A couple weeks ago we ran out of laundry detergent, so I made an emergency trip to Walmart — the emergency was caused by a poopy diaper that exploded all over my kid’s clothes.
When I grabbed a jug of sent-free All laundry detergent, I noticed the orange tag was missing. The orange tag is the one that tells you the price per ounce. Technically, this wasn’t food, so I guess Walmart didn’t feel the need to add the orange label, but it made me suspicious. I did some quick math and discovered buying three 100oz containers would be about one dollar cheaper than buying one 300oz container.
I didn’t have pencil and paper with me so I didn’t get the exact prices. That’s why I went back yesterday to investigate what I call:
The Walmart Bulk Scam
Most of us believe buying bulk is cheaper than buying smaller individual items. I bet Walmart knows that, and that’s why they started charging more for the larger containers.
Here are a couple more over-priced bulk items I found:
(I was careful to compare the same chemical – I didn’t compare ultra-concentrate to regular, I only compared different sized containers of the exact same product.)
Gain 2xConcentrate – 100oz for $10.00 (so every 50oz should cost $5, but wait)
Gain 2xConcentrate – 150oz for $15.97 (They’re sneaking in an extra 32 cents per 50oz)
Dish Washing Soap
Palmolive Original – 16oz for $1.00 (If you bought three 16oz bottles you’d have 16 * 3 = 48oz for only $3)
Palmolive Original – 38oz for $3.48 (But Walmart will sell you only 38oz for $3.48. That’s 10oz less for an extra 48 cents.)
This one’s a little more difficult because I had to break this product down by price per sheet, that’s because the paper towel 2-pack had 144 sheets per roll, and the 8-pack had 84 sheets per roll – I think that’s another trick they use to keep us from figuring out they’re overcharging us for bulk items. I multiplied the number of rolls by the sheets per roll, and divided the price by the number of sheets:
Bounty one-ply 2-pack (w/ 144 sheets per roll ) $2.84/(2 * 144) = .009 per sheet
Bounty one-ply 8-pack (w/ 84 sheets per roll) $8.86/(8 * 84) = .013 per sheet
That doesn’t look like much until you multiply it back out. If I bought the same amount paper towels by buying the 2-pack and by buying the 8-pack. (2016 is the least common multiple)
7 2-packs = 2016 sheets = $19.88
3 8-packs = 2016 sheets = $26.58
That’s almost $7 more for the
exact same quantity if you buy in bulk.
And yes I will use 2016 paper towels – remember this all started with a poopy diaper explosion.
The Bad News
Walmart keeps switching which products they overcharge you for. When I first noticed they were overcharging for bulk, it was for bulk All laundry detergent. By the time I went back to Walmart with paper, pen, and calculator, they had fixed the price of All but now they were overcharging for Gain. That means we have to keep a close watch on what they’re charging us.
Here’s how I conducted my survey:
I sampled 15 items from the two isles in Walmart’s food section that didn’t have the orange price-per-ounce sticker. I sampled no more than two items in one category (for example, I picked two laundry detergents, two dish soaps, etc). The only exception was for paper towels. Since the math was more involved, I sampled three different products, two by the same brand, Bounty.
I actually found 4 overpriced bulk items, but two were Bounty paper towels and I didn’t want to include two price breakdowns for paper towels (The results of the other Bounty paper towel comparison were: For two-ply paper towel packages, the 8-pack was the most expensive, the 6-pack was the least expensive, and the 2-pack was in between)
Next, I’m going to check out the pharmacy section to see if Walmart is overcharging for bulk items like shaving cream and shampoo.
No wonder Walmart is doing so well even though the rest of the country is struggling. When consumers are trying to save money, most of us buy bulk, but apparently that might not be the best decision.