Walmart Sponge Pricing Scheme Rewards Those Who Pay Attention

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Hi, Consumerist.

I went to pick up a few sponges at Wal-Mart (in Oxford, MS) the other day, and was about to grab the 6-pack of the Scotch-Brite like I typically get…but then I thought about the story on Consumerist a few days back about the per-unit price of a 12-pack of Red Bulls being more than if you just bought the equivalent in 4-packs at Target. So I looked over at the price of the 3-pack right next to it. The results:

$2.44/3 = $0.81 per sponge
$5.74/6 = $0.95 per sponge

Each sponge in the 6-pack is $0.14 more expensive than if it came in a 3-pack.

I’ve caught this sort of thing before, but I now have a camera phone, so I decided to capture the proof and pass it along. Pictures are attached.

Best,
Michael

Yeah, baby! That’s why we do the job. Our high school guidance counselors are probably high-fiving each other right now.

(Photo:Thanks, Michael!)

Comments

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  1. se7a7n7 says:

    I see things like this all the time at Target (I know there was a post just yesterday about it)

    When I go shopping I end up staring at my options for about 5 minutes to make sure I’m getting the best deal.

  2. I had the same problem in the Wall*Mart sports department. A 5lb non-golds gym circle weight was over twice the price of a 2.5lb non-golds gym weight(forget the specifics right now). I went to the customer service counter to inquire, and no one could give me a straight answer. At first they pointed out that I was getting more weight. I agreed, and pointed out that usually when you go bigger, the price does rise, but the “unit” price drops. I think I lost them then. I gave up after awhile and lugged my weight home.

  3. clevershark says:

    That’s hardly the same thing. With the weights you’re talking about two different products.

  4. Shawna says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: Well, weight pricing might be different, since it could be “harder” to make a 5lb weight than 2 2.5lb weights – maybe it has a different process involved in making it or different metals (I doubt it, but who knows).

  5. matt1978 says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: Terrible example, and the CSRs talked about you afterwards.

  6. dcartist says:

    Yeah, definitely a different thing.

    But it’s not that uncommon for certain items, especially if overstocked, to cost less per unit, for the smaller sizes.

    And sometimes the products are identical, but packaged slightly differently.

    e.g. TARGET, after EVERY major holiday, takes 50% over all “holiday branded” product, e.g. any chocolates that are Valentine’s day branded or remotely Valentine’s day related. Then it drops to 75% off if it doesn’t sell.

    So the day after Christmas, every Reese’s cup, Dove chocolate, Ipod speaker, etc. in a red/white Christmas section, is dirt cheap, compared to it’s regularly branded cousin.

  7. TheSeeker says:

    Isn’t comparing price per unit just standard and common sense? I don’t understand the brilliant idea.
    It is usually that the larger pack is cheaper but not always.

    Carry a calculator in that big purse you can’t leave home without. There is also one built into your cell phone too, in the “tools” area.

  8. UpsetPanda says:

    Go for the 3-packs!! Two 3-pack of sponges is $4.88 while a 6-pack of sponges is $5.74. For what? Extra plastic?

  9. joemono says:

    Are the sponges in the three pack the same size as the sponges in the 6 pack?

  10. Shawna says:

    @JD: Uh… I think that was the point of the article.

  11. coreyward says:

    If you check out the Tundra cotton gloves over at B&H (bhphotovideo.com) they have the same thing going on. For a 3-pair box, $2.50. For a 12-pair box…a whopping $14.95. What’s even funnier is that if you buy a box of 144-pairs it’s $152.95.

    3-pair = $0.83/each
    12-pair = $1.25/each
    144-pair = $1.06/each

    Some of these companies have really got to hire better people to come up with their pricing.

  12. ChrisC1234 says:

    Wally World does the same thing with the Cascade liquid dishwasher detergent that I buy. The large size is twice as expensive as the medium size, but it only contains 1.5 times as much (or something like that). So you’re better off NOT buying the large size.

  13. Schlarg says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: I hear you brother. I once bought a car with a 13 gallon gas tank. That car was $19,500. That very same car lot had a gas station on it and they were selling regular unleaded for $2.25 a gallon. 2.25 x 13 = 29.25. I didn’t realize until later, when I was buying lottery tickets, that I’d been totally ripped off.

  14. forever_knight says:

    like faithful lemmings, consumers used to be able to count on the belief that “more of stuff = less than when buying less of stuff”.

    I hereby proclaim that we can no longer believe this.

  15. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    Usually, you don’t even need a calculator for figuring it out. Price per unit is on most of those shelf pricing lables that I’ve ever seen. I use that a lot in comparing purchases in the grocery store. If price per unit varies wildly among different types of the same item, I look for a reason why. But this is the first I’ve ever seen price per unit go up, when quantity goes up, on the exact same item. Wild. And probably way more common than I realize.

  16. banmojo says:

    @TheSeeker: there’s also a calculator built into your brain, presumably. go figure!! HAH, go FIGURE!! I just love that unintentional double entendre :^)

  17. lhempheaven says:

    This are the instances where the smart shoppers always make out the best. You will also find this true in big bulk stores like Costco, BJ’s & Sam’s Club. Buying a larger quantity doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting the best deal. It is sometimes a big pain, but if you pay attention you can get some deals, but other times you need to buy different items in different stores to get the best prices.

  18. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    @banmojo: I’m math-challenged. Decimals scare me.

  19. Roadkill says:

    @Cogito Ergo Bibo: Good news, a lot of products involve a “price per ounce” you can use to compare. Maybe not for items (like above) but for fluids you can get a quick comparison.

    Anyways, I’ve always done this sort of checking ever since this local pizza place I used to work at. We sold side salads if you wanted. It came in two sizes – personal and family. Family cost a little more than the personal, but all we did to make it was take two personal salads and put them into a bigger container. It seriously made me sick every time I had to do this (which was luckily not that often – who orders salad with their pizza?)

    (Pro-tip: Don’t ever buy salad from a pizza place. Ick.)

  20. Roadkill says:

    @Roadkill: Oops, I mean, family costs a little more than TWO personal salads. Now it makes sense!

  21. mdkiff says:

    @Schlarg: Funniest comment I’ve read on any blog in a while – nice.

  22. AcidReign says:

        We had noticed a few years back, that gift bags were cheaper in the Walmart garden department, than they were in the main part of the store. Same bags, too.

  23. bohemian says:

    I think Target does this too. I bought those same kitchen sponges last month. I remember looking at the large pack and the smaller pack, doing the math in my head and going WTF?. I ended up buying them at Sams in a larger bulk pack that was a bit less per sponge.

    Now I will have to go back and look when I stop at Target tomorrow and see what the pricing difference really was.

    I have to wonder if this is the new trend now that they have everyone trained to buy the larger item automatically assuming it is cheaper without looking. Sounds like an easy way to make a few more bucks off of cash strapped consumers that are not paying attention.

  24. SacraBos says:

    @Cogito Ergo Bibo: The only problem, and I’ve seen this at Sam’s, is are they using the same units?

    Dave’s Peanuts are $5.96 – $0.19/oz
    Disk’s Peanuts are $3.25 – $0.25/serving

    So now you have to figure out how many ozs a “serving” is, if it’s even clear. I’ve see this variation of unit types many times, and very often on similar adjacent items.

  25. sleepydumbdude says:

    Walmart lowers the prices of items based on what other people in the area charge. Probably the little pack was on sale somewhere and it got lowered. At mine 24 packs of coke will be 6.88 sometimes and the 12 packs will be 2.88 because they were on sale elsewhere and walmart matched them.

  26. meeroom says:

    As far as the weight goes, the larger weight probably costs more because it cost more to ship to from the factory to the distributor to the store, etc.

  27. saltmine says:

    I think this is just a new viral way of convincing people to buy more than they need. In the old days it was just “1 for $5, 2 for $9!” But now they’re starting to take an opposite approach. Let’s say I’m in the market for a 6 pack of sponges. I’ll pick up the 6 pack and go on my way. Let’s say I just need some sponges. Now, I’ll see the 3 pack and think about it, then see the 6 pack and think about it. Is it worth it to buy 6, I think. Then I see that the 6 pack costs more than twice the cost of the 3 pack. Instinctively, I’ll buy two 3-packs because it’s cheaper than the six pack. I walk away thinking I got one on WalMart, when really they just sold me twice the product. It’s tricky psychology.

  28. VA_White says:

    I noticed this at my military commissary. The family pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts is .08 per pound more than the smaller packages. And it’s not a fluke, either. Been that way as long as I can remember. I guess they are charging you a convenience fee since you only have to toss the packaging once.

    Pay attention to the per unit price. That is the take-away!

  29. camman68 says:

    @meeroom: Are you serious?

  30. MKrick says:

    @SaltMine: The *really* tricky psychology is when something is on sale at “4 for $8.00″ and people believe they need to buy 4 of those items at once to get the sale price when they can get 1 for $2.00.

    When shopping with others I got into arguments over this, usually having to tell them “When we get to the register and you don’t get the ‘sale’ price I’ll cover it.”

    Then they walk out the store, receipt in hand, muttering “Jeez I never knew that.”

  31. bluecashier says:

    This situation is not confined to WalMart but is true at just about any store, if you really watch the prices. The info about competitive pricing is correct. Another factor is that stores look at their cost and then figure a price. Many items come under special pricing like 12 packs of Pepsi or large bags of chips. The vendor company will give the stores a special price for a period of time on certain items to promote sales and give the customer a better price.

  32. yg17 says:

    I frequently bought some frozen dinner things from Wal-Mart that were 99 cents a piece (poor college student on a budget). Yesterday, I went to Wal-Mart and noticed they were on sale, 2 for 2 dollars. I’d hardly call that a sale. Granted, it’s 1 extra cent per dinner, but it’s certainly not a sale.

  33. stuny says:

    Easy solution: Buy the six pack. When you get home, throw away three of the sponges!

  34. RandomHookup says:

    @Cogito Ergo Bibo:

    A good example of this is with sodas. A 2-liter bottle of Coke or Pepsi will sell for as little as a dollar (sometimes less) with a regular price of about $1.50 when the little 20 ounce will sell for $1.49 or so. Of course the uses of the two are different, but it’s amazing how many people buy the smaller bottles for home use without thinking about the huge price disparity.

  35. Howie999 says:

    @stuartny:
    Great comment.

    But who buys their sponges at a pizza place?

    Does the term common sense enter anywhere here? That thing on your shoulders isn’t just to hold up your beanie.

  36. Rando says:

    They do this with cat food also cept more drastic

  37. HungryGrrl says:

    I think that the ‘buy in bulk, it’s cheaper’ concept is finally understood by the average joe, so the companys are taking the opposite approach because average joe doesn’t do the math.

    Unit price is great but item to item it isn’t always the same. I have trouble with it when it comes to paper towels and such, some unit prices are price per sheet and others are price per square foot, for example. They’re trying to mess with our heads.

    I don’t always go for the cheapest thing anyways, anymore.

  38. Nutgraf says:

    I think weights should be sold in 3-packs instead of by weight.

  39. astrochimp says:

    There were a few different Loblaws-derived stores where I lived in Canada.

    At the one, their pricing was like this for damned near everything (i.e., 2x the size = 3x the price, or whatever).

    I always figured that it was their way of saying, “If you want to buy this crap in bulk, we’ve got a couple of wholesale chains at which you could do this for cheap. Otherwise, suck it up and pay whatever the hell we price it at.”

    Seriously, though: an absurd number of items at this store were priced this way. And the hype that this issue is given on here makes me think that the Consumerist editors’ heads would asplode were they to happen upon this store.

  40. Siegeman says:

    Wait, you mean the per unit prices aren’t displayed right below the total price in diminutive lettering? I’m so used to seeing a complex breakdown of the cost (price per wt/count/unit, total price, “savings”) at local grocery stores, I figured that was the practice across the country. Is it just a Stop&Shop/Shaw’s or New England deal then?

  41. criticman says:

    I am glad people are realizing they should do this if they hadn’t before, but I am like a lot of people above, isn’t this just common knowledge? Larger packs do tend, in my experience, to be cheaper, but I always look to make sure, no matter what type of product, what store. It has definitely paid off in more than just pennies in the past.

    A real Wal-Mart tip would be based on marketing studies that have been done on them (thinking back to college)…they place items on the end of aisles that quite often are not at all the steal they make them out to be (the case study used a microwave and a toaster from what I recall). Simply take a second to go down the aisle itself to compare the other offerings and you’re likely to end up with a much better deal.

  42. aristan says:

    @Siegeman: It’s completely voluntary, but most major grocery stores do it. I know that the store I work for doesn’t, because our pricing/register system is badly translated French software and complex math (dividing the price by oz/lb/etc) would make it’s little head explode.

  43. MissCellania says:

    This happened to me twice this week. After buying toilet paper in packs of 24 rolls for years, I found a brand that is not available in anything but a four-pack, but the price per roll is much less for about the same quality. Easier to store, also.

    At the grocery, I have my kids calculate price per ounce to sharpen their math skills (no calculator). My daughther was very proud to select two smaller boxes of pasta that was cheaper than buying the same thing in the large economy size.

  44. Trench says:

    And there have been no Elaine Benes jokes, why?

  45. Trench says:

    ;)

  46. pleeker says:

    20 years ago I was a bag-boy at a local grocery store. We sold … I think they were cupcakes of some sort: 44 cents each or 2 for 98 cents. Seemed like everyone bought two.

  47. “sponge” is a funny word.

    @Siegeman: “Wait, you mean the per unit prices aren’t displayed right below the total price in diminutive lettering? “

    Frequently they display per-unit prices IN DIFFERENT UNITS. Like one size will be price per pound and the next size will be price per ounce. Way helpful. :P

  48. czarandy says:

    The sponges are less than 60 cents each at Costco.

  49. kimsama says:

    @astrochimp: Bob Loblaw?

  50. bigsss says:

    Thanks for the tip.
    It’s amazing how people do not check unit pricing and assume the higher quantity packed items are cheaper. I check items when I go grocery shopping and find many items packed in smaller quantities are less expensive in the unit pricing.

  51. TangDrinker says:

    Tip for new parents (who often don’t realize what they are doing on 2 hours of sleep) – two smaller packs with 2 coupons is usually a much better value than buying the big ass pack and using just one. Check out BabyCheapskate for diaper prices/unit and the best ones to beat. When you’re spending $12-20 a week on diapers you need to pay attention – especially since every store has different sized packs, and no one advertises the price/diaper in ads.

  52. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Frequently they display per-unit prices IN DIFFERENT UNITS. Like one size will be price per pound and the next size will be price per ounce. Way helpful. :P

    I see this a lot when shopping for deodorant. I’ve actually seen three different brands, all within one foot of each other on the shelf, with three different unit price units – pounds, gallons, and ounces (solid or liquid no specified).

    My best guess is that it depends on whether the deodorant is a solid, a gel, or a spray

  53. melmoitzen says:

    @RandomHookup: I don’t think folks buy just one 20-oz. bottle for home use. It’s usually refrigerated at the store for that $1.49 price and for instant gratification.

    The two-liter bottles are great for entertaining and the unit price is often better than any other packaging, but they don’t become such a bargain when you attempt to use them for more than a day or two after opening…unless you happen to love flat soda.

  54. NoWin says:

    @saltmine and MKRICK: Pretty much what is going on. Many buyers today are “advertorially” trained to grab the bigger package as a convenience/value issue. Buuuut, the stores have figured out that the buyer won’t/cant break down the per-unit cost on a bigger pack, so they can “inflate” the price on the middle or the large pack for a greater profit margin.

  55. Morton Fox says:

    That happens quite a lot, more so when store specials are factored in. I figured out a long time ago that the largest bags of frozen vegetables at Pathmark are not necessarily the cheapest, so I always shop by the unit price.

  56. Shawna says:

    I got a mailing from my former gym (World Gym) yesterday – $20 startup fee, $10 a month, -or- $199 for a year!

    $20 + ($10 * 12) = $140

    So, you get to pay $50 extra to sign on for a whole year rather than paying month by months (which most people say is the better option). And this isn’t just a misprint – this is the 3rd time I got the same mailing, and I’ve seen it posted in the gym. I kept meaning to ask them about this but I could never find anyone that looked like they gave a crap (hence the reason it’s my *former* gym)

  57. kris in seattle says:

    I do this every time I go to buy those sponges at WM.

  58. camman68 says:

    @MKrick: Have you ever been to Walgreens?

  59. Trojan69 says:

    @MKrick: This is/was almost universally true, but Ralphs (a huge grocery in CA owned by Kroger) just this past month went to labels that offer, for example, 2 for $6/1 for $4.39.

    I don’t like this new trend. Another thing they have started is to inflate the “regular” price value on an item so as to inflate the “savings” you may get. I buy a certain frozen dinner and it has been no more than $2.77 for three years. All of a sudden, they had a “sale” ($2.50) and claim on the label a normal price of $4.35. This is ludicrous – and it is happening in a lot of places.

  60. Chols says:

    I wonder how many Ole Miss kids fell for that one!

    Go State!!