If I grocery shop with Walmart online, will I get bonus points?

Cashing In with Tony Mecia

Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. Every week, he answers readers’ questions about credit card rewards programs in his “Cashing In” column.

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If I buy groceries from Walmart online, will I qualify for the grocery category bonus points?

Typically, Walmart registers as a superstore, not a grocery store. However, if you log into the Walmart grocery page and make purchases online, it could be coded as grocery, depending on the issuer.
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Dear Cashing In,
I am looking into an American Express card that offers 6 percent back on grocery purchases. Most of my groceries are purchased through Walmart Grocery online for pickup. Do Walmart Grocery online purchases qualify as a grocery store or a superstore under American Express’s classification system? – Angela

Dear Angela, 
We all have in our heads an image of what a grocery store is. It’s probably the place near your house where you check out the meat and seafood counters, pick your fruits and vegetables, and stock up on canned goods, frozen foods and things to drink.

However, that conventional view of a grocery store is changing. People are now increasingly shopping for groceries at superstores and warehouse clubs, and greater numbers of people are ordering groceries online – and not always from a traditional grocer. Almost one-fourth of U.S. households now buy at least some groceries online. Younger shoppers are especially more apt to go online for groceries, and within 10 years, an estimated 70 percent of people will do at least some grocery shopping by computer.

Typically, credit cards that provide bonus points for grocery shopping have been slow to adapt to this trend. Generally, with a credit card that gives category bonuses for groceries, you receive the bonus only for shopping at traditional grocery stores. If you buy online with one of those grocers, that counts. But if your online or in-store grocery shopping is with Amazon, Walmart, Costco or similar stores, you are usually out of luck. But not always.

Usually, the best way to find out if charges with a particular merchant qualify for extra reward points is to read the fine print associated with the card and try to determine how the merchant is coded by payment networks and card issuers. This can help you sort out some of the gray areas, such as what counts as a travel expense, a restaurant or a grocery store.

For instance, with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card (annual fee: $95), the offer terms state: “You will earn a reward of 6 percent on the first $6,000 of eligible purchases in a calendar year at supermarkets located in the U.S. (superstores and warehouse clubs are not considered supermarkets)” That would seem to exclude Walmart.

If the card were a Visa, you could then check the Visa Supplier Locator to see if charges at a particular merchant qualify for bonus points. If it’s not a Visa, you might have to scour the internet or rely on trial and error.

In the case of American Express, I have a similar card that gives bonuses at supermarkets. When the charge qualifies for extra points, it shows up as “Merchandise & Supplies – Groceries.” This week, I used the card to order groceries online at Walmart in two different ways. In the first instance, I went to Walmart’s homepage and ordered some cat litter and bottled water to be delivered. The charge showed up on my statement as “Merchandise & Supplies – Internet Purchase” and did not qualify for extra points.

But then I went to the Walmart Grocery page and logged in there. I ordered some wine, yogurt and crackers to pick up. That transaction was coded as “Merchandise & Supplies – Groceries” and was eligible for bonus points.

Customers also have reported online that charges at Walmart Neighborhood Markets, smaller stores that sell groceries exclusively, also qualify for the grocery bonus on American Express cards.

Also note that online through Walmart Grocery, you are able to order merchandise that you won’t find in most grocery stores, including golf balls, bike locks, printer ink, Fitbits and Roku streaming sticks – which could be a smart way to buy items that ordinarily wouldn’t qualify for reward points.

Usually, the trouble with charging groceries at superstores is that when the retailer rings up the purchase, there is no way for the retailer to distinguish between an order of groceries and an order of camping gear. That’s why those larger stores don’t usually count toward extra points for groceries. But in the case of Walmart, if the charge is with a separate division such as Walmart Grocery or a Walmart Neighborhood Market, you can receive credit for a grocery purchase.

It is one small step toward making credit card bonuses reflect the new realities of grocery shopping.

See related: How to find a business's merchant category code, Rack up extra reward points with gift cards 


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Updated: 08-17-2018