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May 17, 2010

When is a Wal-mart Rollback Not a Price Reduction?

Filed under: Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:43 am

T.B. of Ohio wrote to Mouse Print* about a V. Smile V. Motion learning system he saw in April at Wal-mart advertised at a “rollback” price of $49.00.

He questioned the legitimacy of the discount, given the fine print and his personal experience in buying the item previously.

*MOUSE PRINT: The rollback sign was posted on 2/17/10.

What’s wrong with that? T.B. bought the very same item at the very same price at the very same Wal-mart two and half months earlier —  in December 2009. He even provided his sales receipt as proof:

So how could there be a rollback with no savings? A Wal-mart spokesperson responded to Mouse Print*:

“Walmart has recently said that we are stepping up both the number and depth of Rollbacks and communication of those Rollbacks to our customers. Yes, this toy was on Rollback last fall for the Christmas Holiday. We have simply extended the savings beyond our normal 90-day Rollback period on this toy, and the date on the sign reflects the date the Rollback was re-posted in the store.”

Who knew that a rollback was only temporary, first of all, let alone that it could be renewed?


• • •


  1. The only thing “rolled back” at Walmart is the quality. Please. One to one, most of the time their prices are actually higher than many of their competetors when comparing the EXACT SAME item. The only reason their prices appear cheaper is because they sell cheaper versions of products, and by “cheaper” I mean in quality

    Comment by Dave — May 17, 2010 @ 7:18 am
  2. “Rollbacks” are renewed at Wally’s Buy It Here Superstore and Food Emporium all the time. That’s why you have the same items being “rolled back” over and over even though over the entire process, the average selling price always winds up going up. The way it works is that an item is “rolled back” for a while, and then the price goes up just long enough to satisfy regulations (which I am told exist) so that they can advertise the next round of reductions (which over time are less than previous reductions) as a new rollback. Pure marketing kabuki.

    Comment by Roman Berry — May 17, 2010 @ 7:33 am
  3. It seems silly to assume the rollbacks are permanent, or anything close to it. Walmart raises and lowers prices all the time. The whole point of the “rollback” sleight-of-hand is to attract attention when a price goes down and deflect attention away from the prices that simultaneously go up. To keep up the illusion the prices must be churning constantly. The Walmart comment pretty much confirms this. It also confirms that the “rollback” program is not a good faith effort to keep prices down, and that they don’t expect any objections from consumers.

    Comment by Mark — May 17, 2010 @ 9:23 am
  4. I was “taught” by my mother to look under the stickers
    on things that were marked down. I bought a “marked down”
    jacket at Wal-Mart a few years ago. The price on the last
    visible sticker was $14.99 – I bought it, brought it home and
    peeled off all the stickers (of the prices before the last one)
    and come to find out the item ORIGINALLY was $9.95!!!!!!!!
    Roll Back my patootie!! The items are so cheaply made that
    I’ve stopped buying clothes there. Live and Learn.

    Comment by Cathy B — May 17, 2010 @ 9:47 am
  5. The date at the bottom states the date the sign was printed, not the date the item price was dropped. So the sign could have been reprinted to replace a damaged or missing sign.

    Comment by Steve — May 17, 2010 @ 11:11 am
  6. Slow week?

    Edgar replies: Not at all. A reader raised a legitimate issue, submitted both pictures and his receipt, and we found the explanation for what seemed like a non-rollback in price on its face.

    Comment by PCnotPC — May 17, 2010 @ 11:48 am
  7. How come VS Motion doesn’t read “WAS 59.97 YOU SAVED 10.97” just like it did for celery? Don’t they automatically print this for every item on sale?? hmmm, I guess the computer didn’t recognize it as an item on sale.

    Comment by Peter — May 17, 2010 @ 12:42 pm
  8. Peter, the reason it did not do the same as the celery is because they are different. A “rollback” is whatever it is and is never highlighted on you receipt as such. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing this printed on the receipt for “every” sale as you suppose, just like they don’t do it for clearance items, either. However, the celery comment has to do with their “price matching” policy with local stores weekly grocery flyers sales. Each week, you can see them walking around the store with all of the local competitor ads and changing prices on the same or similar items so one doesn’t have to always bring the other ads with them to get the same price.

    Comment by Mary Miller — May 17, 2010 @ 12:59 pm
  9. I don’t think the item on the receipt is the same as the item on the rollback card. The number under the barcode should have the same last 6 digits as the number on the receipt. It’s quite possible the item on rollback is a bundle and the items would normally cost 59.97 separately. I design displays for retail (primarily WM) and I know this happens all the time. Price points change constantly for numerous reasons. Bundles, pressure from buyers, pressure from competition by other vendors, advertised prices of retail competitors, over/under stocks, end-of-life cycle and clearance specials all weigh heavily on the prices. You can’t just dismiss these price changes as a reflection of dirty business practices and assume a company is evil for doing the very things that all companies do to stay afloat. For example: Your favorite sandwich shop has daily specials because they get the fresh stuff the next day and they need to clear their stock. A car dealership comes down on a price for you because you got a competitive bid from the dealership down the street. It happens every day in every business.

    As far as the over-all quality of items being lower at WM, that may only apply to larger ticket items. I also think it was much more prevalent years ago than it is now. WM was purchasing off-shore electronics and other high-ticket items to keep costs (and therefore retail price) down, while many other retailers were still purchasing the more expensive American-made stuff. As a result of high labor costs and pressure to cut prices from other retailers, most of the disparity in these items has vanished; if a product is poor quality at WM, the same model will be poor quality at Sears or Target.

    I think taking a step back and simply understanding Retail a little better will help cool a few of these tempers.

    Comment by James — May 17, 2010 @ 11:26 pm
  10. “Everybody is doing it” is neither an explanation nor an excuse. And the last time I checked, the survival of Walmart was not an issue. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that the word “rollback” does not necessarily mean what the casual shopper thinks it means, or that — like most marketing doublespeak — what the word obscures is more interesting than what it reveals.

    Comment by Mark — May 18, 2010 @ 9:59 am
  11. I was recently in a Walmart in Texas and noticed the roll back price on grocery items was the same as on the shelf. I checked 50 items and only one had the a lower price than the roll back tag. I had some receipts on items I regularly buy and none of the prices were higher than the roll back prices. This is just another sleight of hand marketing trick. I guess in in Walmart’s business model it is ok to lie and cheat as long as the bottom line increases.

    Comment by Danny Henry — May 18, 2010 @ 10:03 am
  12. I remember back in NYS going to a Giant Tiger when one first opened up in Potsdam. Those first few weeks, items had tags under them saying: EVERYDAY LOW PRICE. A few weeks later, the price jumped, but the tags remained. They’d even make up larger signs (~8.5×11) with the price of the week, still labeled the same. No matter what happened to the price of the week, up or down, they only ever referred to it by those 3 words.

    The 3 P&C stores near me at the same time used to affix multiple stickers all over items with quite a range in the prices. There wouldn’t always be labels of the shelf, either, and good luck finding a price check scanner. After a few trips, you’d figure out the lowest 2-3 were unlikely. They were also in the habit of leaving up sales signs for weeks after the sales ended. They would then refuse to honor the lower price saying: “You should have read the dates, it’s not the store’s fault the signs are still up.” (Then…. whose fault was it? Employees are only responsible for putting them up, not taking them down? Can I have that job?) On the plus side, I got good at reading the dates after getting hosed enough times.

    Comment by Ron — May 19, 2010 @ 8:52 am
  13. In a somewhat similar vein, Michael’s arts & craft stores (at least in my area,) advertise & flag their frames (which tend to be cheap junk,) as “40% off”…ALL THE TIME! This “sale” has been going on for at least 7 years now. Because of this, you can’t use coupons to buy them. However, if something’s on sale every single day, is it REALLY on sale? (Hint; No. That’s just the everyday price being advertised as a “sale.”)

    Comment by Lana — May 20, 2010 @ 8:55 am
  14. Anytime you purchase something at Walmart and the box says somewhere on it that it was created or manufactured for Walmart stores, that means that WM has contracted the company to make a lesser-quality product that they can purchase and sell to the public at a “discount” when compared to the same product at other stores. But the point is that you can’t find that product at other stores, because WM had it purposely created for them.

    It does happen mostly with big ticket items like computers or other electronics, but I purchased some less expensive items from the sporting goods dept a few weeks ago that had that on the box. And it was a brand that you can find at stores like Target or Dicks.

    This big “rollback” campaign will be over soon, and I bet those prices will go back up (and then some) to make up for the next round of “rollbacks”. It’s just a big illusion to make you think you are saving money.

    Comment by Carrie — June 6, 2010 @ 9:28 am
  15. As a former wal-mart employee (13 years too long) I just figured I’d clear this up.

    The number under the barcode on the rollback sign (741143) is known as an ‘item number’. These are 6-7 digit numbers used in-house for wal-mart inventory purposes, and you should never see these on a receipt. The number on the receipt (5080378841) is of course the UPC of the actual product. A UPC can be directly matched or cross-indexed to an item number – BUT it doesn’t always work the other way around. Item numbers can be assigned to individual items or to an ‘assortment’ of items with varried UPCs.


    A Coffee Maker:
    Item# 744144 = UPC# 4900012121

    An assortment of colored camera bags that arrive in a single box:
    Item# 712321 = UPC#’s 2724217997 (Black), 2724217998 (Blue), 2724217999 (Green)

    Each individual UPC might have it’s own item number also, or might be indexed to the main ‘assortment’ number.

    To make matters worse, depending on HOW the rolleback signs are printed, it’s possible to have the UPC, individual item #, or assortment # printed on the sign. This makes it extraordinarily diffucult for employees (let alone consumers) to eyeball UPCs and match them to the price on a sign. ‘Tis why I always carried an inventory gun… *sigh*. Lord I’m glad to be out of retail.


    On May 17, 2010 James Wrote:
    > “I don’t think the item on the receipt is the same as the item on the rollback card. The number under the barcode > should have the same last 6 digits as the number on the receipt. It’s quite possible the item on rollback is
    > a bundle and the items would normally cost 59.97 separately…”

    Comment by Darius — June 8, 2010 @ 10:12 pm
  16. This is just like when the big rollback push was ramping up and they had 24 packs of Coke products for $5.00. I was in the store the other day looking for them and found they were now something like $5.68 with a giant rollback sign above saying the price was rolled back from $5.80-something, knowing good and well I paid $5 on more than one occasion a month or two ago.

    Comment by Brent — August 5, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

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