Walmart deals carefully exclude Oklahoma

Many holiday offers weren't available in Oklahoma because a law on the books since 1949 requires retailers to mark up merchandise at least 6 percent.
BY JENNIFER PALMER jpalmer@opubco.com Published: March 2, 2011

If there's one thing I've learned covering holiday shopping, it's that consumers are hungry for a deal.

A $50 gift card with purchase of an iPhone or iPod; a $20 gift card when buying a Nintendo DSi; a can of cranberry sauce or turkey gravy for under a buck — these are just a few of the offers Walmart had for holiday shoppers in 2010.

But these deals weren't available in Oklahoma. The world's largest retailer excludes our state on offers like these due to a state law that requires stores to sell items at least 6 percent above cost.

The Oklahoma Unfair Sales Act was passed in 1949. It's designed to protect small businesses from the pricing advantages large chains have and hopefully prevent this scenario: retail giant rolls into town, sells goods super cheap, puts little guy out of business, then jacks up their prices.

Clearly, Walmart has felt the sting of this law more than any other retailer. Four-dollar generic drugs and cheap gasoline have each caused the company's prices to come into question.

Now, the retailer appears to be treading carefully in the uncharted territory of offering a free gift card with a purchase — a winning practice for retailers because it nearly guarantees a return visit. And most shoppers will spend more than the gift card's value.

When contacted by telephone and e-mail, Walmart representatives declined several times to comment on its recent practice.

Many shoppers, including one of The Oklahoman's photographers, may have been disappointed to learn they wouldn't receive a free gift card like those in other states, or found a price here higher than advertised. Whether they agree or not, the asterisk that reads “offer not available in Oklahoma” is intended to protect our small businesses.