Elva Garza Castilleja of Benbrook is a serious grocery shopper.She takes the grocery ads from Wednesday’s newspaper and creates a computer spreadsheet of the items on sale and shares it with her mother and six siblings in the area.When she checks out during her weekly trip to Wal-Mart, she takes the spreadsheet and tells the cashier what prices she wants to match.Wal-Mart has a generous price-matching policy not followed by most supermarkets. It says it will match any other local store’s prices in weekly circulars in the newspaper or mail without even having the ad in hand.Garza Castilleja takes Wal-Mart at its word.“I spend about $200 a week on groceries, at least a third of what I buy I price-match,” she said. “It’s easier than clipping coupons, and you can save a significant amount.”The process isn’t always smooth, however.Garza Castilleja emailed me recently to complain that price-matching has been challenged by employees at a Wal-Mart in Fort Worth where she shops. Sometimes cashiers would accept the matches automatically. Other times they would not agree to price-match an item. When a manager was brought in, he or she might not always support the match.“Every week it seems that they have a new ‘reason’ to not price-match,” she wrote. Sometimes the manager would not consider Aldi and Sprouts local competitors, even though they are within 10 miles of the store. Other times the manager would say Fiesta and other stores do not have the same quality of meat, so they’re ineligible for price-matching.I forwarded the complaint to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. After checking with the store manager, spokeswoman Molly Philhours reiterated that the company is committed to its price-matching policy.“Wal-Mart is committed to providing low prices every day on the broadest assortment of merchandise,” she said. “We are also committed to our ad match program and it being executed consistently across our stores. In the isolated case that a cashier is not honoring the policy as it is outlined in our ads and on our website, we immediately reach out to the store manager. We are reaching out to the customer to make it right.” As of late this week, Garza Castilleja had not heard from Wal-Mart. While price-matching is common with holiday gift shopping, more people are turning to it for weekly grocery runs, said Stephanie Nelson, founder of Atlanta-based CouponMom.com, which tracks weekly grocery and other retail sales. “If you’re a strategic shopper and you know what your family needs and 25 percent of what you need is on sale at five stores and you take the circulars and go to one store, look how much you save,” she said.Nelson’s website, which has 6.5 million members, including 200,000 in Texas, has added a Wal-Mart tracking device to help shoppers dig up the deals in circulars. Members, who can use the site for free, can search for an item, find where it is on sale, then add that to their master list before going to Wal-Mart.“Shoppers tell me that when the cashier sees the list is generated by my site, they will accept it,” she said.Nelson recommends taking the circulars to the store and circling the item you’re buying with a pen or marker to aid checkout.Shoppers should also have the circulars and the store policy in hand before they try to price-match, Garza Castilleja said.“If you’re going to price-match, be organized or you will make everyone behind you upset,” she said.Paul Ivanovsky, founder of IHearttheMart.com, a Houston-based website designed to help Wal-Mart shoppers, said price-matching can save significantly on groceries.“It’s a great program,” he said. “You can save 30 to 50 percent by price-matching, even more if you add on coupons.”The biggest savings come from price-matching for produce, meat and dairy products, he said.“If you’re not interested in couponing and just want to price-match, you can spend 15 minutes and save a lot,” Ivanovsky said.Shoppers should make sure they read and understand Wal-Mart’s policy before heading to the store, said Ivanovsky, who said he receives no compensation from Wal-Mart for his site. “I think 90 percent of the problems are user error,” he said. “Customers price-match the wrong thing, or there’s out-and-out fraud.”Garza Castilleja said she is just trying to make the store live up to its own policy.“There needs to be a consistent policy,” she said.
Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net.