Dollars & Sense columnist John Ewoldt searches the Twin Cities and beyond for bargains and strategies to spare you time, money and hassles.
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How good is Wal-Mart's price match guarantee for the holidays?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 27, 2011 - 6:40 AM



Earlier this week Wal-Mart announced that it will match prices on most of its products for shoppers who buy something between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25 at one of its stores and then find it cheaper elsewhere. When customers find an item cheaper in a competitor's ad, they can bring in the ad and Wal-Mart will give the difference in the form of a gift card.


This policy is in addition to the existing price match policy in which customers can bring in competitors' ads or tell cashiers a competitor's price and ask it to be matched on the spot. Until now, a customer could not ask for a price match after a purchase, unless the lower price was at Wal-Mart. (Almost any major retailer will give you the difference if you buy an item at regular price and then it goes on sale within 7 to 14 days.)

Wal-Mart is to be commended for this policy, although I doubt that many shoppers will take them up on it. I don't think most of us have the time or take the time to keep our eye on prices after we've already purchased something.

There are a few items or situations where prices won't be matched at Wal-Mart. 

+Groceries, tires, guns, tobacco, prescriptions, optical, cell phones with service agreements

+Internet retailers' prices

+Black Friday ads

+Limited time (6 a.m. to 11 a.m., for example) or quantity (one Blu-ray player per customer, for example) ads

Still, the match does include layaway items and Wal-Mart's own Internet pricing. Even though you can't get a price adjustment credit if you see a lower price on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Wal-Mart is one of the few retailers who will match Black Friday ads on Black Friday. In other words, if Target has a Vizio flat screen TV for $300 in its Black Friday ad and you can find the exact model at Wal-Mart for $400, you can ask Wal-Mart to match, but good luck. Most retailers don't carry the exact models to discourage matching and comparison shopping.

By the way, Target also offers its own version of a price match guarantee. It will match a current competitor's ad but it does not currently allow competitors' price matching after you have already purchased something, as Wal-Mart's new policy allows. Check the policy restrictions online before you head out.

Does anyone plan to take advantage of Wal-Mart's holiday price matching policy?


Target experiments with new checkouts

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: September 16, 2011 - 7:42 AM



In June the Target store on Lake St. implemented a new checkout system designed to be faster. Instead of customers choosing the shortest line or a favorite cashier, they are now routed in single file through a long, winding line similar to an amusement park ride. A video screen at the front of the line reads "Please wait for the next available register." When a cashier becomes available, the screen reads and speaks, "Register 5 is now open."


Shoppers that I've talked to generally don't like the new system. Caitlin Jagodzinski of Minneapolis thinks the wait seems longer with the new system. "I don't like wading through aisles of candy and pop waiting for the next cashier," she said. (Target olaces a lot of impulse buys along the route, including, to its credit, plenty of magazines to read.) 

Opinions from the cashiers are mixed. One cashier told me she liked the new system and another one said she "hated it." She wouldn't elaborate, but I suspect the system is more efficient, making for even less time for a break between customers. From my days as a cashier, a steady stream of customers can make the day go faster but a lack of downtime can be stressful. 

I didn't like the system at first, but the wait time is never very long. I'm guessing that the line moves faster than it did with the old system, but it doesn't seem like it does and that might be a problem for Target. I find myself reading People or US magazine and starting to feel sorry for rich but poor, boring, childless Jennifer Aniston.

The Lake Street store and one in Emeryville, California are the only ones testing the new system, said spokesman Antoine LaFromboise. The test will run through the end of January.

OK, I know this is no big deal, but I am continually surprised at Minnesotans' fascination with all things Target. Anyone else want to comment on the new checkouts who has been to the Lake Street store recently?


Kmart and Ford appeal to Hispanic and Black customers

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: August 10, 2011 - 7:35 AM


Recently I wrote an article about how Kmart stays relevant in a retail world dominated by Target and Wal-Mart. One of its distinguishing factors is that is has boldly appealed to black and Hispanic customers at a time when most mass market retailers are not. "In urban areas, Kmart is going after black and Hispanic customers," he said. "Neither Target nor Wal-Mart is actively going after the ethnic consumer," said retail analyst Britt Beemer of America's Research Group.


Now Kmart is connecting to Hispanic moms by launching Madres y Comadres, an 8-part miniseries in Spanish that focuses on two Hispanic mothers and the challenges of raising a family in America while still holding on to their Hispanic roots. You can watch the first commercial (in Spanish) on YouTube here. Next month, the retailer will introduce a line by Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family" on ABC.  


Kmart explains the reasons it is reaching out to the Hispanic customer:

“Kmart is a heritage brand with a rich history in America. We’re passionate about the diversity of our customer base and excited about the opportunity to speak directly with our Hispanic customers while celebrating their culture and traditions,” said Mark Snyder, chief marketing officer, Kmart. “The first episode of Madres y Comadres launched this month just in time for back to school and aligns with the recently launched Latina Smart Facebook page, allowing Kmart to develop a deeper relationship with Hispanic women who are both tech savvy, yet underserved from a content perspective.”

One driving insight is the role that extended families play in Hispanic culture, leading to the title “Madres y Comadres” (Madre meaning mother, and ‘Comadre’ which translates to a mother’s close female friend that she confides in). The scripted series is accompanied by twelve video interviews with real Hispanic moms from Mexico, Peru, Guatemala and Colombia coping with the nuances of raising American children in a traditional Hispanic household.

“Women are forced to play so many roles – mothers, housewives and professionals,” said writer and director Alberto Ferreras best known for his long-running “Habla” documentary series on HBO Latino. “When you are a Latina, you have to be all that and bilingual and bicultural. These segments are a tribute to all mothers working so hard and learning from and supporting each other.” Ferreras was tapped to direct the series by Kmart partner Meredith Corporation and their Meredith Video Studios arm.

The fully customized YouTube channel will include a wealth of content and robust functionality such as data capture, Facebook and Twitter social plug-ins and sharing features, and even shopable video. While YouTube will serve as the host channel for all video content, the holistic approach will include a dedicated Twitter account @MadresyComadres and Facebook media, consistent with the multiple platforms where Hispanic usage is outpacing other audience segments.

It's surprising to me that this is even news today. I assumed that big box retailers were already doing segmented marketing to ethnic groups on television, but in an effort to save money, I suppose, they try to include diversity in ads that appeal to everyone rather than specific groups. 

Ford is another company that is going back to segmented marketing on TV. It that started producing TV ads for African-American consumers last year that have been extremely successful. I know that companies tailor some magazine ads to specific target groups, but are TV ads an exception?

Get these products while you can

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: August 9, 2011 - 7:54 AM


In today's article about products that are disappearing from shelves, I mentioned that bar soap, antiperspirant spray, powdered laundry detergent, incandescent lightbulbs and bamboo sheets and towels are on the decline on store shelves.


What else might be on the decline? Bottled water, said retail and consumer products analyst Ted Vaughan. As consumers switch to filtered tap water and reusable containers, the bottled water industry wll most likely experience declines, said Vaughan. Coca Cola (Dasani) and Pepsi (Aquafina) are already taking steps to use less plastic in the bottles.



On a related note, consumers can get a little panicky when their favorite brands or products are pulled from shelves.Sometimes consumer begging will bring back a beloved product such as the Polaroid Instant Camera or the Today contraceptive sponge, but more often a product just never returns to the market. I miss you, Planters Cheez Balls and Trader Joe's Tamari Almonds.


Here are more brands that could be making their last lap, according to Burt Flickinger, a retail analyst and managing director of Strategic Resource Group.


Converse shoes: The company went into bankruptcy and Nike resurrected it as a minor sub-brand. One of the last remaining athletic shoes still made in America, Converse is now made in China.





RCA and Zenith electronics. Aging brands.







Ivory soap, Dreft and Cheer. Aging brands that Procter & Gamble rarely features in its advertising anymore.



Huffy bikes. Once an American-made brand that survived bankruptcy, it is now made in China and in decline.

Any products that you've seen diappearing from shelves or getting a smaller amount of shelf space?




I've edited "99 great ways to save" down to to five. Your best tip?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: July 18, 2011 - 3:08 PM

I applaud the AARP Bulletin for listing 99 Great Ways to Save in 2011. For bargain hunters it's a wonderful chance to say "I knew all of that." And many of you probably do know old chestnuts such as "use your auto's cruise control to save gas," "buy airline tickets on Tuesday (not the weekend) to pay less," and "use the Sunday comics section for gift wrap."  

So I decided to stick my neck out and list some tips that were new to me. If these are old news to you, feel free to share one or more tips of your own. 


1. A cup of water to save gas. Of all the tips to save gas, the one that can save the most (between 5 and 33 percent) is avoiding jackrabbit starts. AARP suggests training yourself to avoid a lead foot by keeping a full cup of water in the car's cupholder. By making a game of not spilling the water, you will rein in jackrabbit starts, sudden stops and higher speeds.  Slow learners, bring a towel.


2. Pay yourself when you do something you might get paid for. Put an open jar in a conspicuous place in your home (maybe not too conspicuous if some family members want to help themselves to a quick loan). Every time you do something such as ironing, cooking when you're exhausted, fixing a good cup of java, or changing your own oil, feed the jar with what you might have spent. Ewoldt's tip: Decide in advance what you'll do with the savings for the most reward. 


3. Save water by turning the valves under the kitchen and bathroom sinks halfway off. The water won't come out in a gush and they'll still be plenty of water to brush your teeth. Ewoldt's aside: Maybe this tip will ease the guilt I have over the water cannon of a showerhead I absolutely love. It's so forceful, and yes wasteful, that my showers are quick but bracing. 


4. Put an inflatable fireplace damper to keep your home's warm air from escaping a leaky metal damper. Pay $50 to $200 once and save $50 to $200 each year, said AARP.

5. Call overseas free. gives you 10 minutes of free talk time to landlines in 55 countries and cellphones in some. Like 1-800-FREE-411, you listen to free ads and then connect.   

To read all of the 99 tips, click here and scroll down to the bullet points such as "cut costs at home."


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