Wal-Mart's Christmas Price Guarantee Doesn't Believe In E-Commerce. Nor Much Else, It Seems

Wal-Mart on Monday (Oct. 24) unveiled its Christmas Price Guarantee, whereby the chain promises that if a customer finds a Wal-Mart-purchased item "advertised for less at another store, Wal-Mart will give the customer a giftcard for the difference through December 25. Guaranteed." Unfortunately, the exceptions and practical limits of the offer have enough strings attached to keep Santa's elves well-stocked through at least late March.

First off, the world's largest retailer is excluding any online sites. Really? In late October 2011, you're still not convinced that E-Commerce isn't just a fad? Second, it's a clever move in that once customers purchase an item from their lists, they are unlikely to continue researching and looking for it.

Third, why not guarantee if an item is priced lower? Many holiday sales—especially at local stores—will not be formally advertised. As for those ads, the Wal-Mart fineprint excludes "ads with typographical errors." The chain didn't exclude an ad where the price is a typo; rather, if a typo exists anywhere in the ad, it's not applicable. As an editor, I can't recall the last time I saw an ad without at least one small typo somewhere.

Then there was the banning of anything that Wal-Mart would consider a Black Friday ad. Nor will a "percentage-off ad" be applicable, and clearance sales are also out. As long as Bentonville is making its list—of exclusions—and checking it twice, the chain banned anything that had a bundle or a gift provided with purchase.

Grocery is also excluded, along with live plants, tobacco, firearms (what says Christmas Spirit better than an automatic weapon under the tree?), gasoline, tires, prescription drugs (so much for getting my daughter that gift-wrapped prescription multi-vitamin), optical or wireless products that require a service agreement.

But wait, there's more. The items must be precisely identical: "the same brand, size, color, quantity, grade and model number." It must be currently available at the competitor's store—it's excluded if you bought the last one or even one of the last ones—and that other store must be "within the same local market as a particular Wal-Mart store."

After all of those exclusions are satisfied, how easy is it? "To apply for the Christmas Price Guarantee, customers need to simply bring in their original Wal-Mart cash register receipt and the local competitor's current printed ad to Wal-Mart's Customer Service desk through December 25." If it's then validated, a giftcard will be issued, forcing the customer to spend that money at Wal-Mart.

Kind of makes you overfilled with holiday spirit, no?