May, 2010

Walmart Pricing Study

Wal-Mart Pricing Report Round XX

As the 20th iteration of the Produce Business Wal-Mart Pricing Report rolls into the City of Brotherly Love — Philadelphia — we find the retailers there engaged in anything but a love fest. 

In fact, the bitter competitive environment in Philly offers an indication of what might be in store for the industry, as Wal-Mart moves it supercenter concept into competition with well-established urban concepts. In the Philly region, Wal-Mart has 20 stores, but only three supercenters -- in Deptford, NJ, Willow Grove, PA, and Turnersville, NJ. We did our test at the Willow Grove store.

With only three stores, Wal-Mart is not a major factor in the market, so competitors can elect to ignore it or only choose to respond at those stores in direct proximity to a Wal-Mart supercenter. We chose to visit an Acme in Horsham, PA, a Genuardi’s in Warrington, PA, a Giant in Willow Grove, PA, a Superfresh in Willow Grove, PA, and a Wegmans in Warrington, PA. All the stores were within 10 minutes’ drive of the Wal-Mart Supercenter. 

This chapter of the study brings under scrutiny several new names. Although we have often featured Safeway banners in the study, this is the first appearance of Genuardi’s, Safeway’s acquisition of December, 2000. A&P concepts also have figured in the study before — indeed when it was operating in Detroit, its Food Basic concept underpriced Wal-Mart more dramatically than any concept we’ve ever seen, by a full 17 percent, albeit on the limited assortment of produce items the concept carried. This is, however, the first appearance of A&P’s Superfresh banner.

Ahold was featured, with its Super Stop & Shop banner, in our very first iteration of this report back in 2002, but has not appeared since. It now reappears under its Giant banner. And although we’ve featured other Supervalu banners, this is Acme’s first appearance in our study.

Perhaps most interesting, this is the first time that prices at Wegmans have been surveyed for this study.

Indeed, Wegmans’ showing in the study amply illustrates why it is such a powerful chain. Well respected for quality and assortment, with its marketplace-like entries rich with fresh and prepared foods, including bountiful fresh produce departments, one is tempted to think of this as some kind of epicurean, upscale store. Yet, on prices, Wegmans gives even Wal-Mart a run for its money, coming out at only 5.07 percent above Wal-Mart’s prices — a differential small enough to be overcome by other attributes from location to quality to employee attitude — Wegmans has consistently been named to the “Best Places to Work” list published annually by Fortune magazine. 

Pricing Approaches

We run price comparisons two ways. First, we look at what prices anyone would pay as they walk in the door. This includes advertised prices, but does not include discounts one can get by having a loyalty card.

On this basis, Acme, the local market leader, beats out everyone in the study other than Wal-Mart itself and Wegmans, coming in with prices 17.25 percent above Wal-Mart’s. A&P’s Superfresh banner comes in next with prices 20.60 percent above Wal-Mart’s, while Safeway’s Genuardi’s banner found itself at 22.25 percent over Wal-Mart’s prices and Ahold’s Giant came in a full 26.30 percent over Wal-Mart.

On the surface, it seems like the Supervalu banner in the region is pretty competitive. Wal-Mart and Wegmans are both much less expensive and offer larger stores with a more extensive assortment, but Acme offers a real price advantage over the efforts of A&P, Genuardi’s and Giant. However, when we look at how loyalty card pricing alters the competitive landscape, then one realizes that Supervalu has its work cut out for it.

Wegmans, Acme and Superfresh offer loyalty card programs called Shoppers Club, SuperCard and Club Card, respectively, but Wegmans did not use it at all to offer reduced produce prices on any of the market basket items in this study, and both Acme and Superfresh barely used it for that purpose.

In contrast, both Genuardi’s and Giant extensively used their loyalty programs, called Club Card and BONUSCARD, respectively, to provide their members with value in fresh produce and, in so doing, dramatically alter the competitive landscape.

In fact, the second way we look at prices, which is to assume a customer has every loyalty card program out there, provides some insight into the challenges that Supervalu faces with its acquisition of most of Albertsons.

Although Acme becomes slightly more competitive with Wal-Mart, with its prices being 16.08 percent over Wal-Mart’s prices, and Superfresh also shaves a bit on its numbers by coming out at 19.02 percent over Wal-Mart when loyalty card discounts are included, Genuardi’s becomes dramatically more competitive when loyalty card discounts are included, with its prices being 11.77 percent over Wal-Mart’s. And Giant suddenly moves into competitive pricing range of Wegmans and Wal-Mart, with its prices coming in at only 6.77 percent above Wal-Mart’s prices.

This dramatically changes the competitive position of both Acme and Superfresh. Whereas based on “walk-in” prices, these two chains are the value proposition in the market — Wal-Mart and Wegmans aside — when loyalty card prices are considered, Acme and Superfresh become the higher priced supermarkets in town, and Safeway’s and Ahold’s operations offer the better prices, at least as far as conventional supermarkets go.

The fact that loyalty cards bring Ahold’s Giant within shooting distance of Wal-Mart — with WEgmans already there and Safeway's Genuardi’s not far behind — is a situation we have not typically seen. Is this a sign that Wal-Mart is looking to boost margins and thus allows other retailers to get closer in price before it responds?

Is it just a sign of the growing sophistication with which companies such as Safeway and Ahold use loyalty card programs? Or is this a peculiarity of the greater Philadelphia market? Or just these particular stores near Wal-Mart’s Willow Grove store?

Stay tuned for additional iterations of Produce Business’ Wal-Mart Pricing report to find out. pb 




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