BBB's National Advertising Division, which had been investigating Wal-Mart's claims following a complaint from a competing Texas retailer, says that while Wal-Mart has provided reasonable support for its "Unbeatable Prices" claims, there's still potential for confusing shoppers.
H-E-B Grocery Company, which runs 300 H-E-B stores in Texas and Mexico, as well as eight Central Market stores, specifically challenged the Wal-Mart ads on its "unbeatable prices" claim. It noted that Wal-Mart does not honor ads, for example, that require a purchase in order to receive the advertised price or free product, "Buy One/Get One Free" advertisements, double or triple coupons or percent off advertisements, "misprinted" advertised prices, Internet prices or price matches based on other methods of proof, including sales receipts.
It also challenged the company's specific savings claims of $700 a year. "Let's say you spend $100 a week at the supermarket on these kinds of items," says the voiceover in the TV spot, while a disclosure at the bottom of the screen reads: "Excludes fresh meat and produce" and later: "Local savings vary." The voiceover then states: "If you bought these kinds of groceries at Wal-Mart, you could save on average over $700 a year."
As for Wal-Mart, a spokesperson says: "We are pleased the NAD determined that our "Unbeatable Prices" claims are substantiated by our price-matching program. But we disagree with the NAD's determination regarding our $700 grocery savings claim."
While acknowledging that all price-matching programs have terms and limitations that may not reasonably be expected to be disclosed in a TV spot, the NAD did recommend that Wal-Mart "make its disclosures substantially more clear and conspicuous in its printed and broadcast advertising and on its in-store signage." It also recommended that it ditch the "$700 annual savings" claim entirely. "The use of the phrase "on average" does not temper the overriding message that the viewer -- wherever located -- can expect to obtain these savings," the watchdog group says in its release.
"We're not currently running those spots," says the Wal-Mart spokesperson, adding that there are no plans to run the spots again. "But we still firmly believe the claim is well-supported."