Retail

6 ways retailers get out of price-matching guarantees

May 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM ET

Many of the nation’s top retailers tout low-price guarantees: Someone else is advertising a lower price? No need to go to the other store -- we’ll match it. In practice, though, a price-match guarantee is no guarantee a store will match a competitor’s price. A new report by Cheapism.com compares the price-matching policies at more than half a dozen retailers and looks at how they’re applied in-store. It finds that even the most permissive retailers use careful wording and litanies of exclusions to deny customer requests. Shoppers unfamiliar with the fine print face frustration and stand to waste valuable time.

Here are some of the most common reasons a retailer may refuse to match a competitor’s price.

  • The competitor isn’t local. Best Buy, for instance, confines its policy to stores that fall within a 25-mile radius. Other retailers use vague phrases such as “reasonable distance” and “same market area,” which are open to employee interpretation. Cheapism’s report on price-match policies cites an account from one shopper who says Target wouldn’t match a store a mile away because it was in a different ZIP code.

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  • The competitor is an online retailer. Many companies extend their price-matching policies only to brick-and-mortar stores and, in some cases, the websites of local competitors. But until recently none included online-only competitors in their price-match guarantees. That’s why Target and Best Buy turned heads in recent months when they announced they would match prices offered by select online retailers, including Amazon, regardless whether there was a corresponding store in the same market. As Cheapism explains, however, online price matching comes with its own fine print. A bottle of contact solution was going for almost $4 less on Amazon, but Target wouldn’t match the price because it was listed by a third-party seller on the Amazon Marketplace, not by Amazon.com.
  • The competitor is a warehouse club. Retailers including JC Penney and Target won’t match prices that require a club card, so forget about pointing to a lower price at Sam’s Club or Costco. Best Buy does match warehouse-club pricing, as long as the store is local, and Sears requires that customers show a valid membership card for the club store before matching a lower price.
Price match guarantees aren't so simple and include a list of caveats, as seen here in the Toys R Us price-matching guarantee policy.
toysrus.com
Price match guarantees aren't so simple and include a list of caveats, as seen here in the Toys R Us price-matching guarantee policy.
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  • You didn’t bring in a print ad. Most retailers don’t simply promise to match competitors’ prices; they promise to match competitors’ advertised prices. Not only that, many require a print ad as proof of the lower price -- a photo, photocopy, or mobile version may not cut it. At Walmart, the official policy states that you don’t have to have an ad with you (an employee may call to verify the price), but customers have found that cashiers often say they need to see an ad in order to match a price.
  • The items are not identical. The lower-priced product at the other store must be the same brand, model, style, color, size, weight, quantity -- identical in every way. It also can’t be a used, refurbished, damaged, open-box, or display item. This often comes into play with appliances and electronics. A product at Home Depot might have a different model number than the same product at Lowe’s, making it ineligible for price matching. Non-branded items such as fresh produce also may not qualify, although Walmart promises to match food prices if they’re listed in the same unit of measure (e.g., per ounce).
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  • The lower-priced item is … advertised as limited-time, limited-supply, or limited-quantity or part of a clearance, closeout, liquidation, or going-out-of-business sale.

You get the idea. Retailers are happy to use ad-match policies to burnish their reputations for low prices, but they’re far from eager to honor those guarantees. Still, there’s some variation in the policies and how they’re applied in practice. Cheapism has identified some of the best price-match guarantees and a couple that may not be worth the effort. If you choose a relatively lenient retailer and go in with knowledge of the rules, you could save yourself time and money.

More from Cheapism:

Comparing stores that price match

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