart stores. While it doesn’t appear any are planned in Cleveland at this time, that could change. There is one planned in Cincinnati.

Even if there’s not an organized protest, there may be chaos in the aisles. That’s another tactic being used by some protesters.

I don’t expect massive disruptions across the board, but the protests seem to be gaining momentum so I think there will be some disruption to service at some stores. I don’t think you need to rearrange your shopping plans because of this, but just expect a surprise or two at Walmart. Who knows what’s going to happen.

4. Skip Gray Thursday shopping and shop early Friday morning
I think the turnout for Gray Thursday shopping will be bigger than ever. It’s much easier for customers to shop at 8 PM rather than 4 AM. With the Thanksgiving night shopping, nobody is fighting the alarm clock. People typically relax and eat on Thanksgiving, so by 8 PM people will want to do something and get away from the relatives. I expect big lines on Turkey night and people will shop til they drop.

By 2 or 3 AM, I think the shopping will taper off as people get tired and go home to sleep having spent thousands of dollars already. I think the best time to shop will be between 3 AM and 10 AM. If you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night, hit the stores at 7 AM. That’s a reasonable hour. You’ll have at least three hours to yourself to put a dent in your shopping.

Of course, if you wait you miss out on the doorbusters. Some stores are not even opening until 5 or 6 AM on Black Friday so you may still cash in on deals depending on what you are looking for this holiday.

5. Avoid Best Buy and Walmart if you don’t like lines
A sleeper in all of this holiday mayhem may be Target. The store opens an hour after Toys “R” Us and Walmart which may keep the lines short. Typically, I don’t see people lining up at this store. I think that will be the same this year because shopping begins an hour earlier at other retailers. People will be waiting in line or grabbing their deals at Walmart and Toys “R” Us when Target opens meaning it could provide a stress free shopping experience for you.

Wedding decorations on a budget

Decorations and centerpieces for a wedding can get really expensive, but they really make a difference. I think decorations spice up a room. Most venues are a little plain. Sometimes there are no windows and the carpeting is dark. Decorations and bright centerpieces will add some pizzaz, and you can do it without breaking the bank.

Our venue had windows overlooking tennis courts and open rafters. To make the room sparkle without paying for colored table cloths and chair coverings, we added color to the rafters and bright colored candles to the tables. Candles are a great idea because they add sparkle at night. Continue reading

Black Friday Creep – what do you think of stores opening at 8 PM Thanksgiving?

Most of the Black Friday ads are out. Some were leaked. This year, some retailers just released them on their own site avoiding the leak mania. Walmart and Target have the full ad on their site. The theme: the stories are opening earlier than ever turning Black Friday into Black Friday Creep or Gray Thursday.

The unofficial start to the holiday season is no longer just a day. Many sales start Monday online with retailers trying to maximize the number of days they can get your attention.

There were online protests last year as stores opened late on Thanksgiving, but obviously those online petitions did little to sway the retailers. This year they are opening four hours before Friday. Many of the big retailers are opening at 8 PM on Thanksgiving. Target at 9 PM and Best Buy at midnight. These early opening times are sparking more heated debate this year, and even a proposed strike by Walmart employees.

The stores say they are opening early to meet demand. 8 PM is a convenient time. It’s a lot easier to shop at that time than getting up at 3 AM to start your shopping. I expect people will shop til they drop which will about 3 AM. The time they were getting up when Black Friday really was Black Friday.

Experts think these trends will continue unless there really is a strike by Walmart. It would take something big to stop the holiday creep.

What do you think of the early start times for holiday shopping? Click comment below.

Christmas creep: how early is too early?

Black Friday shoppers rush into Best Buy 2010

It seems Christmas creeps into our lives earlier and earlier every year. The decorations have been up at some stores for weeks. This year, Target is already launching holiday ads and we haven’t even hit Halloween. So, what can we expect this shopping season? I predict aggressive marketing and sales.

Stores are fighting for every last dollar. The consumer friendly marketing started early with layaway plans. More stores are offering them.

Many retailers are also offering a version of price matching with Best Buy even offering to match some online deals. This is a big holiday for Best Buy. This year, it’s already shut down stores and it’s dealing with the issue of showrooming. That’s where Best Buy puts electronics on display, and consumers play around with the items in the store. Then, buy the item online at a cheaper retailer. That’s why they are matching some online prices, although there are exceptions to their offer. Read the fine print.

These price matching policies are popping up because Walmart began an aggressive campaign last year before the holiday rush. I put their policy and other stores policies to the test for NewsChannel 5 last year.

I found very few clerks know the policy at Walmart. We also tested a few other stores, and sometimes a price match added ten extra minutes to our shopping trip. It required circulars from other stores and a store manager. At Walmart, it’s supposed to be easier. Most times, the cashier was happy to change the price whether she or he knew the policy or not.

Many of Walmart’s competitors are now getting into the action and making sure you know about their willingness to match prices. The bottom line – stores want you to shop their store rather than shopping around.

Technology is driving this phenomenon to some extent because pricing is more readily available than ever before with a cell phone. Some apps let you scan the UPC on an item, and within seconds you can see the prices online and at other retailers for the same product.

TV ads already airing
This year, Target is getting its message out earlier than years past with TV ads already filling the airwaves. These come on the heels of a big political season when air time is hard to find in some markets especially swing state Ohio.

Ad Age said typically holiday TV ads don’t appear until the beginning of November. The first ad is from a retailer who held off for its major TV campaign until the weekend after Thanksgiving two years ago. Ad Age said back then, Target’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis said the retailer held off on ads based on guest surveys, and point-of-sale data.

Now, there is new leadership at Target and obviously a new philosophy.

In this age of social media, people are sounding off. On Facebook, there are comments like, “A Christmas commercial? ALREADY?? OH come ON. it’s not even Hallowe’en yet! please. PLEASE stop this.”

Target’s response to some of the comments, “We’re sorry to hear about your disappointment. We’ve shared your feedback with our Broadcast Media executives for review.”

 Ads leaked
The circulars or ads for Black Friday usually leak before the TV ads. So, when can we expect those?

A few ads have already leaked, but  nothing major. We should see higher interest stores in the next few weeks.  According to GottaDeal’s calendar of leaks last year, ACE Hardware and Bed Bath & Beyond circulars were out by now last year. On October 24th, BJ’s ad was leaked and Radio Shack on October 26th.

”Tis the season to celebrate ghosts and goblins and the scary weeks that lead up to the December holidays.

How early is too early for you? Click comment below.

Pre-paid cell phone plans help you cut your bill in half

How much do you pay for your cellphone bill? If it’s more than $50, you may be paying too much. Pre-paid cellular plans are gaining in popularity as consumers realize they can cut their cell phone bill in half.

The thought of paying $45 a month caught my husband’s attention when he saw the Walmart ad for Straight Talk. He wondered if it was really possible? The answer: yes and in speaking with people who use the service it’s pretty good service.

Walmart and Straight Talk are not in the cell phone business, but they are re-selling service on some of the major networks. There’s a lot of competition in this market, and the plans are attractive to many consumers because there is not  a contract. You can come and go as you please.

The one tradeoff is that problems may be more difficult to resolve since you’re not dealing directly with the cellular network. Also, coverage may be spotty. Straight Talk’s coverage map looks very spotty, but people who use it say it’s actually really good. Before you hop into a plan, talk to friends and family members and check reviews online to make sure you’ll get the coverage you want and need.

Even the major carriers are getting into the no contract pre-paid plans. Most offer some version of the plan.

While most say “unlimited” talk, text, and data the data is typically limited. Straight Talk doesn’t give you a straight answer on data limits. Users say they don’t get throttled or limited if they stay below 2 GB. Other carriers make it clear how much data you truly get for the discount price. The amount of free data varies dramatically.  T-Mobile’s $50 plan offers you 100 MB of 4G data and Boost Mobile offers you 2.5 GB of data.

With these plans, your phone selection is also limited. The companies sell some phones or you can buy an unlocked phone online. An unlocked phone means it’s not tied to a particular cellular network. It will work on any.

Most unlocked phones were typically older models one. This is changing as Google now sells its phones directly to the consumer.

Want to see if you are paying too much for your phone? Try online tools like Bill Shrink and My Rate Plan. Have your phone bill handy before you use the tools. You’ll need to know the number of text messages you send, minutes you spend on the phone, pictures sent and received, and data used.

Is Walmart worried?

Walmart continues to up the ante with its series of commercials about it offering low prices. First, it was steaks. Then, groceries and back to school items. Now, it’s cell phones and even a campaign to send in your receipt to see the price differences for yourself.

Business and marketing analysts say Walmart is no longer considered the cheapest retailer, and they’re worried about their stake. It’s an interesting situation for the world’s largest retailer.

Quality is an issue for the retail giant, so they began running ads comparing their steaks to Kansas City steaks. They did a blind taste test to see if people could really tell the difference between a KC steak and a Walmart cut.

Then, they began local ads that compared their grocery prices to the giant in that area. In our case, it was Giant Eagle. While Giant Eagle had the highest prices in a comparison I did for NewsChannel 5, Walmart’s prices were not the cheapest. Also, couponers are loyal to Giant Eagle because they say prices are cheapest when they use coupons and shop the sales. Giant Eagle doubles coupons. Walmart does not.

Now, Giant Eagle is trying to get you thinking about purchasing their $45 a month cell phone plans. It’s working. It got my husband’s attention. He said, “Can you really get a cell phone plan with unlimited everything for $45 a month?” The answer is yes, but how good is the service?  The coverage map shows good coverage for the non-Android market, but far less coverage for the Android market. There’s very little Straight Talk coverage in the western half of the United States.

While the coverage map looks spotty, I talked to an IT professional who uses Straight Talk and loves it. I’ll talk more about that option Thursday.

In select markets, Walmart is now asking you to send in a copy of a competitor’s receipt to see how much you could have saved if you shopped at the retail giant. In  Albuquerque, Atlanta, and Chicago area, you can take a picture of a receipt and within 24 – 48 hrs., Walmart will let you know how much you would have saved if you shopped for similar products at Walmart.

The receipt can’t be more than seven days old. Comparisons will only be for similar grocery, health and wellness, beauty and consumable items.  If you buy private label or items like produce or meats that vary by weight, they will not be included in the comparison.

While Walmart is not including coupons and loyalty cards in their in your face advertising campaign for groceries, loyalty cards and special deals and pricing will be considered in the receipt comparison. Coupons will still not be considered because Walmart says it’s hard to decipher on a receipt if the coupon is a manufacturer or retailer coupon, and receipts don’t always make it clear which item they were used to discount.

The giant retailer is also offering dollar deals to compete with dollar stores. Marketing experts say that’s cutting into their profits as well. Dollar stores are expanding and growing. Some now offer groceries. Walmart wants you to think it offers products at an affordable price.  That’s an interesting move considering quality is something the retailer is trying to stress with its steak commercials.

What do you think about Walmart’s ads and push to sell you on its products and quality? Click comment below.

Have the next big idea? Walmart wants to hear about it

Have the next big idea but don’t know how to turn the concept into cash? I recently went behind the scenes at an As Seen On TV business for NewsChannel 5, and it is definitely a ruthless business. The good news, there are more avenues than ever before to market and sell your product. Now, the shopping giant Walmart is asking for your ideas.

For As Seen On TV, the product has to solve a problem and empower the consumer to use it. For every 100 products, they might take one product. If that’s not for you, there are other options.

Walmart wants your ideas in a campaign called “Get on the Shelf.” It runs through February 22nd. You need to make a video of any length showcasing your product and upload it to YouTube.

Then, the public will vote on the product they like the most during two rounds of voting this spring.

The Grand prize winner will get to sell the product online and in stores. The two first prize winners will sell their item online and be introduced to the merchandising teams in the store. So, it appears store sales are not guaranteed like they are for the grand prize winner.

Make sure your video is flashy so it will catch the attention of voters.

Even if you’re not one of the lucky three winners, you’ll get your idea out in front of lots of people. Networking is key to landing a gig in any profession, but especially with inventions.

Join an inventors group. I recently met inventor Brian Fried who runs a radio show. He also helps consumers get their products before executives selecting the next big thing. He’s had products turned down by As Seen On TV executives, only to have them do really well on home shopping networks or catalogs. So, don’t give up. Persistence pays off and could help you cash in.


Coupon policies continue to change

Extreme Couponing is coming back for season two, as stores continue to alter their coupon policies. You can’t say the changes are because of the show, but it’s interesting how so many stores are tightening their policies.

Target’s new policy makes it clear you can only use one Buy One Get One Free coupon, so you can’t get both items free. Rite Aid made a similar tweak to its Buy One Get One Free policy allowing just one Buy One Get One Free Coupon. Rite Aid also won’t let you use a Buy One Get One Free Coupon on a Buy One Get One Free offer.

Rite Aid also limited the number of identical coupons you can use to four so you can’t buy hundreds of the same item. That happens on Extreme Couponing. In one episode featured on the TLC website, the woman bought 50 toothbrushes and another bought 600 pieces of candy.

With so many changes, it’s obvious there is more scrutiny at the counter.  I’ve shared my recent problems getting discounts, but after some arguing I’ve gotten the cashier or store management to make it right. However, a woman in Idaho claims Walmart took her questions to an extreme. Thanks to a reader who told me about this story that aired on a Fox station in Idaho. According to the article, the woman and Walmart management were discussing the “Ad Match” policy, and that set off a string of actions when the woman allegedly tried to record the conversation with her phone. The article says Walmart did not respond to the TV station’s calls, but it’s an interesting situation.  I’d like to see the cell phone video to see exactly what happened, but it’s a reminder to keep your cool when you don’t agree with a store policy of any kind. Getting emotional and angry won’t solve your problem, and could make it worse.

I’ve always scrutinized the checkout process, and always make sure I’m getting every discount. It’s important to watch, because I’ve noticed mistakes. Click comment and share your latest coupon experience.

Related links you may like:
Coupons shouldn’t be this difficult to use
Coupon craziness continues
Don’t let coupons lead you to buy “EXTREME”ly odd products