Did Walmart Try to Trick Me Into Spending More?

discounts, promos, grocery tips

Being a huge charcoal grill fan, I was excited to see Kingsford charcoal on a big time sale. I was standing in the lawn and garden section of Walmart starring at a pallet of twin 15 pound bags of charcoal shrink wrapped together priced at $8.98.

A single bag usually retails for close to that amount.


As I was scanning my items at the self checkout lane, however, I stared curiously at the screen when the charcoal rang up at $14.88. From behind me I heard an employee ask if I needed some help. After explaining what had occurred, she asked if I wanted her to call someone. It was Sunday afternoon, the store was busy, and I noted there was quite the line waiting to use the lanes. Not wanting to block that checkout counter, I stated that I would go double check the sale sign when I was done.

I returned to the mountain of charcoal, and took a picture of the sale sign.

I explained my situation to the customer service attendant, who took my receipt and went to investigate. While I was waiting, I reviewed the picture I had taken, and looked again at the charcoal in my cart.


Notice the difference? The pack in my cart was a twin pack of 13.9 pound bags, not the sale advertised 15 pound bags.

When the employee returned I told her what I had uncovered. She agreed, smiled, and began the process to return the charcoal I had purchased.

I went to the lawn and garden center a third time to get the right twin pack of charcoal. I took a look at the pallet, and noticed that there were 13.9 pound twin packs intermingled with the 15 pound twin packs.

I was glad that I was again attentive enough to have caught the mistake at the register, as I would have ended up with 2.2 pounds less product, costing nearly $6 more. I’d like to think that it was a simple mistake, and that someone had accidentally put the two different product sizes in the same display,  The thought did enter my mind questioning if Walmart might have done it on purpose.

What do you think? Do you think a retailer would pull such a stunt to increase sales and profit at the expense of customers not paying attention?

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • Here’s what happens:

    Customer has smaller twin pack in cart for more money. They walk by the larger twin pack for less money. They want to swap but do not want to walk back to where they got the smaller twin for less money. Thus they just dump the smaller twin right there.

    Happens all the time.

  • Probably just some unmotivated Wal-Mart employee wasn’t paying attention and didn’t get it together to have the bags properly sorted.

  • Yeah, I think someone just said “Oh, we need more charcoal there” and grabbed what probably looked like the same size bags and stacked them up. I probably wouldn’t blame WalMart as much as Kingsford. Why in the world would they produce two different sizes of bags so similar in what they contain?

  • It’s not necessarily a scam. At the WMT near my house, the employees RARELY zone their area and put things back where they belong, so things are comingled on the shelves when customers abandon them. At $9/hour, I can’t really be surprised that they don’t pay too much attention to putting things back where they belong, and you just have to be aware since they’re not paid enough to watch out for you.

  • I agree with other comments here — it’s likely a case of a customer putting the smaller bags of charcoal on the wrong display. However, Walmart and other retailers certainly benefit when customers don’t watch their purchases as closely as you do, or take the time to track down the right deal.

  • @Wayne – That’s a definite possibility, however I did look around in the area (one would think all the charcoal would be in the same general area) and didn’t see a display of the smaller size. I’m in the store frequently (not to mention I plan on stocking up on the 2×15 pound bags – it’s a GREAT deal!), so maybe I’ll take another look around. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • @MoneyBeagle – I have no idea why they’d make two sizes so close together. That’s a great question for me to email Kingsford. It certainly shows how much profit margin there may be in the product though if they can discount $6 off a slightly larger size!

  • @Doug – I could certainly understand the mixup since the size of the bags are so similar, and it’s always the customer’s responsibility to ensure their bill is correct. BUT, a person should always take pride in what they do, no matter what their wage. Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  • @Kendal – you’re the second commenter that’s mentioned customers leaving product behind when they find a better deal. I have to admit, I’ve done it too. 🙂 I’m definitely going back to see if I can track down where the smaller twin pack came from to see you and Wayne (first comment) are correct!

  • @Jon – I could understand employees not noticing the difference – but if they’re going to run a sale, they should make sure the right product is on display!

  • It’s great that you were diligent enough to notice. I never really pay attention when I am going through the register, and this makes me wonder what I’ve been missing. It would be pretty shady of the company to do that, but then again, it’s Walmart so I don’t know that I would expect more.

  • Shouldn’t the package be slightly different? But then juts like the other commenters say, it’s either Walmart’s unmotivated employer or lazy customer who decided not to take the item and put it on the closest charcoal pile. It’s good that you paid attention though!

  • I doubt Walmart or its employees tried to pull a fast one. Like others have mentioned, it was probably just customers messing up the charcoal display, and exchanging smaller bags on the spot. This is a very good example of how paying attention to sales and checking your receipt at checkout can save money. I’m glad you caught it.

  • I disagree with the prior comments. I think it was probably done intentionally as I see more and more of these “mistakes” happening in our area. I also quite often notice that more and more sales come with “fine” print that unless you are a savvy shopper you don’t catch on too. I think too that retailers bet on the fact that most shoppers won’t catch items that ring up on wrong and if they do – they won’t bother coming back. Just like the gift cards given out when you purchase big items. The retailers know that 90% of people don’t redeem them and bet on that fact.
    Good catch!

  • Yeah, I had the same thing happen with flowers at Whole Foods, where they pretty clearly try to visit and switch with signs in front of other flowers. Very annoying!

  • @PoorStudent – The packaging is slightly different….but only on a small patch on the side of the bag that says the weight. If you’re in a hurry it’s super easy to miss. Good to hear from you!

  • @Bryce – I’ll likely be heading to Walmart again today…and I’ll look more closely to see if there is a display with the other sized bag. Check back to see how that turned out!

  • @Tricia – I know retailers bank of the fact that you won’t use gift cards (or won’t return to use small amounts left on gift cards), as well as not redeem mail in rebates. This would seem like a pretty low tactic to make money. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • @Miel – it reminds me of those sales that state, “With Prices STARTING at $X” where the starting price is very low, but most of the items are much higher! Thanks for dropping in!

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