Retail Wars: Wal-Mart Ups the Ante With Savings Catcher

Walmart.com

Today's consumer is looking to save money in every way possible. In many cases, many people will check their mobile phones  for better prices on the items they're about to purchase.  If they can find better prices, then many retailers will match that price at the register. The problem is that consumers like to save time just as much as they like to save money. Going through a mobile phone to look for discounts can be time consuming as well as a nuisance, especially if children are in tow.

Fortunately, Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT  ) has found a way to solve this problem. And the solution could (or even should) lead to increased basket sizes and faster checkout times.

Saving time and money
While most retailers offer ways for customers to save time or money, not many retailer initiatives allow customers to save time and money simultaneously. Wal-Mart has found a potential solution to this problem with its Savings Catcher.

To use Savings Catcher, go to https://savingscatcher.walmart.com/ and enter your receipt number. Wal-Mart will then automatically check advertised prices in your area. If Wal-Mart finds the same item you bought at a lower price, then it will give you the difference on a Walmart Rewards eGift Card. This gift card can then be used online or in-store. For the latter option, simply print out the eGift Card.

By using the Savings Catcher, consumers won't have to worry about whether or not they're getting the best deal while standing in the checkout line. Instead, they will know that if any other retailer offers a better price, the difference will be rewarded to them after shopping -- by going online and typing in the receipt number. Therefore, this initiative saves consumers time and money. It should also speed up checkout times.

Regarding increased basket size, the following line is from NPR.org:

Wal-Mart's Mac Naughton said preliminary data shows that in the markets that have the Savings Catcher, shoppers are putting more items in their basket.

Duncan Mac Naughton is the chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart Stores' U.S. discount division. The Savings Catcher initiative has been implemented in seven of Wal-Mart's key domestic markets, including San Diego, Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Huntsville, Ala., Minneapolis, and Lexington (Kentucky).  .

This initiative is likely to be a positive catalyst for Wal-Mart. However, how will this impact Wal-Mart's peers?

Gaining ground and standing still
If the Savings Catcher is successful in key markets -- this is likely based on initial reports -- it won't be good news for Target (NYSE: TGT  ) . The key appeal to Target is that it offers a clean and comfortable shopping atmosphere with wide aisles, bright lightning, organized shelving, and friendly employees. However, that might not be enough to offset potential consumer savings at Wal-Mart.

Additionally, Wal-Mart's Savings Catcher initiative is going to lead many consumers to its website, which will likely lead to increased online purchases. When it comes to the online shopping environment, Target's wide aisles, bright lighting, organized shelving, and friendly customer service won't mean anything.

Target happened to deliver a 30% increase in digital sales in its first quarter year over year (Wal-Mart's digital sales increased 27%), but we're still in the very early stages of Wal-Mart vs. Target in digital sales, and price will play a big role going forward. This gives Wal-Mart an advantage. 

There is one big catch to Wal-Mart's Savings Catcher -- it only compares prices for retailers that have a physical location. In other words, it doesn't compare prices with Amazon.com  (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) .

Amazon offers price matching as well. But despite Amazon offering low prices from the get-go, its price-matching policy is somewhat limited. The following is from Amazon.com:

Amazon.com will price match eligible purchases of televisions and cell phones with select other retailers, including those who sell their items on our website. For all other items, Amazon.com doesn't offer price matching.

Nevertheless, Wal-Mart's recent initiative should have no impact on Amazon, which has grown its top line considerably faster than Wal-Mart (and Target) over the past five years:

WMT Revenue (TTM) Chart

WMT Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts

But don't be sucked in by the allure of top-line growth. While Amazon is slowly improving its bottom line (increasing Amazon Prime annual membership fee to $99 from $79 should help a great deal), Wal-Mart is more consistent with its profit margin:

WMT Profit Margin (Annual) Chart

WMT Profit Margin (Annual) data by YCharts

Another knock on Amazon is valuation. It's currently trading at 116 times forward earnings. This doesn't mean Amazon is a bad investment. It's a great company with a visionary leader and excellent innovation. However, at 116 times forward earnings, any negative news that surprises could lead to significant investor pain.

Wal-Mart and Target are both trading at a much safer 14 times forward earnings, while also offering annual dividend yields of 2.5% and 3.6%, respectively. A lot will depend on your risk appetite. 

The Foolish bottom line 
Wal-Mart doesn't offer the growth potential of Amazon, but it's trading at a much safer valuation. Its Savings Catcher is just one of its recent initiatives with the potential to win share from other physical retailers. Since the Savings Catcher saves consumers time and money, the odds of success are high.

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