Does Walmart's Savings Catcher Deliver?

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The premise behind Walmart's new Savings Catcher seems straightforward enough: Use the app to scan your receipt from an in-store purchase, or go online and enter the TC number at the bottom, and Walmart will automatically check the prices you paid against those advertised at nearby retailers. If a price is lower elsewhere, Walmart will refund the difference. It's price matching made simple -- except that, as Cheapism found when comparing low-price guarantees at major retailers, price matching is never that simple. We undertook a hands-on review of Walmart's Savings Catcher, dug deep into the fine print, and consulted several consumers who have used the app. Here's what we found:

The app doesn't check every price.

Walmart's Savings Catcher compares the price you paid to advertised prices at local competitors. If a different store has a lower price but hasn't advertised it, you won't receive a rebate. For products that appear in circulars, however, the tool seems to work as promised. Before we set out for Walmart, we browsed weekly ads from several other major chains in the area and noted the prices of items we were interested in purchasing. Kraft macaroni and cheese, for example, cost 10 cents more at Walmart and, sure enough, we received a refund for the difference. We also got a few other unforeseen rebates, for an underwhelming total of 46 cents on a $38.79 shopping trip.

Not all items qualify.

The Savings Catcher compares prices only on select items: health and beauty products, many groceries, and household consumables such as trash bags and paper towels. It doesn't cover store-brand items, electronics, toys, housewares, appliances, and a long list of other products. Most notably, the scope is more limited than Walmart's overarching ad-match policy, so it still pays to monitor prices manually. Depending on what you buy and how the items are priced, you may not reap much benefit from the automated service. Tracy Havens of Rowlett, Texas, told us she likes the Savings Catcher app but has received only 13 cents back after several weeks of shopping.

The app is user-friendly.

It took about 15 seconds to scan the barcode on a Walmart receipt and enter the purchase date, although we did have to wait several days for the results. In an email, Walmart shopper Jessica Walman of Buckeye, Ariz., said, "The app's ease of use is great ... however I was a little disappointed in the savings amount I got back." She said she took the meager return to mean she's already getting the lowest prices by shopping at Walmart. No doubt that's a message the retailer is hoping to send.

Location matters.

Although this wasn't an issue when testing in a large metropolitan area, the app is less useful in rural areas, because prices are matched only against "local" competitors. "In our local area, they cross match CVS, Kroger, Publix, and maybe a few others," said Amanda Kerr of Rome, Ga., via email. Walmart is more convenient to where she lives. Price matching pays off if you can avoid driving farther away or save time running around to several different stores. Kerr has received more than $100 back and is saving the credit for holiday shopping.

You can double your Reward Dollars.

Rebates are deposited into a Walmart.com account in the form of Reward Dollars, which can be redeemed for a Walmart egift card. Alternatively, Walmart has teamed with American Express to create a prepaid card called Bluebird. Funds from the Savings Catcher are doubled when deposited into a Bluebird account. If you accumulate a lot of Reward Dollars, it may be worthwhile to open a Bluebird account instead of opting for an egift card. (Essentially, when you redeem this way, you're getting an item for even less than you would have paid at the competing retailer with the lower price.) Shoppers are limited to $599.99 in Reward Dollars each calendar year, or $1,199.98 when redeemed via Bluebird. The double-your-money offer is valid only until Feb. 28, 2015.

Bottom line: You're still not guaranteed the best price.

The Savings Catcher is an easy-to-use resource that helps take some of the pain out of price matching when shopping at Walmart. However, it may lead some consumers to believe that using the app guarantees them the absolute lowest price available. In truth there are myriad exclusions to the Savings Catcher and Walmart's general price-matching policy. There's no harm in quickly scanning a receipt after a trip to Walmart, but it doesn't take the place of thorough comparison shopping.