And in pricing news this week

Walmart continues to be the undisputed champ when it comes to the lowest prices, but recent “studies” indicate a range of opinions as to whether the champ is retaining the title in split decision bouts that go the distance as opposed to first round knock outs.

The variation in opinion depends on who you ask and where you look. The pricing gap between Target and Walmart narrowed last month to a scant 1.7% as Walmart took prices up slightly during August while Target did the opposite, according to a monthly survey by the retail research team at Credit Suisse.

The firm’s survey looks at a basket of comparable items at Target, Walmart and other competitors’ stores in the Dallas and Chicago market. The firm noted that the average basket price across all surveyed retailers was up 1.6% year-over-year, led

by a 5.4% pricing increase at Walmart. However, it was down 1.4% in

August versus July, as Walmart was the only retailer to increase prices month-to-month. 

Meanwhile, Target decreased prices 0.9% month-to-month but increased prices by 2.7% year-to-year. As a result, Target’s price gap versus Walmart stood at 1.7% in August, excluding the impact of the retailer’s REDcard Rewards program, which offers a 5% discount, compared to a 3.4 percent gap the prior month.

“The lower end consumer continues to be strained, and data suggests that retailers may be beginning to feel some resistance,” according to a research note the firm published. “However, despite Walmart’s publicly stated goal to be, ‘relentless in widening the price gap,’ it seems that Walmart’s price gap is contracting. This could provide some near term relief for other retailers, but it could also cause (Walmart) to renew its focus on price leadership.”

Meanwhile, over at Deutsche Bank, analyst Charles Grom found Walmart to be the clear price leader in Northern Virginia where he compared prices on 31 comparable items at Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter stores.

The basket of items cost $94.57 at Walmart, and its prices were the lowest on 55% of the items measured. Kroger came in with a total basket price of $102.48, compared with $116.19 at Safeway, $116.86 at Harris Teeter and $126.79 at Whole Foods. Although Walmart prices were up a slight 0.4% since the investment firm last conducted its check in July, that level of increase was smaller than price hikes at such competitors as Kroger, which increased 2.1% and Safeway, which raised prices 4%.

Consulting firm Kantar Retail also conducted a recent pricing survey across 26 categories at six retailers located within five miles of one another in a Northeastern market. However, the firm applied a different methodology to determine price leadership. Rather than look at prices on comparable items, an increasingly challenging task, Kantar assessed the lowest price point available in a given category, excluding trial sizes, that would allow shoppers to minimally meet their purchase requirements.

“Our study confirms that Walmart is the least expensive one-stop shop for the cash-strapped shopper,” said Leon Nicholas, SVP with Kantar Retail. “Importantly, Walmart achieved this distinction without the use of any rollbacks. Clearly, the retailer’s effort to bolster its value positioning through smaller sizes and an increasing number of value-positioned SKUs is paying off.”

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