Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. Shopping News
  4. Walmart News

Walmart News

Recent Articles

Sort by:

Walmart shoppers can soon order on Google Assistant

Retailer seeks to counter Amazon voice ordering through Alexa

In the world of retail, Walmart is viewed as the most formidable challenger to Amazon, and that company has just made another move on the retail chess board.

In an obvious answer to Amazon's voice ordering capability through the Echo device, Walmart has signed a deal for voice ordering through the Google Assistant.

What makes this deal unique -- other retailers have the ability to take voice orders through Google -- for the first time Google will sync up with Walmart accounts. This could make reordering much easier, since Google Assistant will know what products consumers purchased in the past.

Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce, says the partnership integrates Walmart's Easy Reorder feature into Google Express. With it, he says consumers can build a basket of previously ordered items. Because of Google's technology, Lore said it just made sense to team up with the tech giant.

'Transparent shopping universe'

"They’ve made significant investments in natural language processing and artificial intelligence to deliver a powerful voice shopping experience," Lore wrote in the company blog. "We know this means being compared side-by-side with other retailers, and we think that’s the way it should be. An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers."

He also hinted that Walmart plans additional features and services related to voice shopping -- plans that leverage Walmart's brick and mortar stores and fulfillment network.

Consumers currently can use Google Assistant to order from Costco and Target, but Walmart says it is the first to make account histories accessible.

"If you’re an existing Walmart customer, you can choose to link your Walmart account to Google and receive personalized shopping results based on your online and in-store Walmart purchases," said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's senior vice president for ads & commerce. "For example, if you order Tide PODS or Gatorade, your Google Assistant will let you know which size and type you previously ordered from Walmart, making it easy for you to buy the right product again."

The Walmart-Google connection will start in late September.

In the world of retail, Walmart is viewed as the most formidable challenger to Amazon, and that company has just made another move on the retail chess boar...

Walmart reports 63% jump in online sales

Expanded offerings and aggressive online strategies are credited for the bump

Retail companies, many facing declining sales at brick and mortar locations, have been clambering to claim their piece of the online retail space, and now it seems that Walmart is gaining some ground.

The New York Times reports that the company saw a 63% jump in online sales during the past quarter, a possible sign that it is making progress towards sustainable growth that could make it a better competitor against online giant Amazon.com.

“This is extraordinary growth, and we’re pleased with the traction we’re generating across our e-commerce offerings,” said Walmart executive vice president and chief financial officer Brett Biggs.

Expanding offerings and deals

So, what is it that fueled Walmart’s online surge? Chief Executive Doug McMillon explains that the company’s strategy revolves around expanded offerings and deals, taking advantage of its network of warehouses and distribution centers, and pursuing deals for other online stores.

This year alone, Walmart has already taken steps to increase the number of products and deals that are available to online shoppers. Earlier this year, reports detailed how the company would be introducing free two-day shipping on over two million items if orders totaled $35 or more. Customers may also be taking advantage of a recent change that provides shoppers with incentives to order products online and then pick them up at store locations.

To fuel these offers, Walmart has taken an aggressive approach at acquiring other online retailers. Its biggest acquisition was Jet.com, which cost $3.3 billion. It was specifically intended to build the company’s e-commerce presence and give it a better competitive advantage.

These efforts, along with an increased focus on its physical stores and employee training, have started to pay off. Walmart reported a 1.4% year-over-year increase in overall sales, to $117.5 billion. While it stopped short of providing specific numbers for its online growth, officials say the expanded offerings have encouraged consumers to be a little looser with their wallets.

Playing catch-up

However, the real question is whether this bump in sales will truly put Walmart in a position to compete with Amazon, which dominates online sales. Experts say that while the company’s progress is encouraging, it has a long way to go before it can get to that point.

“I think it’s fair to say that Walmart is coming from behind online. It has underperformed in that area, so what we’re seeing now is really a catch-up to where it needs to be in order to more seriously compete with the likes of Amazon,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of the research firm GlobalData Retail.

The full earnings report for the previous quarter can be viewed here.

Retail companies, many facing declining sales at brick and mortar locations, have been clambering to claim their piece of the online retail space, and now...

Walmart offering incentives to order online

Select items will have a discount if you order online and pick it up at a store

Walmart is wading deeper into online competition with Amazon by offering discounts on more than ten thousand items if consumers order them online and pick them up at a Walmart store.

The number of items will expand to one million by the end of June, the retailer said.

Surveys have suggested that consumers like the convenience of ordering something online, then driving to a nearby store to find it waiting for them. It works especially well for big box retailers, saving consumers the hassle of wandering the aisles to find the item, or asking a store associate to help them find it, then waiting in a checkout line.

Walmart CEO Marc Lore says the new system will take advantage of supply chain efficiencies, and the company will pass some of the savings on to consumers. The discounts will start April 19.

More options

"We’re creating price transparency to empower customers to shop smarter and choose what’s best for them," Lore said in a statement. "Now, they can either pick up and save even more money, or ship two-day for free to home, without paying for a membership."

Lore said the discounts are possible because the system will remove the "last mile" delivery costs. In addition, Lore says Walmart cuts costs when it delivers goods from its fulfillment centers directly to stores.

Items eligible for the discount will be flagged that way on the store's website. Walmart lists these examples as typical discounts:

  • Britax B-SAFE 35 Infant Car Seat, Slate Strie – $140.65 after a $7.40 discount.

  • LEGO City Great Vehicles Ferry, 60119 – $21.44 after a $2.55 discount.

  • Coleman 150 qt Heritage XP Marine Cooler – $107.03 after a $4.46 discount.

  • VIZIO SmartCast M-Series 70" Class 4K Ultra HDTV (M70-D3) – $1,648 after a $50 discount.

Free two-day delivery

The pickup discounts follow Walmart's move in January to offer free two-day shipping on more than two million items without requiring customers to sign-up for a membership, a shot at Amazon's Prime membership program.

If the item you purchase is not among the two million covered by the new program, Walmart says it will provide free shipping if the order totals $35, down from $50. Items shipped for pick-up at stores have no price threshold.

Walmart is wading deeper into online competition with Amazon by offering discounts on more than ten thousand items if consumers order them online and pick...

Walmart promises to save customers time with new app updates

'Express lanes' let customers forgo traditional lines altogether

Earlier this year, Walmart rolled out free two-day shipping with no membership fee in an effort to compete with the Prime service offered by its rival Amazon.

Now, the retail giant is once again striving to improve the customer experience by adding several new capabilities to its mobile app. Walmart’s updated app promises to “create a faster, easier, and more convenient experience for pharmacy and money services customers.”

Shoppers looking to expedite the in-store shopping experience can skip the lines at Walmart altogether by using "express lanes," which require customers to scan their Walmart app, pay using Walmart Pay, and receive an electronic receipt.

Pharmacy updates

Shoppers using the store’s pharmacy may be able to obtain prescription refills more easily. Through the app, customers can quickly refill medications, track the status of their order, and view pricing and pickup details.

“What our pharmacy business is likely most well-known for is our $4 prescription program that has saved our customers nearly $5 billion,” said Paul Beahm, senior vice president for Walmart Health and Wellness Operations.

Now, he says, patients who use the pharmacy can save more than just money.

“By developing and combining the best of our app with a service that our customers depend on daily, we’re driving change that makes living better easier.”

Going paperless

The retailer has also made a few eco-friendly updates to its money services department. Instead of filling out paperwork in person, customers can enter their information securely in the Walmart app first.

To complete a transaction, users can simply open the Walmart app, tap “money ready to send,” then enter a PIN or use Touch ID to activate a phone camera. Then, customers scan the code displayed at the register to verify information and make a payment.

“These capabilities are the latest example of how we’re bringing together all of the conveniences of Walmart -- great stores, convenient pickup, easy checkout and a top-notch app -- to deliver one seamless shopping experience for customers,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president for Walmart Services.

“We’re delivering a new and better experience in areas of our business that are essential for busy families. By making them faster and easier, we’re living up to our promise -- to save customers money and time.”

Walmart says its expanded services should be available in nearly all 4,700 stores by Fall.

Earlier this year, Walmart rolled out free two-day shipping with no membership fee in an effort to compete with the Prime service offered by its rival Amaz...

Walmart rolls out free two-day shipping with no membership

The days of paying for shipping may be quickly passing

Before long, paying for shipping when you order something online will be unthinkable.

During the holiday shopping season, nearly all retailers waive shipping charges for purchases over a certain amount. Amazon.com's Prime account, which costs $99 per year, provides free two-day shipping all year round.

Walmart, which countered Prime with its own two-day shipping program for half the cost, has now upped the ante, saying it will provide free two-day shipping on more than two million items with no membership fee.

If the item you purchase is not among the two million covered by the new program, Walmart says it will provide free shipping if the order totals $35, down from $50. Items shipped for pick-up at stores have no price threshold.

Fighting back against Amazon

As Amazon has continued to dominate the online retail space, Walmart has fought hard to maintain its position as the nation's largest retailer. In August it acquired Jet.com, another online retailer, to shore up it's ecommerce offerings.

Jet.com was co-founded by Marc Lore, who sold his previous company – Diapers.com – to Amazon in 2010. Jet.com officially launched in 2015, promising consumers lower prices in exchange for longer delivery times.

Lore is now president and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce, and he says the new free two-day shipping program gives Walmart a powerful weapon.

“Two-day free shipping is the first of many moves we will be making to enhance the customer experience and accelerate growth,” he said.

What's covered

The free two-day shipping will cover items like household products, including diapers, pet products, and food. It will also cover cleaning supplies, grooming products, and top-selling toys and electronics.

Walmart said some consumers who had signed up and paid the $49 for the Shipping Pass service would get refunds.

For consumers, it may be the clearest signal yet that the day is fast approaching when they will never be asked to pay for shipping. At least, that's where Lore thinks things are going.

“In today's world of e-commerce, two-day free shipping is table stakes," he said on a conference call with analysts and reporters. "It no longer makes sense to charge for it.”

Before long, paying for shipping when you order something online will be unthinkable.During the holiday shopping season, nearly all retailers waive shi...

Walmart announces building and hiring spree

Who's afraid of Amazon? Apparently, Walmart isn't

This past year was a rough one for American retailers. The competition from online channels, in particular Amazon, hit them where it hurt.

By the end of 2016, Macy's had announced the closing of 68 more stores. Sears announced it was closing 140 Sears and Kmart stores. Just this week, American Apparel stepped up the process of closing its stores and laying off workers in the wake of its bankruptcy.

But despite this trend, Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is moving in the other direction. The company has announced major expansion plans, investing in present and future stores and taking initiatives that company officials say will create 34,000 new jobs.

"Walmart is investing to better serve customers,” said Dan Bartlett, Walmart executive vice president for corporate affairs.

Because there's a Walmart or Sam's Club store in so many American communities, the company says it can play an outsized role in supporting and creating employment, and thus boosting the U.S. economy.

'Meaningful impact'

“Our 2017 plans to grow our business – and our support for innovation in the textile industry – will have a meaningful impact across the county,” Bartlett said.

However, the expansion plans come on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report that the nation's largest retailer planned to ax 1,000 corporate jobs before the start of the fiscal year. At the time, executives said the move was being made to make the company operate more efficiently.

In the upcoming fiscal year, Walmart said it plans to invest $6.8 billion in capital investments, which will largely go to building and remodeling stores.

Of the 34,000 new jobs, Walmart says 10,000 will be added to the company payroll as it opens or expands 59 stores. The rest, an estimated 24,000, will be construction jobs that will help implement the capital expansion plan.

New training centers

New and current Walmart employees will also get new training opportunities. My mid-year, Walmart said it plans to have opened 160 new training facilities around the U.S, quadrupling the present number. Nearly a quarter of a million Walmart employees will undergo up to six weeks of training during the year.

With a new administration taking office with a sharp focus on increasing American manufacturing opportunities, Walmart has also announced plans to purchase an additional $250 billion in American-sourced products through 2023, which it says will create additional jobs.

Currently, much of Walmart's inventory is produced in China, which could get a bit more pricey, depending on the new administration's trade policies.

This past year was a rough one for American retailers. The competition from online channels, in particular Amazon, hit them where it hurt.By the end of...

Wal-Mart to cut 1,000 corporate jobs by the end of January

Most of the alleged cuts will occur in human resources

A large number of Wal-Mart employees will likely be receiving pink slips in the near future. The Wall Street Journal, quoting a source familiar with the situation, reports that the retailer will be cutting around 1,000 corporate jobs before the end of its fiscal year on January 31.

Most of the jobs cuts are likely to occur in the human resources, technology, and e-commerce divisions of U.S.-based locations. While officials haven’t confirmed the news, they remain adamant that any future cuts will be for the best interest of the company.

“As we’ve previously shared, we are always looking for ways to operate more efficiently and effectively,” senior director of corporate communications Randy Hargrove told Consumerist. “While we continually look at our corporate structure, we have not made any announcements.  Like any organization, we make decisions based upon what’s best for our business and the customers we serve.”

Pink slips for HR

Assuming the cuts do go through, they would mark one of the larger corporate downsizing efforts for the company in recent memory. While the three aforementioned divisions are expected to be affected, human resources may receive the brunt of the downsizing; corporate officials have maintained that the HR branch is the one most in need of trimming and that outside consultants could handle many of the leftover duties.

In an investor presentation this past October, Chief Executive Doug McMillon said that company executives were striving to cut down on costs and promote growth.

“We need to manage expenses even better, which includes changing how we do work inside the company. . . We have a plan to win with customers and drive growth. We will be disciplined with our cost and capital as we do it,” he said.

Measured approach

Part of that plan is likely to involve boosting online sales. Executives have already stated that more of Wal-Mart’s annual budget will be going toward shoring up its e-commerce activities, and the company’s acquisition of Jet.com Inc. last September gives some evidence of its strategy. However, McMillon’s statements indicate that officials will be taking a measured approach.

“We must grow this company for Walmart to have a future, but we need to do it in an efficient way,” he said. “It’s not a growth at all cost mindset.”

A large number of Wal-Mart employees will likely be receiving pink slips in the near future. The Wall Street Journal, quoting a source familiar with the si...

Walmart and MoneyGram team up on new money transfer tool

The old system the companies used is getting an update

“Wiring” money to someone often seems like a relic from the past. Today, with all the ways to move money around electronically, does anyone still do it the old fashioned way?

They do, and Walmart and MoneyGram have a longstanding partnership. Consumers can go to Walmart to send money anywhere. But like anything that's been around for a while, the system is getting a major update.

The two companies have announced the launch of what they call a “state-of-the-art online money transfer platform that offers customers new features and a streamlined experience.”

Kirsty Ward, senior director of Financial Services at Walmart, says the new system will improve the customer experience by saving time and money.

Unlike the old days, consumers don't need to trudge to their nearest Walmart or MoneyGram location to wire money. The can use the Walmart.Moneygram.com website, which has been upgraded with new tools.

Money is charged to a credit card

Instead of handing over cash to be wired, the money is charged to the senders Visa or Mastercard. There is a fee to send the money and the credit card company usually charges a cash advance fee.

Once the transaction is complete, the person receiving the money can go to the designated location to receive the cash.

Scammers have long utilized money transfer services like MoneyGram to get money from victims. Once they pick up the money, there is no paper trail and the victim, once he or she figures out it's a scam, can't retrieve the money.

MoneyGram warns consumers to be vigilant for potential scams. In particular, if someone you don't know asks for payment to be made by wire, it can be a red flag. Earlier this year MoneyGram reached a settlement with 49 states, resulting in improvements to its fraud detection and prevention.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud involving a MoneyGram transaction, the company wants you to report it at 1-888-988-5726.  

“Wiring” money to someone often seems like a relic from the past. Today, with all the ways to move money around electronically, does anyone still do it the...

Walmart takes aim at Amazon, acquiring Jet.com

Retailer believes the move will bolster its ecommerce position

Walmart has announced it is acquiring online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion in cash and stock. The company says the acquisition will build on its ecommerce presence and add new capabilities.

Walmart is the nation's largest retailer, but increasingly that title has appeared threatened by Amazon.com, which has made huge inroads in the last five years. When Amazon had its second annual Prime Day sale last month, Walmart ramped up its promotional efforts to counter it.

Doug McMillon, Walmart's president and CEO, says the deal will improve his company's competitive position.

“We believe the acquisition of Jet accelerates our progress across these priorities,” he said. “Walmart.com will grow faster, the seamless shopping experience we’re pursuing will happen quicker, and we’ll enable the Jet brand to be even more successful in a shorter period of time.”

Weapon against Amazon

The acquisition of Jet not only removes an ecommerce competitor from the marketplace; Walmart will likely use it to bolster its defenses against the Amazon onslaught.

Jet.com was co-founded by Marc Lore, who sold his previous company – Diapers.com – to Amazon in 2010. Jet.com officially launched last year, promising consumers lower prices in exchange for longer delivery times. In short, Jet.com was aimed at Walmart.com as much as it was at Amazon.

“We started Jet with the vision of creating a new shopping experience,” Lore said. “Today, I couldn’t be more excited that we will be joining with Walmart to help fuel the realization of that vision.”

New ideas and expertise

For its part, Walmart said it is counting on the acquisition to bring new ideas and expertise to the nation's largest retailer. It says it has been impressed with Jet.com's ability to quickly scale up, reaching $1 billion in run-rate Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) and offering 12 million items in its first year.

Although it is being acquired, Jet.com will maintain its own brand. The company says it expects Jet.com will create new synergy in the ecommerce space, allowing Walmart to leverage new technology solutions to develop new product offerings to save both time and money.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval, but Walmart did not offer guidance as to when that might occur.

Walmart has announced it is acquiring online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion in cash and stock. The company says the acquisition will build on its ecomme...

Walmart offers free shipping for five days

Retailer tries to one-up Amazon's Prime Day

As Amazon.com ramps up for Tuesday's second annual Prime Day – a sort of Black Friday in July – Walmart has served notice it is joining the fight for the consumer's dollar.

The nation's largest retailer has announced it will provide free shipping over the next five days, along with discounts on a wide range of merchandise, in a bid to match Amazon's promotion for Prime members. It is also dropping its normal $50 minimum purchase to receive free shipping.

Prime members, in exchange for their annual membership fee, receive free two-day shipping on all Amazon purchases.

In announcing its free shipping promotion, Walmart also announced discounts on merchandise, including a 55-inch Samsung TV for $299.99, marked down from $369.99. It's selling an iPhone 5S for $149, marked down from $450, and an Acer laptop, regularly $399, is on sale for $299.

The company says these deals will last more than one day but did not say when the sale would end.

Prime Day ready to launch

Amazon, meanwhile, launches its Prime Day promotion Tuesday, featuring deals across nearly all departments and categories. The deals become available at midnight PT.

But to take advantage of the deals, consumers must be members of Amazon Prime, which carries a fee of $99 a year. However, it has been pointed out that Amazon offers a 30-day free trial of Prime, so just about anyone can take part. For its part, Amazon is counting on a large number of people trying Prime to stay with it once the trial period ends.

The holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com says some of Amazon's Prime Day deals last July turned out to be better than those offered on Black Friday. But the site's editor, Phil Dengler, says the best deals will probably not be offered throughout the entire day, so consumers will need to check Amazon's site periodically.

As Amazon.com ramps up for Tuesday's second annual Prime Day – a sort of Black Friday in July – Walmart has served notice it is joining the fight for the c...

Walmart puts greeters back at the front door

They'll welcome you when you arrive and may ask to see your receipt when you leave

The Walmart greeter is headed back to the front door after an absence of several years. The retailer, which shifted greeters to other duties in many of its stores a few years ago, announced their return in the company blog.

“We’ve been working to welcome customers to an improved Walmart for some time now, and of the countless details we’ve taken a look at, a key piece has been better utilizing an important role – our greeters,” the company wrote.

The return of the greeters has been preceded by a pilot program in some stores, where employees were redeployed from aisles to the front door, but in an expanded role and with a new title – “customer host.”

This employee will not only make sure customers feel welcome when they arrive, but also make sure they don't leave with items they didn't pay for. The company says the hosts will also assist with returns and police the entry way areas of the stores. They'll also trade in their blue vest for a distinctive yellow one.

In all U.S. stores by mid-summer

“This pilot program was successful so we’ll begin rolling out these changes to all of our U.S. stores by mid-summer,” Walmart said.

The company said different stores will have different requirements, so it is using data about safety, security, and shrink risks – the loss of merchandise through theft – to decide which stores have the standard greeter and which will have the newly created host position. 

Theft, in particular, is something that Walmart is looking to rein in. Fortune Magazine reported last year that Walmart had made reducing its estimated $3 billion loss to shoplifting a key priority.

It said the data will dictate where hosts will be deployed. These personnel will get additional training to greet customers as they enter and also help deter would-be shoplifters.

Part of company culture

“Greeters are a big part of our company and culture, and that’s why in the majority of our U.S. stores we will continue to rely on them to be the helpful first face customers see,” Walmart said.

Where stores are switching from greeter to host, Walmart said it is allowing current greeters to apply for the new roles, or to move to other nearby Walmart stores. It said that more than 80% of displaced greeters were able to find new positions during the pilot phase.

The Walmart greeter is headed back to the front door after an absence of several years. The retailer, which shifted greeters to other duties in many of its...

Walmart expands curbside grocery pickup

Service now available in 30 U.S. markets

Consumers seem to want to spend less time in the supermarket and any number of companies are harnessing technology to make that chore easier.

Walmart has taken a slightly different approach than Amazon and other specialized delivery services. It allows customers in certain markets to send in their grocery orders and then pull up to a nearby Walmart store, where their purchases are waiting at the curb.

The company says the curbside service has been successful enough that it is being expanded. It is now available in a total of 30 U.S. markets.

The latest additions are Kansas City, Mo.; Boise, Idaho; Richmond, Va.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Austin, Tex.; Charleston, S.C.; Provo, Utah; and Daphne, Ala.

Positive feedback

“Customers tell us they’re excited about online grocery because they’re putting the time they’re saving back into meaningful parts of their lives (like spending time helping their kids with homework or having a date-night with their spouse),” Walmart vice-president Michael Bender writes on the company blog.

“They have the option of shopping whenever and wherever they want – adding to ongoing lists all week, or placing a quick order through our mobile app – putting them in control of the entire process, all the way down to when they pick up. Even better is that our grocery pickup service is 100% free to use.”

According to Walmart, 90% of curbside delivery users have used the service in the past, suggesting they find it useful. The orders are filled by store personnel specifically assigned to the task.

To use the service, consumers fill their basket online, using their computer or mobile app. Orders placed by 10 a.m. are available for pickup the same day.

Walmart rolled out the curbside pickup service last September.

Consumers seem to want to spend less time in the supermarket and any number of companies are harnessing technology to make that chore easier.Walmart ha...

Walmart builds holiday promotions around Star Wars

Retailer also getting an early start on its layaway program

After Amazon.com rang the pre-holiday cash register in a big way with his July 15 Prime Day sales promotion, it isn't surprising competitors are coming up with summer holiday promotions of their own.

Walmart has announced Toy Week, which begins Friday, and has started its holiday layaway program two weeks earlier than in the past.

The retailer says Toy Week will reveal “some of the biggest holiday trends” and leads into its Force Friday events on Sept. 4, when it says the wraps come off new and exclusive Star Wars merchandise. The cult movie merchandise isn't limited to toys but includes grocery, apparel, and even healthcare products.

Layaway program changes

Friday also marks the start of Walmart's holiday layaway program, a full two weeks earlier than last year. In addition to the earlier start, the company has lowered the price for eligible items to $10 with a $50 minimum basket.

Customers aren't required to pay a fee to open an account, just pay 10% of the purchase. Customers have until Dec. 14 to pick up their merchandise and make their final payment.

“Outside of the holiday season, we could be looking at the biggest week of 2015 for toys and we’re giving customers every reason to choose Walmart,” said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart. “We’ve made a tradition out of letting kids tell us which toys will be most popular during the holidays. Between their selections this year and the excitement around Star Wars, parents know exactly what will top kids’ wish lists, and they can count on us for great prices.”

The Force Awakens

It's no surprise that Walmart is pushing its inventory of Star Wars: The Force Awakens products, including some that the retailer says it will have exclusively. The company says consumers can preorder the Legendary Yoda toy now at Walmart.com.

Then at midnight Friday, Sept. 4, 2,900 Walmart stores will open their doors to kick-off a Star Wars- related sales event. Walmart has posted a prevview of some of its Star Wars products here.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, customers could only shop in stores,” Kehoe said. “Today, we make it easy and convenient to find new Star Wars merchandise in our stores, on a mobile device or on Walmart.com with light speed shipping options.”

Meanwhile, the retailer says Toy Week will spotlight the toys it believes will be the hot commodities of the season, based on feedback it got from children enlisted to play with the items. Near the top of the list are:

  • Wicked Cool Girl Scout Cookie Oven
  • Mattel Hot Wheels Terrain Twister
  • Mattel Frozen Ice Castle
  • Spin Master Paw Patrol Mission Chase
  • Fisher Price Little People Zoo
After Amazon.com rang the pre-holiday cash register in a big way with his July 15 Prime Day sales promotion, it isn't surprising competitors are coming up ...

Walmart is improving the lives of animals

The nation's biggest grocer is a leader in humane treatment of animals

Walmart is helping change the way food animals are trated across the retail industry. 

Walmart is asking meat producers, egg suppliers and others to use antibiotics only when needed for disease prevention or treatment, not to fatten their animals, a common industry practice.

It is also trying to halt pig gestation crates and any other type of housing that doesn’t give an animal enough room to move. Walmart is also requesting that dehorning and castration be done with painkillers.

Activists are applauding Walmart touting its guidelines and saying it could become the blueprint of the food industry. McDonald’s Corp., Nestlé and Starbucks Corp., have already pledged to reduce or eliminate the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows and otherwise improve animal treatment.

Consumer demand

Much of the Walmart's motivation is no doubt simple market economics. Shoppers are more aware of their health than ever before and it’s no longer just the food pyramid. People want to know where their food comes from, what the animals are fed and how they are treated. Consumers are pushing for more transparency when it comes to how things are grown.

Walmart said its own research showed 77 percent of its shoppers said they will increase their trust and 66 percent will increase their likelihood to shop at a retailer that improves the treatment of livestock.

Activists have been loud and clear about abuses that have gone on in the farms that supply food to Walmart and other large companies.

According to Kathleen McLaughlin, senior vice president of Walmart’s sustainability division, Walmart is now asking for suppliers to give them annual reports on antibiotic use and animal welfare and post them on their own websites.

The World Organization for Animal Health outlined Five Freedoms that it wanted to see for animal health. Walmart has adopted those and they include freedom from pain and injury, and freedom to express normal behavior.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, says he is thrilled that Walmart has taken a stand and said he feels that the impact is a “game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending.”

Walmart's guidelines also to their sister company, Sam’s Club.

Walmart is helping change the way food animals are trated across the retail industry.  Walmart is asking meat producers, egg suppliers and others to use...

Walmart launching a free-shipping program for online sales

Walmart joins Jet.com is targeting price-conscious shoppers

Big box stores are fine but Walmart would like to have a bigger piece of the online space as well, so the giant retailer is launching a $50-per-year program that will compete with Amazon Prime.

Consumers rate Wal-Mart

Walmart says deliveries will be made within three days. Prime, priced at $99 per year, promises two-day delivery on most purchases and throws in a lot of extras like free video and music streaming.

Walmart isn't saying much about the program yet -- said to be code-named Tahoe -- and hasn't yet seen fit to post anything about it in its newsroom, which is generally pretty devoid of anything timely, something the big retailer might want to fix if it really wants to become an online player. Getting stuff into the weekly paper won't quite cut it.

Walmart currently offers free shipping on purchases above $50 so its cost-conscious customers may not be too eager to shell out an extra $50 a year when they could just be sure to order $50 worth of goods each time they buy from Walmart.com.

Perhaps taking a page from Google, or maybe just because it doesn't have a clue how to sell it, the new program will initially be offered by invitiation only, according to press reports.

Not too exciting

So far, no one seems too excited about Walmart's prospects.

“Amazon’s Prime program offers a lot of comprehensive benefits that Walmart will not be able to offer anytime soon,” said David Biernbaum, senior marketing and business development consultant at David Biernbaum Associates, in a Forbes report. “[Tahoe] will carry only what Walmart carries, and believe it or not, that selection is fairly limited to mostly commodities, basics and every day pantry items.”

As Biernbaum notes, one of Prime's major strengths is that it includes just about anything. You can find a saxophone reed, ketchup, an obscure auto part or a lawn tractor on Prime, order it with a single click and, in most cases, find it on your doorstep two days later.

Although Amazon doesn't release sales information for Prime, anecdotal evidence indicates that many consumers habitually go first to Prime when they need something and only in rare circumstances go elsewhere to complete the purchase. That's a habit that's going to be hard to break.

Jet.com's dreams

Fledgling online retailer Jet.com is also in the pre-launch phase of its Prime-like shopping service but denies that it has Prime in its sights.

"While a lot of outlets have been quick to make the Amazon connection because it makes for a good headline, Jet isn’t actually trying to directly compete with Amazon or get existing Amazon Prime customers," said Jet publicist John Harrington, who besides his other talents is apparently able to discern the motivations of reporters and editors.

According to the Commerce Department, currently only 8% of retail sales happen online, which leaves a lot of space for Amazon and Jet to co-exist, Harrington said in an email to ConsumerAffairs a few days ago, after we reported on Jet's plans.

Consumers rate Amazon.com

"The e-commerce space is going to be growing rapidly over the coming years and Jet’s aim is not about competing with Amazon, but rather about offering current or future shoppers an option that’s focused on getting them the lowest possible price," he said.

"Feel free to reach out if you’re in need of anything for a future story!" Harrington exclaimed. We took him up on that and asked if we could get an inside look at Jet.com's beta site so we could report on it more fully.

That wasn't in the cards, though. Saying the site was still in "a pretty early beta," Harrington declined, although Re/code and other tech-focused publications have been allowed inside, perhaps reflecting Jet's faith that the key to successful retailing is technology, rather than those pesky consumers. 

 

Walmart.com Big box stores are fine but Walmart would like to have a bigger piece of the online space as well, so the giant retailer is launching a $5...

The Walmart MoneyCard hacker strikes again

Cardholders from across the U.S. see their hacked cards drained at NYC Target stores

Something criminally strange seems to be going on with Walmart MoneyCards, especially in New York City and its immediate suburbs, though any MoneyCard hold...

Walmart overcharged New York customers for Coca-Cola products

The giant retailer has agreed to settle false advertising claims and clean up its act

Saying one thing and doing another may be common but it's illegal when it involves advertising, as Walmart stores in New York State have learned. 

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that Walmart has agreed to settle charges that it advertised a nationwide sale of Coca-Cola soft drinks but charged customers in 117 stores across New York State more than the advertised sale price.

In a statement, Walmart apologized and said it was working to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

"We strive for accuracy, and we are further enhancing our procedures to help ensure proper promotional pricing. We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers. They can rest assured that Walmart is committed to delivering the products they need at everyday low prices," Walmart said.   

In June 2014, Walmart launched a Father’s Day sale, including advertising 12-packs of Coca-Cola products for $3.00. However, when consumers in New York State attempted to purchase the sale items, customers were routinely charged $3.50.

According to Schneiderman, in one Buffalo-area Walmart store a consumer brought the error to the attention of staff and was told that the newspaper circular was a national ad and that it did not apply in New York.

When consumers complained about being charged more than the advertised price, Walmart staff falsely told them that New York has a "Sugar Tax."

One set of rules

“There has to be one set of rules for everyone, no matter how rich or how powerful, and that is why our office must ensure that even the largest corporations cannot advertise one price and then charge a higher one to New Yorkers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. 

Schneiderman said consumers were routinely overcharged in stores across the state. It was determined that cash registers were programmed to not recognize the advertised sale price. On June 12, 2014, the Attorney General’s Office requested that Walmart immediately adjust prices to the amount advertised and the chain complied.

Saying one thing and doing another may be common but it's illegal when it involves advertising, as Walmart stores in New York State have learned. ...

Walmart workers stage walk-outs, protests

Week of protests to culminate at June 6 Walmart stockholder meeting

In preparation for Walmart's annual stockholder meeting, which is to be held June 6, a group of Walmart employees went on strikelast Friday, demanding better pay and working conditions.

The overall story “Walmart employees allege various forms of mistreatment” has been ongoing for years. As early as 2004, for example, the New York Times reported that night-shift employees were locked in the store overnight and forbidden to leave on pain of firing, even in case of medical emergencies.

The latest chapter in the story unfolded when the sporadic walk-outs started last week. The workers' group Organization United for Respect at Walmart, also known as “OUR Walmart,” is behind the strike.

OUR Walmart's complaints can be broken down into three basic categories: workers' pay is inherently too low; working conditions are often poor; and employee scheduling tends to be erratic and last-minute, making it impossible to try holding a second job or any other activities, since you never know in advance when or if Walmart expects you at work.

Sales slipping, profits off

Walmart for its part takes the position that it cannot afford to offer pay as high as OUR Walmart wants, and that its various workplace conditions — such as its pregnancy policies — meet or exceed legal requirements.

When Masslive.com reported the May 30 protest at a Walmart in Chicopee, Massachusetts, it said: “The company has denied that workers are underpaid or mistreated, and blamed much of the furor on the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has tried to unionize the company’s workers.”

It's not only Walmart that says times are tough. Investors are complaining too.

Last month, John Schwinghamer, a Montreal portfolio manager, said he sold all of his shares of Wal-Mart after a key measure of the company’s profitability fell in consecutive quarters for the first time in at least 20 years. 

“This is a game changer and a warning sign to investors that Wal-Mart is facing challenges in the competitive environment that they may not easily overcome this time,” said Schwinghamer, according to the Wall Street Journal's Moneybeat blog.

Wal-Mart’s earnings per share dropped by 3.5% in the quarter ended April 30, following a 20% drop in the previous quarter, according to S&P Capital IQ. 

Taxpayers' burden

On June 2, the Christian Science Monitor ran a guest column by Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, discussing the issue. Reich, who compared the Walmart strikers with civil rights protestors from 50 years ago, summarized the issue as follows:

Although Walmart is no Bull Connor, it’s the poster child for keeping low-wage workers down. America’s largest employer, with 1.4 million workers, refuses to provide most of them with an income they can live on. The vast majority earns under $25,000 a year, with an average hourly wage of about $8.80.

You and I and other taxpayers shell out for these workers’ Medicaid and food stamps because they and their families can’t stay afloat on what Walmart pays. (I’ve often thought Walmart and other big employers should have to pay a tax equal to the public assistance their workers receive because the companies don’t pay them enough to stay out of poverty.)

Reich went on to discuss various lawsuits against the company. Last January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a consolidated complaint against Walmart, citing allegations that in at least 13 states, the company violated the rights of its employes who were engaged in legal acts of employee protest.

An NLRB press release dated January 15 listed the following violations allegedly committed by Walmart:

During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests.

At stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington, Walmart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.

At stores in California, Florida, and Texas, Walmart unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities.

Not all the protests are taking place at Walmart stores. On June 2, OUR Walmart held another protest and posted photos on its Facebook page under the caption “#Walmartstrikers & #Walmartmoms from around the country march to Walmart Chairman Rob Walton's house in Phoenix, calling for an end to retaliation & bullying.”

In preparation for Walmart's annual stockholder meeting, which is to be held June 6, a group of Walmart employees went on strike last Friday, demanding bet...

Walmart launching new money transfer service, to compete with Western Union

Walmart-2-Walmart will let customers transfer money to and from 4,000 U.S. stores

One in four U.S. families are now "unbanked," meaning they don't have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union. Most are low-income and live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. They handle their finances by using expensive money transfer services and payday loans.

Did we mention they're likely to be WalMart shoppers? 

Walmart has been targeting this group for some time, with its Walmart Money Card, MoneyCenter and other products. Now it's adding something called  "Walmart-2-Walmart," a domestic money transfer service that will let consumers send money from one Walmart store to another, starting April 24.

Walmart says prices for the new service will be up to 50% less than that charged by competitors.

Clear fees

“Walmart-2-Walmart offers a clear fee structure with just two pricing tiers: customers can transfer up to $50 for $4.50 and up to $900 for $9.50,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart, on a call to investors, analysts and press, Forbes.com reported

Besides its other services for unbanked customers, Walmart and American Express operate Bluebird, an alternative to traditional debit and checking accounts. There are no minimum balance requirements or monthly maintenance fees, although there is a $2 fee for those not enrolled in direct deposit.

One in four U.S. families are now "unbanked," meaning they don't have a checking or savings account at a bank or credit union. Most are low-income and live...

MasterCard logo coming to Walmart credit cards

Important news for investors; consumer outlook uncertain

If you have a Sam's Club or Walmart credit card (as opposed to pre-paid money card), you'll see a different logo next time you're issued a new plastic rectangle — though whether you'll see changes in your account's financial specifics remains to be seen.

However, stockholders in Walmart or various financial companies have good reason to take interest in the news that, starting this summer, Walmart credit cards will be branded with the MasterCard logo, rather than Discover.

The Wall Street Journal (followed by other business-news sites) announced the changes Friday morning:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. co-branded credit cards will soon carry MasterCard Inc.'s logo under a deal the retailer struck with General Electric Co.'s banking arm to switch from Discover Financial Services.

As of early Friday afternoon, Walmart stock rose slightly in value, whereas the stock price of every other company involved in the deal actually dropped, which might be bad news for investors.

But what about consumers — if you have a Walmart or Sam's Club card, what if any changes will you see after switching to MasterCard?

That remains uncertain, although it is theoretically possible you'll see a slight improvement (drop) in store prices due to another recent news story involving Walmart and credit cards: at the end of March, Walmart filed a lawsuit in Arkansas (where the company is headquartered) against the VISA company, claiming that the “swipe fees” it charges merchants are too high.

In court documents, Walmart argued that “The anticompetitive conduct of Visa and the banks forced Wal-Mart to raise retail prices paid by its customers and/or reduce retail services provided to its customers as a means of offsetting some of the artificially inflated interchange fees.”

Pay it off

Regardless of what company logo is on your credit card or what stores you patronize as a shopper, it's important to pay off your credit card bill in full every month, lest you pay interest rates high enough to wipe out any presumptive savings from shopping at a cheaper store.

If you can't afford to do this, and have no choice but to carry a balance on the card from month to month, then at least avoid putting further charges on the card until you get it paid off, because you will be charged high interest on every additional purchase you make.

Despite those swipe fees Walmart complained about in court, the fees credit card companies collect from merchants whenever customers use their cards, the bulk of credit card company profits come from interest payments. Don't let their extra profits empty your pocket.

If you're a Sam's Club or Walmart credit card (as opposed to pre-paid money card) holder, you'll see a different logo next time you're issued a new plastic...

Falling prices, rising crime?

The crime rate fell in the 1990s -- but not so much in counties with a Walmart, study finds

Crime rates fell across the United States in the 1990s. But in counties where Wal-Mart built stores, the decline was slower, a new study finds. 

"The crime decline was stunted in counties where Wal-Mart expanded in the 1990s," says Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina and lead author of a new study. "If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county."

The study, released last month in the British Journal of Criminology, was co-authored with David Pyrooz, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University.

The study was not intended to criticize Wal-Mart, he says. Instead, it attempted to answer the unexplored question of whether Wal-Mart could equate with either more or less crime.

"There have been dozens of studies on the 'Wal-Mart effect' showing the company impacts numerous outcomes closely related to crime. Our objective was to determine if the Wal-Mart effect extended to understanding crime rates during arguably one of the most pivotal historical periods in the study of crime," Wolfe says.

The "Wal-Mart effect" is a catch phrase for a wide range of effects -- some good, some bad -- when the company opens a new store. It includes the suburbanization of the local shopping experience and lower prices for everyday items, as well as eroding local retailers and driving down local wages.

3,109 counties 

Wolfe and Pyrooz based the study on 3,109 U.S. counties. They focused on Wal-Mart's expansion in the 1990s, a time of dynamic growth for the company and falling crime rates nationally. During that decade Wal-Mart expanded in 767 of those counties.

The researchers suggest that there may not be a direct cause-and-effect relationship between Wal-Mart's presence and crime rates.

"They are very strategic about where they build stores," Wolfe said. "There is something unique about the counties that Wal-Mart selects."

He said that during the period studied, Wal-Mart tended to expand in counties with higher than average crime rates. These counties were more likely see Wal-Mart build even after accounting for crime-related predicators, such as poverty, unemployment, immigration, population structure and residential turnover.

The researchers speculate that much of this relationship occurred because Wal-Mart finds better success building in communities that are less likely to protest the company's arrival.

"Counties with more social capital — citizens able and willing to speak up about the best interests of the community — tend to have lower crime rates," Pyrooz said. "Counties with more crime may have less social capital and, therefore, less ability to prevent Wal-Mart from building."

Wolfe and Pyrooz say the reason why Wal-Mart lessens a decline in crime is a complex question not easily answered by data typically available. Their findings didn't reveal that Wal-Mart growth corresponded with increases in poverty, economic disadvantage or other factors associated with crime.

"More research is needed to uncover why the Wal-Mart effect extends to crime," Wolfe says. "Does it reduce community social cohesion or simply increase opportunities for theft and other crimes in specific store locations that are great enough to influence county crime rates? These are questions that remain."

Crime rates fell across the United States in the 1990s. But in counties where Wal-Mart built stores, the decline was slower, a new study finds. "The...

Walmart recalls card table and chair sets

The chairs can collapse unexpectedly

Wal-Mart Stores of Bentonville, Ark., is recalling about 73,400 Mainstays five-piece card table and chair sets.

The chairs can collapse unexpectedly, posing a fall hazard and a risk of finger injury -- including amputation.

The retailer has received 10 reports of injuries from collapsing chairs. Injury reports include one finger amputation, three fingertip amputations, sprained or fractured fingers and one report of a sore back

This recall involves the Mainstays card table sets with a black padded metal folding table and four black padded metal folding chairs. “Made by: Dongguan Shin Din Metal & Plastic Products Co,” the company that made the chair cushions, is printed on a white label on the bottom of the chairs.

The furniture, manufactured in China and Taiwan, was sold exclusively at Walmart stores nationwide and online at www.walmart.com from May 2013, through November 2013, for about $50.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled card table and chair sets and return the entire set to Walmart for a full refund.

Consumers may contact Walmart at (800) 925-6278 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT on Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. CT on Sunday.

Wal-Mart Stores of Bentonville, Ark., is recalling about 73,400 Mainstays five-piece card table and chair sets. The chairs can collapse unexpectedly, posi...

Walmart price-matching arrest: not for price-matching at all

Moe details come out in the case of Joe Cantrell

More details have come out regarding the strange case of Joe Cantrell, the Arizona man who said he was banned from Walmart after trying to take honest advantage of their price-matching deal; now, it’s starting to look like Walmart’s version of events might be the more accurate.

Cantrell originally said that he went to Walmart to buy Christmas ornaments. Though he had an advertisement showing those same ornaments listed for a lower price somewhere else, the store associate refused to honor the listed price (in apparent violation of Walmart’s price-matching policy), and when Cantrell complained to management, the manager reported him to the police as a threat. When Cantrell returned to the store a few days later, he said, deputies handcuffed him and informed him he’d been banned form all Walmart stores for life.

That’s the basic story most of America (including us) knew about at the beginning of this week. But on Dec. 12, the Phoenix New Time’s Valley Fever blog reported that, according to representatives of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department, Cantrell (and the ABC affiliate that first reported his story) left out some important details:

Cantrell was heard threatening employees with statements "I'm going to mess this mother f_ _ _ker up" while yelling at a cashier, he told employees he didn't care if he got kicked out of the store because he "was going to f_ _ k up, the cashier and he would be waiting outside for him in the parking lot and he was going to do him in."

The Sheriff's Office was called by Walmart, but Cantrell had left the store before deputies arrived. Before leaving, he told the manager "I'm not the person to F _ _ k with, next time I come in I will beat his ass." A deputy investigated the case as employees were afraid for their safety. A video was captured by store security and PCSO deputies recognized Cantrell from prior contacts. Deputies were unable to locate him at his last known address...

Cantrell posted on his "Facebook" account (December 2nd, 2013) "Tonight I almost whipped a Walmart employees ass." One of his Facebook friends responded to his post and said, "I know you heard Joes gonna kill you in the back of your head. But you did the right thing by walking away mad and not kicking his ass and doing to jail." (sic.) Cantrell then responded back to that post by saying, "I have to be honest with you Richard I came very close."

And why did the store associate initially refuse to match the Christmas-ornament price Cantrell wanted? Initial reports did not say, but it turned out Cantrell was trying to price-match an expired Black Friday ad, well after Black Friday, according to later reports.

More details have come out regarding the strange case of Joe Cantrell, the Arizona man who said he was banned from Walmart after trying to take honest adva...

Walmart price-matching allegedly leads to man's arrest

No more price-matching for Joe Cantrell

An Arizona man named Joe Cantrell has been banned from Walmart for life, after he took advantage of the company’s price-matching policy one time too often — or after he menaced and threatened Walmart employees, depending on whether you believe Cantrell’s or Walmart’s version of events.

According to ABC15 News reporting out of Queen Creek, Arizona, Cantrell is a former professional wrestler who’s now disabled, and thus in reduced economic circumstances. In order to stretch his limited funds, Cantrell started heavily taking advantage of Walmart’s price-matching policy: if you can find a lower advertised price on an identical product, they’ll match it.

Nobody disputes this; the disagreement stems from what happened when Cantrell tried going to Walmart to buy ornaments for his family’s Christmas tree. Cantrell says he tried buying Christmas ornaments at their lower advertised price, but the store associate refused to honor the price. So Cantrell complained to store management, and told ABC15. “When I left, he turned around and called the Pinal County Sheriff's Office and said he felt intimidated and threatened. I was upset but never once did I say anything to the gentleman.”

Banned for life

When Cantrell went back to Walmart a few days later, he says, “I was handcuffed, humiliated and embarrassed in front of everybody at Walmart.” Deputies did not officially arrest him, but gave him a court summons and a notice banning him from Walmart for life.

However, Walmart management released this statement to the media:

"We make every effort to make sure our customers have a good experience in our stores. As in previous situations, we attempted to work with this customer. However, in this situation, the associate felt unsafe and so we contacted local law enforcement. We are continuing to cooperate with law enforcement on their investigation."

Speculation: Cantrell looks to be a pretty big guy, possibly big enough that if he’s obviously in an annoyed mood, an associate might honestly feel “unsafe” even though Cantrell may honestly have never intended to come across as any sort of menace or threat.

Different and more cynical speculation: Cantrell admits that shopping and price-matching at Walmart had become a hobby of his, to the point where he'd visit the store upwards of twice a day, every day. Perhaps the store manager was tired of having to honor so many ad matches from the same guy.

Thus far there’s been no explanation of why Cantrell’s initial attempt to price-match the Christmas ornaments was denied in the first place. When we checked Walmart’s website just before presstime, it still clearly promised: “We’re committed to providing low prices every day. On everything. So if you find a lower advertised price on an identical product, tell us and we’ll match it. Right at the register.”

The website does list certain types of advertised prices that do not apply, including going-out-of-business sales and online offers, but so far there’s no indication Cantrell’s Christmas-ornament ad fell into any of the forbidden categories.

An Arizona man named Joe Cantrell has been banned from Walmart for life, after he took advantage of the company’s price-matching policy one time too ...

Walmart's employee canned-food drive backfires

Food drive to feed hungry Walmart employees revives old charges of low employee wages

A Walmart store in Canton, Ohio set up a canned-food drive, asking employees to donate food to co-workers who presumably can’t afford to feed themselves on whatever they’re making at Walmart.

According to Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg, when he spoke to the  Cleveland Plain Dealer, the food drive is proof that Walmart employees care about each other. But according to an organization of Walmart workers seeking better pay and working conditions from their employer, the canned food drive is more evidence that Walmart underpays its employees.

Members of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (a.k.a. OUR Walmart), which first posted a photograph of the canned food drive to its Facebook page on Monday, along with a request to “LIKE if you think Walmart should pay us enough that we can afford to buy our own Thanksgiving dinners!” Indeed, when Cleveland.com reported the story, they headlined it with a question: “Is Walmart’s request of associates to help provide Thanksgiving dinner for co-workers proof of low wages?”

Walmart subsidized?

Walmart critics have long charged that taxpayers effectively “subsidize” the company because so many Walmart workers make so little money, they qualify for food stamps, Medicaid and other low-income welfare benefits; OUR Walmart alluded to this on Monday when it posted the food-drive photo next to the captions “Walmart is asking us to donate food to our coworkers. Why can’t Walmart pay us enough so we can feed our families?” and above a Walmart employee quoted as saying “If I made $25,000/yr, I wouldn’t have to rely on food stamps.”

A Walmart store in Canton, Ohio set up a canned-food drive, asking employees to donate food to co-workers who presumably can’t afford to feed themsel...

Walmart MoneyCards hacked?

Readers across America report mystery purchases in New York

Based on the number of readers writing us from all over the country with almost the exact same complaint, we suspect that a thieving hacker somewhere in New York City is enriching himself at the expense of Walmart MoneyCard holders. Even worse, Walmart appears to have done nothing about this.

Linda P. of Farmington, Missouri, wrote us on Sept. 2 to complain: “[S]ome man in Brooklyn, New York, got my Walmart card number and made a duplicate card through Walmart's system. That man stole every penny I had on my card and Walmart allowed it to happen. He spent MY money that I earned at a Target in Brooklyn, New York [….] When I called Walmart, I explained to them that the money on that card was all I had for another month. I asked them if they could give me a voucher for food, or drinks. They said NO! […] I may lose everything I have and all Walmart has to say is ‘wait until the posted date’? This is unacceptable. Thank you, Walmart, for ‘guaranteeing’ my money.”

Kelly L. of Canton, Ohio, posted a similar complaint on Sept. 13: “I have had my Walmart money card for almost a year now [….] on 09-09-2013 I woke up to check my account and the balance was $1.41 […] the day before, there were 5 purchases from a Target store in New York [….] I am waiting for [Walmart] to send me a new card so I can get the amount owed to me, then I am closing my account.”

Similar problems

Two Californians reported similar problems on Sept. 15: Paul H. from Downey said “I just got paid Friday and deposited most of my check on my Walmart money card. Bought a few groceries with the card, went home and paid my Sprint bill, all was well. The next day on the way to the park I stopped at the Walmart neighborhood market to pick up some things for the grill, at check out my card was declined [….] I thought I would check my account on my phone. After signing in I saw a balance of zero, I thought, what the hell? I checked my transactions and saw the swipe reload, groceries, Sprint and three charges from Target. [….] Once they saw those New York charges and saw that that same day I was making charges in California they should have stepped up and said we know this is a problem and we will get it resolved. But we'll see what happens; I've got a feeling it's not gonna turn out good for me.”

The same day, Jackie S. of Citrus Heights reported: “I have had a Walmart money card in Sacramento California for the past 7 years [….] this past Friday I used my card at Starbucks early Friday morning; by the time I went to pay for my lunch my whole account was wiped clean. After calling Walmart, they said that somebody in New York, New York used it at a Target when clearly I'm in Sacramento, California; they say I can file a claim but it's going to take probably 45 days to get my 1,500 dollars back.”

Despite the frequent mention of Target, there’s no evidence suggesting that company has anything to do with this scam; it’s simply where the hacker or hackers chose to spend their ill-gotten money (there being no Walmart stores in New York City).

What to do

Walmart has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

If you’re a Walmart MoneyCard holder whose account has been hacked, you should immediately contact Walmart (via email rather than over the phone, so you’ll have an electronic paper trail of your complaints), and also contact your local police department to determine how to file a fraud complaint. 

Entire paychecks go missing from Walmart MoneyCard accounts...

Walmart latest to add lockers for online order pickups

Amazon has been offering a similar option for customers who can't get deliveries at home

Ordering stuff online works pretty well if you live in a safe neighborhood or if you're home all day and able to hustle deliveries inside before they walk away. But for those not so blessed, online shopping can be treacherous, as Asia of Queens Village, NY, learned.

"I placed an order online which required shipping. I then paid for 5 to 7 business days for the items to ship. ... My package which now says 'left at door step' according to tracking," she said in a recent posting to ConsumerAffairs. "I never saw a UPS truck at my house or even on my street at all that day. I called to complain and request help for my missing package and was told I did not pay for 'priority' shipping and there isn't anything that could be done about my package. That leaves me at a complete loss."

Amazon has been trying to address the problem by offering a locker service at places like 7-11 and Staples. Now Walmart is doing the same, setting up lockers at its stores where customers can pick up their online purchases.

Like lots of retailers, Walmart has previously let customers order goods online and pick them up at the store, but the process requires going to the service desk or otherwise dealing with humans who may or may not be able to find your order.

This is what happened to Robert of Monterey Park, Calif., who described his experience with a Walmart.com order:

"I ordered an item online from site to store pick up on 9/8/12 and paid $38.06. On 9/13 I got an email that my item was ready. When I went to Walmart the girl went to pull my order and checked twice. She said she couldnt find it," Robert said. "No apology or effort was made to get me my item, not even a shipment to my home." 

Of course, Walmart also ships orders to customers, opening them up to the same type of problem Asia encountered.

"I ordered checks through Walmartchecks.com and had them sent overnight delivery," said Christa of Knoxville, Tenn. "They were supposed to be delivered by the 19th, which was yesterday. When 7pm rolled around and I still had not seen a delivery person, I contacted Walmart for the tracking info. They told me that the checks were marked as delivered on Friday the 16th at 9:38 in the morning.

"I immediately called UPS to find out what was going on. I was at home all day on Friday and nothing was delivered by UPS. After a bit of research, it was found out that the delivery driver left them on the doorstep of someone else's house! That particular house happens to be up for sale and I have been unable to reach the owner," she said. "The package is not where it was supposedly left...so now, some stranger has access to my bank account information."

While these isolated examples may sound extreme, they're actually quite common and are a major deterrant to online shopping for many consumers.

Walmart remains the nation's largest retailer with sales last year of $466 billion. It  says it is on track to break $9 billion in online sales this year, compared to Amazon's $61 billion last year.  If either online giant can solve the home-delivery problem definitively, it should give it a big step up.

Wal-Mart Enlists Stores To Boost Online SalesWal-Mart Stores Inc is ramping up plans to combine its physical stores with online technology, testing the use...

Walmart Offers Email Price Comparisons in Test Markets

The retail giant is asking its grocery customers to post the comparison results on social media

Walmart is trying out a new way of luring grocery shoppers to its stores. It's asking consumers to send a photo of their latest grocery receipt from a competing store.

In return, Walmart says it will analyze the purchases and compare the price the consumer paid to what he or she would have paid for the same items at Walmart.

The promotion is currently being offered in Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, N.M.  Walmart isn't saying if it will be expanded but if it's successful, it's a good bet it will spread to other cities.

 

Consumers rate Wal-Mart Super Stores

Expressing confidence in the results, the discount giant is suggesting consumers post the results on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 

 

The receipt comparison tool is reportedly an extension of a five-month print and broadcast ad campaign featuring real shoppers and actual receipts that challenges consumers to bring their receipts into Wal-Mart to see for themselves how much money they could have saved, Supermarket News reported.

Inventory matters

The price comparison app could be nifty if it works but Milton of Manassas, Va., thinks Walmart needs to pay more attention to keeping popular items in stock.

"The Walmart in Manassas Mall is the only store to stock UPC #60538800293, item #815156. Why do the other stores not stock this item? I have been to the store five times and the shelf is empty. Why? There are 24 on regular order and 96 ordered last week. Where are the cans of cat food?" Milton asked in a recent posting to ConsumerAffairs.

"It appears that the small cans keep coming in and the store has plenty on the shelf, but why should I pay $.47 for a small can when you are supposed to stock the large can for $.70? Come on, let's keep the shelves stocked. I know for a fact that the manager ordered 96 cans last week because I was standing next to him," Milton said.

 

Walmart is trying out a new way of luring grocery shoppers to its stores. It's asking consumers to send a photo of their latest grocery receipt from a comp...

Walmart Rolls Out In-Person Payment for Online Purchases

New process gives the "underbanked" the chance to shop online

In an effort to give non-credit and debit card holders an equal chance to buy products online, Walmart has created a new way for their customers to make purchases.

Here’s how it works: Customers can go to Walmart.com, place an online order, then pay with cash at any Walmart store, after receiving an email and presenting their order number to a cashier 48 hours after purchase.

Since the online store theoretically has a wider range of products than the physical store, customers who typically make their purchases with cash, will have the same access to products as their plastic carrying counterparts.

“Many of our customers shop paycheck to paycheck and are looking for more ways to purchase items online but don’t have the means to a credit, debit or prepaid card,” Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com, said in a press release.

“Our new ‘Pay with Cash’ offering is designed just for them.  It makes it easier for our customers to shop the way they want, where they have access to a broader product selection at Walmart.com coupled with the convenience of payment and shipping as they want,” he said.

Underbanked

Consumers rate Walmart's customer service

Not only does this new method benefit those who simply prefer cash to plastic, it also better serves those Walmart customers that are of lower income or considered to be “underbanked” and may not have access to credit cards, or even a bank account.

With a strong desire to tap into the current online-shopping trend, the company's research shows that 81 percent of those customers without credit cards, or a bank account, still have a computer with internet access to make online purchases.

According to Walmart, two thirds of their customers considered to be “underbanked” desired a way to shop online but still be able to pay by cash. In one fell swoop Walmart has addressed this particular customer need, while simultaneously increasing their chances of selling more product and increase profit margins.

Obviously, from a public relations standpoint, it’s Walmart's best interest to market this new buying technique as a great benefit for the buying public, as opposed to a great monetary benefit for Walmart, which it truly is.

This new online cash option will be rolled out to all of Walmart’s 3,800 stores across the U.S., including their grocery store locations. It’s the first of its kind for any major retailer.

Impulse buys

While this does provide some convenience for the non-credit-card-customer in terms of variety, having to physically go to the store for payments dilutes some of that convenience, as an extra step is added to the sometimes hectic buying experience.

Convenient as it is, Walmart’s ‘Pay with Cash’ may negatively impact those “underbanked” households that will potentially spend more money than they normally would.  As current online shoppers can attest, it’s easier to spend and break the bank with an entire store and its products right at your fingertips.   

In an effort to give non-credit and debit card holders an equal chance to buy products online, Walmart has created a new way for their customers to make pu...

Walmart Adds Icon to Help Shoppers Choose Healthier Foods

"Great For You" icon identifies low-fat, high-fiber products

Walmart is adding an icon to its private label food products to help shoppers pick healthier foods, the company announced at an event in Washington, D.C., today. The "Great For You" icon will initially appear on select Walmart Great Value and Marketside items, as well as on fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables at Walmart U.S. stores nationwide this spring.

“Walmart moms are telling us they want to make healthier choices for their families, but need help deciphering all the claims and information already displayed on products,” said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart. “Our ‘Great For You’ icon provides customers with an easy way to quickly identify healthier food choices. As they continue to balance busy schedules and tight budgets, this simple tool encourages families to have a healthier diet.”

“Today’s announcement by Walmart is yet another step toward ensuring that our kids are given the chance to grow up healthy,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “Just over a year ago, Walmart committed to save shoppers a billion dollars in their cost of fruits and vegetables and the fact that Walmart exceeded this number is a real accomplishment and a milestone in our efforts to support families eating better. In addition, the healthy seal will be another tool for parents to identify the best products for their kids. Giving parents the information they need to make healthy choices is a key piece of solving childhood obesity.”

Walmart, the nation's largest grocer, said Items with the “Great For You” icon must meet rigorous nutrition criteria informed by the latest nutrition science and authoritative guidance from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Developed in consultation with food and nutrition experts from the public and private sectors as well as leading health organizations, the “Great For You” nutrition criteria are available to the public on the web (www.walmartgreatforyou.com), representing a collaborative and transparent effort to develop a trusted and reliable system for consumers. The icon will also be made available to national brand products that qualify and can be complementary to other nutrition labeling systems being used by the food industry.

“Walmart’s effort to bring healthier food to kitchen tables nationwide was inspired by our customers and informed by the latest food science and policy,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart. “Last year we stood with the First Lady and showed how Walmart, working with its suppliers, the public sector and non-governmental organizations, can truly make a difference in people’s lives.”

Two-step process

The icon serves as a guide to help people make incremental changes to their diet by encouraging more nutritious food choices. The science-based criteria use a two-step process: Step one focuses on encouraging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds and lean meats.

Examples of these items include brown rice, 1 percent milk, raw almonds and 93 percent lean ground beef. Step two limits the amount of total, trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars that can be found in items such as sweetened oatmeal, granola bars, flavored yogurt and frozen meals.

“When it comes to food, our customers want a variety of choices, but they also want help identifying healthier options. Customers asked us to make healthier food choices easy while keeping prices low,” said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery for Walmart. “The nutritionists we engaged told us to make the criteria tough and significant. We feel confident the ‘Great For You’ icon balances those objectives, and will become an important tool Walmart shoppers can use to fill their pantries with healthier food at prices our customers can afford.”

The development of the “Great For You” icon is part of an initiative Walmart launched in 2011 to make food healthier and healthier food more affordable. The initiative includes reformulating packaged food to reduce sodium and added sugars and eliminate industrially produced fats by 2015; making healthier food more affordable by providing savings on produce and reducing the price premium on better-for-you food items; developing solutions for food deserts; and increasing charitable support for nutrition education programs.

Walmart is adding an icon to its private label food products to help shoppers pick healthier foods, the company announced at an event in Washington, D.C., ...

Feeling Ill? Head for the Nearest Walmart

Retail giant wants to provide primary healthcare services

You have to give Walmart credit.  It never stops innovating.  The retailing giant's latest goal is to become "the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation," The Wall Street Journal reports.

The newspaper says Walmart has been inviting proposals from vendors and contractors to help it gear up to offer services like testing for asthma, sleep apnea and osteoporosis; diagnostic services such as allergy and blood testing; and preventive services such as vaccinations and physical exams, as well as health and wellness products.

Walmart may also set itself up to help consumers manage chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, according to a confidential company document.

Never one for excessive modesty, Walmart said it wants to "dramatically ... lower the cost of healthcare ... by becoming the largest provider of primary healthcare services in the nation."

Maybe someday you'll be able to stop by the Walmart clinic, have some blood drawn, then do your shopping and pick up the diagnosis and prescription as you leave the store.  

Far-fetched?

It might sound far-fetched but with more than 3,800 U.S. stores, lots of positive cash flow and a very nimble inventory control system, there's not much Walmart can't do if it sets its mind to it.

One thing consumers don't think much about is the gargantuan data-processing system that enables Walmart to stock so much stuff in such an organized and cost-efficient manner.  The company was an early adopter of cutting-edge inventory-control systems, enabling it to achieve fast growth without becoming mired down in bureaucracy.

This behind-the-scenes wizardry is what enables Walmart to keep prices low and still turn a profit.  It's also, not coincidentally, the kind of efficient use of information technology that's largely missing  

Could Walmart really turn health care upside down?  It's possible. Think back just a few years and you'll recall that while others wrung their hands over prescription-drug costs, Walmart began offering generic prescriptions of popular drugs for $4.  Competitors followed and consumers saved untold millions of dollars.

In its request for proposals, Walmartreportedly told vendors it wanted to pick the best low-cost services by January and roll them out as quickly as possible.

After all, 2014 is just a few years off.  That's when the new federal health-care laws -- Obamacare to its critics -- fully take effect.  Millions more Americans will be covered by insurance, which is expected to drive up the demand for primary care.  Walmart obviously intends to be ready.   

Word of Walmat's plans was initially revealed by Kaiserhealthnews.org.

You have to give Walmart credit.  It never stops innovating.  The retailing giant's latest goal is to become "the largest provider of primary hea...

Walmart Shutters Its Marketside Stores

Massive chain's first experiment with smaller stores judged a flop

Marketside locations

Walmart has reportedly given up on Marketside, its experimental small grocery stores featuring prepared meals and fresh food.

The company launched the format in 2008 with stores in Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe, Arizona, hoping to recreate the "bodega" feeling that characterizes many small mom-and-pop stores in urban areas.

Just what went wrong isn't known but Mouth by Southwest, a regional publication, reports that the Arizona stores will close next Friday, Oct. 21.

Walmart continues to operate a handful of Walmart Express stores in test markets in North Carolina, Arkansas and Chicago.

It is also experimenting with a concept called the Walmart Neighborhood, about twice the size of Marketside stores and emphasizing low-cost groceries, prescriptions and household products.  It opened its newest Neighborhood store in Orlando earlier this week.

“With our smaller format, our store is perfect for those on the go. Whether they’re stocking up or need to pick up just a few items, our customers will be able to find what they need quickly and easily,” said Orlando store manager Paula Heath. “Our customers will be able to find familiar brands and local products at great values, right in their own neighborhood.”

Sour economy

 
 

The Marketside stores perhaps fell victim to a sour economy that is making consumers less prone to spend a few more dollars on convenience and time-saving products and services.

As far back as June 2009, Walmart was cautioning that it was proceeding cautiously with the concept.

“We’re pleased with it, but at this point in time given the current condition in the marketplace … we are not accelerating that effort until we have better data to make a decision,” Walmart Vice-Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright told reporters after the retailer’s annual meeting, Reuters reported.

Britain's Tesco has been experimenting with a similar concept in the U.S.  Called Fresh & Easy, the stores are similar to Walmart's Marketside, emphasizing fresh produce and prepared foods.  Tesco said last month that it would open six stores in the Sacramento area next year, in addition to 13 stores already operating in California.

Marketside locationsWalmart has reportedly given up on Marketside, its experimental small grocery stores featuring prepared meals and f...

Walmart Begins Streaming Movies

Retailer makes third attempt to enter streaming market

Walmart says it is teaming with VUDU to begin offering movie stearming on its website, Walmart.com.

The service is provided by VUDU, a movie streaming service Walmart acquired in 2010, but consumers will complete the transaction while on the Walmart site and pay for the movie through Walmart.com's checkout.

Walmart said that customers already purchase DVDs online. The new streaming service will provide another option for viewing entertainment, allowing customers instant access to their purchase.

The movies may be viewed directly from Walmart.com, VUDU.com, or from one of more than 300 VUDU-enabled devices, including select HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players and the PlayStation3.

"At Walmart, one of our key priorities is to provide a continuous channel for our customers, from our stores to our powerful e-commerce and social media platforms," said Steve Nave, SVP and general manager, Walmart.com. "With VUDU becoming increasingly popular among our customers, we're providing them more access to enjoy this digital entertainment experience directly online at Walmart.com."

The new service became available today. Consumers will pay from $1 to $5.99 to rent movies and may purchase titled from $4.99 to $19.99.

This isn't the first time Walmart has attempted to enter the online movie business. The first effort, in 2005, was short lived. It was followed by a partnership with HP that was also shut down a year later.

Walmart is re-entering the arena at a time when market-leader Netflix has encountered some consumer headwinds, over changes to its price structure announced earlier this month. 

Walmart has launched a movie streaming service...

Walmart Express Makes Its Debut

Smaller stores go after dollar stores, convenience outlets

Walmart has unveiled its new smaller-format store concept, dubbed Walmart Express, opening its first store in Gentry, Ark., last week with two more opening this week in Prairie Grove and Gravette, Ark.

The stores are targeting dollar stores, convenience stores and, in some cases, pharmacies. They emphasize food, pharmacy and limited general merchandise.

The new store – less than a tenth the size of a Walmart superstore – is a no frills affair with bare concrete floors and an open rafter ceiling and the merchandise mix is heavily oriented toward food along with an emphasis on Walmart’s Site-to-Store service where it ships merchandise ordered online to stores for free.

Bill Simon, president and CEO, Walmart, U.S., said the company has several formats it will be testing -- some with pharmacies, some without. 

“The aim here, folks, is to get the right model so that we can rapidly roll these things out. At our peak we built about 350 supercenters in a year, so when we get this thing right, these are going to come real fast and we’re real excited about this format,” Simon said at a recent investors' conference.

The first stores are a stone's throw from Walmart's corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. But not all of the Express stores will be out in the boondocks. The company has snagged a site in the West Englewood area of Chicago, according to Drug Store News, a trade journal.

West Englewood is an underserved community with very few retail outlets.

Dollar stores have been enjoying strong revenue growth while Walmart stores have posted declines for eight straight quarters. High fuel prices are seen as partly to blame: consumers not only have less to spend but are also more likely to look for a store closer to their home.

 

 

Walmart Express Makes Its Debut Smaller stores go after dollar stores, mom-and-pop convenience outlets ...

Walmart Tries to Get Back On Message

But what once worked well may not work as well anymore

It wasn't long ago that Walmart was trying to broaden its customer base, hoping to attract a slightly more upscale crowd. Now, mired in a sales slump that's lasted seven consecutive quarters, it's wishing it could just get its old customers back.

It's hoping to accomplish that by an advertising and merchandising campaign that takes it back to its “core pricing message” – the time-tested “Every Day Low Prices” slogan that saw it grow from a backwoods chain to Earth's biggest retailer.

An advertising campaign breaking next month will highlight the chain's decades-old everyday low pricing strategy and will also highlight its policy of matching competitors' advertised prices, a policy it's always had but hasn't talked about much.

Spiffed up

In its failed attempt to appeal to a more affluent crowd, Walmart abandoned its cluttered look and its policy of always having the lowest prices on the most basic merchandise. Instead, it spiffed up stores, starting talking about sustainability and organic food and offered discounts on some items while raising prices on others.

The remodeling effort may have been the biggest mistake. The company spent billions of dollars dolling up its stores but, in the process, cut back on its selection.

Now, hoping to return to its roots and win back its $30,000 to $70,000-per-year customer base, Walmart is once again stacking merchandise up to the ceiling and piling up boxes in the aisles, just like the good old days.

Will it work?

Some retail analysts note that times have changed. For one thing, the biggest demographic group in the country – the boomers – have aged. They're beyond their child-rearing years and aren't making as many big stock-up trips to the local Walmart.

Younger consumers, meanwhile, shop differently. Instead of making one or two big shopping trips a month, they tend to order online from the likes of Amazon.com and Drugstore.com – a pattern reinforced by the long hours and long commutes many families face today, not to mention the allure of sales-tax-free shopping that online purchasers enjoy in most states.

Could it be that the supercenter concept has run its course? That's the theory of Leon Nicholas, quoted by trade magazine Advertising Age.

Nor is Nicholas convinced that Walmart's strategy of rolling out small-format stores will be much help. The dollar chains are adding at least 1,000 stores this year while Walmart is adding only a few hundred over the next several years.

 

 

Walmart Tries to Get Back On Message. But what once worked well may not work as well anymore...

Consumer-Protection Lawsuit Filed Against Colorado Loan Modification Company

Company's ad campaign implied it was a partner of the federal government, suit says



Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against American Mortgage Consultants, its owner, Oliver Paul Maldonado, and its principal employee, Santiago Fabian Pineda, on suspicion of defrauding consumers seeking loan modifications and foreclosure relief.

 

According to the complaint, filed in Denver District Court, American Mortgage Consultants used deceptive advertisements to attract approximately 170 consumers to the loan modification company from January 2009 through March 2010. The company and Maldonado are suspected of using deceptive telephone marketing, direct mail, radio advertisements and Web marketing to attract consumers.

Federal connection implied

According to the complaint, Maldonado also used video of President Barack Obama and materials from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to give consumers the impression that American Mortgage Consultants was affiliated with or partnering with the federal government.

The company and its owner are suspected of charging these consumers $2,500 in upfront fees for its services, which is illegal under Colorado law. American Mortgage Consultants strands accused of doing little if anything to help its customers renegotiate or modify their home loans beyond shipping off their loan modification applications to an Ohio-based company.

"Consumers should always be suspicious of any guarantees a loan modification company makes about being able to keep you in your home or reduce your loan payments," Suthers said. "American Mortgage Consultants' activities were especially troubling because they did virtually nothing for their 'customers' beyond taking their money."

Proceed with caution

Suthers encouraged consumers facing foreclosure to obtain free help from the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline at 1-877-HOPE (4673) before hiring a company to modify your home loan. If consumers are still interested in hiring a loan modification company, Suthers encourages them to bear in mind:

• It is illegal in Colorado for a loan modification or renegotiation company to charge you an upfront fee. Loan modification companies can only charge you once their services are completed.

• Consumers should be wary of any company that tells you to stop making your loan payments or to stop working with your lender. Failing to make payments could result in a foreclosure.

• Never ignore communication from your lender at the behest of a loan modification firm. Most lenders have loan modification programs that can help you save your home. In some cases, all a borrower has to do is contact his or her lender and provide some current financial information.

• If a company promises to get rid of your debt, they are making a promise they cannot keep.

• Check out any loan modification company you are considering hiring. The Better Business Bureau maintains ratings of businesses. Any company with an "F" rating should be avoided.

Recognizing the problems foreclosure relief and loan modification scams present to consumers, the FTC is working to slam the door on these operations.

Consumer-Protection Lawsuit Filed Against Colorado Loan Modification Company...

Wal-Mart.com Enters Contact Lens Business

Congress Seeks to Increase Contact Competition

Retailing giant Wal-Mart has entered the online contact lens business. Wal-Mart, the world's largest company, already sells contacts in about 1,800 stores and is now promising quick turnaround on online orders.

The announcement coincides with Congressional consideration of a bill that would require that sellers of contact lenses verify the accuracy of the consumers lens prescription with the optometrist or ophthalmologist who wrote the prescription. It would also require that optometrists and ophthalmologists provide contact lens wearers with copies of their prescriptions.

About 34 million Americans wear contact lenses. Wal-Mart's immense buying power enables it to offer rock-bottom prices, making it a threat to other players in any industry it enters.

Those most likely to be hurt by Wal-Mart's latest move include local optometrists, established online contact suppliers and chain stores such as Pearle Vision and Sterling Optical.

Wal-Mart says that orders filed with its Web site will be filled within one to two days and the lenses will be shipped either to the customer's home or to the local Wal-Mart store's vision center.

Contact lens brands available on www.walmart.com include Johnson & Johnson's JNJ.N Acuvue and Acuvue 2 and Focus Dailies, made by Novartis AG's NOVZn.VX CIBA Vision unit.

H.R.2221, the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, was introduced by Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC). Burr says its major goal is to require eye doctors to give patients their contact lens prescriptions. (Currently, eye doctors are only required to give patients their eyeglass prescriptions).

Additional provisions include:

  • Set a 1-year floor for the expiration length of a contact lens prescription and allow state flexibility beyond that requirement. (States have varying expiration lengths from 1-2 years.)
  • As found in the current eye glass rule: a) eye doctors cannot require payment for the release of a prescription and, b) their liability on the content of the prescription is not waived by releasing it to the patient.
  • Make it against the law to represent that patients can receive prescription contact lenses without a prescription.
  • Require the FTC to study the different prescription verification processes around the U.S. and report back to Congress in 9 months.
  • Define "contact lens fitting" and "contact lens prescription."

Testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Federal Trade Commission said it supports the goal of promoting greater competition among contact lens sellers and enhancing consumer choice.

Competition among contact lens sellers benefits consumers through lower prices, greater convenience, and improved product quality, said Howard Beales, Director of the FTCs Bureau of Consumer Protection.

In 1988, the FTC challenged advertising restrictions on eye care goods and services by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Optometry concluding that the restrictions didnt serve any legitimate purpose and were anticompetitive. The agency ordered the board to stop restricting the advertising, thereby increasing competition among sellers, and reducing costs and increasing choice for consumers.

Increased competition among sellers through advertising, however, does not benefit consumers if the claims made in the ads are false or misleading, Beales said. To prevent such claims from being made in the marketplace, the FTC sued sellers who made deceptive advertising claims for eye care products.:

The testimony cites recent settlements with two of the largest LASIK eye surgery services that bar unsubstantiated claims that the surgery eliminates the need for glasses or contacts for life and that LASIK surgery is less risky than wearing contact lenses. Our cases have enhanced the ability of consumers to make better-informed choices concerning eye care products, Beales said.

Wal-Mart.com Enters Contact Lens Business...