Price-matching at the grocery store has always promised to save some money — and create a lot of work.
The Savings Catcher service from Wal-Mart promises to do some of that work for you on your weekly trip for bread, laundry soap and shampoo. And it succeeds, but not without a few hiccups and only if you're prepared for a wait.
HOW IT WORKS
Wal-Mart has long matched competitors' advertised sale prices at the checkout. That meant some serious study for dedicated bargain-hunters, combing the weekly sale ads to find better prices. To take the legwork out of the process, Savings Catcher lets you scan the receipt with your smartphone or type the receipt number into Wal-Mart's shopping app, available on Apple's App Store or Google Play, or on Wal-Mart's website.
Then, Wal-Mart compares what you bought with its competitors' sale prices. When it finds a lower price, it lets you put the difference between that price and what you paid on an electronic gift card.
After you scan the receipt, the service takes up to three business days to tell you whether you're getting any money back. Ostensibly this is to compare prices with competitors, but it may also be a way to keep people from exploiting mistakes or other loopholes in the system. There is also a limit of seven receipts per week.
Some of the fine print: The app mostly compares grocery and health and beauty items, so don't bother scanning your receipt for that TV. In addition, store-brand items aren't going to get you any money back, because they're not sold anywhere else. So your Savings Catcher mileage will vary based on what you buy.
And just like any store loyalty program, the Savings Catcher gives Wal-Mart data on your purchasing habits, even if you pay in cash.
Over several small shopping trips and one large one, I got back $11.99, on roughly $300 spent. The big shopping trip, on which I spent $214, netted $7.92 back. It's not massive savings, but it adds up to real money I wouldn't have had otherwise.
The dollars stored on the electronic gift card don't expire. A regular Wal-Mart grocery shopper could conceivably sock away a fair chunk of change during the year and use it for holiday shopping, for example.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
I wish the price comparisons were faster. Even if the process isn't instant, it would be nice to see the savings by the next day. The wait, which generally took the full three business days, feels out of step with the instant gratification that we expect from our smartphones. Using Savings Catcher is more of a process: Scan receipt, wait, request gift card, wait.
In addition, there were a few technical problems. Scanning the receipt worked most of the time. But on occasion, the scanner refused to recognize the QR code that sums up the purchases, possibly because of poor printing or low light. If that happens, you can type in a single 16-digit number on the receipt.
And on one occasion, when it came time to get the money back, I didn't get the email with the gift card information and had to have the website resend it.
For the casual shopper who doesn't want to do much work, Savings Catcher is a fairly painless way to get some money back.
But even for dedicated bargain hunters who are looking to save every dime and don't mind doing the heavy lifting to get the traditional price match at the register, Savings Catcher is a good backup.