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When I started telling people that I was going to write a story about prices at
Walmart and Target, almost everyone had a strong opinion about the comparison.
From previous experience, I know stories like that can be a goldmine or a
quagmire, and that in cases where opinions battle opinions, it is comfortable
and exciting to be able to provide more factual information to the debate.
This story is about comparing prices at Walmart and Target in Sacramento, California in March of 2005.
I didn't want to skew the results, so it was important to take a few steps to set up a fair comparison. With Stacy's help, and before visiting either store, I prepared a shopping list of 20 items. Some items were specific brands and packages, such as the 32oz. bottle of Windex glass cleaner with pump. Other items were more broadly described, such as "basketball", where I would track down the price of the cheapest basketball that the store offered.
For anyone that has ever tried exploiting a price-match guarantee, you know how difficult it can be to find the exact same item in two different stores, so I hoped this "cheapest version" allowance would work out.
On March 4th, an appropriate day to start any project, I sharpened my pens, loaded my clipboard, turned off the flash on my camera, and made my first visit to Wal-mart.
Walmart's company slogan is "Always low prices", and it may or may not be followed by a second, reinforcing, "Always". They also have earned (or purchased) a reputation of having the lowest prices.
The first item on my list was Whitening Expressions Toothpaste, and right out of the gate, I found this end-cap display filled with 6oz. tubes.
The Walmart signature Rollback sign features a very large price tag. That number two is larger than the numbers on our highway signs.
Target's price for the same item was $2.39.
Before I located the next item, a hair-flattening iron, I noticed a woman carrying four bibles, in a half-run to the cashiers.
"Are you buying a stack of bibles?!" I asked.
"Yes!", she answered, smiled, and continued without breaking her stride.
There were five different hair-straightening irons at Walmart. There were many different tags, and it was very hard to tell which iron belonged on which peg. This problem was exacerbated by the lack of a handy DIY price-scanner of the type I've grown used to while shopping at Target.
The cheapest hair-iron seemed to be the Vidal Sasson "High-Heat" model for $9.63. This seemed very affordable for an electrical appliance. I decided then and there to buy one to replace the large, awkward George Forman grill I use in the kitchen.
A few days later, when I found the cheapest electric hair-flattener at Target, it was from their "Salon Series" and it was a bit sad looking, but it was priced lower, at just $8.99. The hair irons were arranged neatly above an elegant hair dryer display. I took a quick look for a phased plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range, but came up empty-handed.
Hair Irons at Target on Broadway, Sacramento
The next item was the bottle of Windex glass cleaner. The cleaning supplies were kept in a rather poisonous aisle, so Walmart provided here a compact eagles-nest climb-n-play-structure for children to busy themselves with. See photo.
They had a 32oz. spray bottle for $2.48, which seemed like an excellent price. I bet the spray-gun bottle-top costs as much to manufacture as the entire bottle of glass cleaner. There were a couple varieties of Windex for the same price, but the "improved" "original" bottle had the largest bottle.
I'm not sure how you can improve something and still call it the "original", but that is what they call it.
Target also had the Windex 32oz. sprayers, and their price was one cent higher. Kids here would have to busy themselves casting incantations with unopened boxes of Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser.
next item I found on the list was a thick, silver-tone 5x7 picture frame.
One was eye-catching, but not particularly attractive. It was described as pewter w/ jewels on the shelf tag, and appeared to be on clearance sale for $7.00, but again, the shelves had a bunch of frames all across the shelf, and unspecific price-tags along it, so I wasn't sure. I was already carrying the Vidal Sasson high-heat hair flattener, in the vain search of a price-checker, so I just wrote down $7.00.
This frame turned out to have a near twin at Target, but I wouldn't find that until later.
Please continue reading page two of Walmart vs. Target - Price comparison.
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March 20th, 2005.