There are plenty of companies vying for your spending. In fact, most retailers would far rather make even a minuscule profit rather than seeing you go to one of their competitors. They prefer their customers to be loyal – once they get you into the habit of visiting their store or website, you’re much more likely to return. Besides, if you’re there to buy one thing, it’s very likely that you’ll pick up a couple of extra items too, so they do make some money from you in any case.
How do they try to attract your business? Some of the best-known strategies are store loyalty programs that allow you to claim cashback and coupons (both paper and electronic) you can use to slice a chunk off the sticker price. Price matching is another, though fewer consumers use this on a regular basis.
Table of Contents
The Basics of Price Matching
The trouble with price matching is that many people aren’t even sure it exists. Those who do are often confused about which stores adhere to this policy and what exactly the terms are. Now, we know you probably don’t want to spend a Saturday morning scrutinizing something written in legalese, so we’ll give you a simplified summary of what to expect from several major retailers in just a little while. Let’s first get a handle on how exactly price matching works using a practical example:
Bob wants to buy a new computer for his home office and has decided on one particular type. He makes a careful note of all the specifications and the full model number. He now scours the internet for the lowest price, but he doesn’t trust online shopping (or maybe he just doesn’t want to support Amazon for any of a variety of reasons).
Instead, he makes a note of the URL (the website address) and prints out the advertisement. He phones up a couple of local computer and big box stores asking if they:
- Have a price matching policy,
- Whether this applies to online deals,
- If they sell the kind of computer he has his eye on.
It shouldn’t take him more than a couple of calls to find a retailer that satisfies all these criteria. He drives, printout in hand, to the store of his choosing. After a brief conversation with a manager, he pays the lower price he found online – the sticker price simply doesn’t matter.
At least in theory, this is exactly how simple it is. In practice, Bob may have to do a little more work, meaning that looking out for price matching is sometimes only worth it for purchases over a couple of hundred dollars. He may also run into some terms and conditions that allow the retailer to get out of their price matching promise. What you may not know is that managers at several stores actually have a fair amount of leeway when it comes to customer service decisions. The best advice is therefore to approach the whole matter rationally and respectfully – they may just be willing to waive some ticklish rule to ensure that you spend your money with them. This certainly applies to small, independently-owned businesses – it’s hard for these to keep up with retail behemoths, so they may be willing to meet you halfway.
Price Matching Pitfalls
Remember how Bob ensured that he knew exactly what kind of computer he wanted, including having the full model number to hand when he went shopping? This is very important: retailers, including those that advertise their price matching policy heavily, will only match the price of the exact same product.
Many mattress stores, for instance, say that they’ll match any competitor’s price, choosing not to mention that they have a deal with the manufacturer to print a special model number on products sold through them. The savvy customer may point out that the ABCDEFG12345-b and the ABCDEFG12345 sold across the road are identical in every respect, but this doesn’t matter. Likewise, Bob probably could not insist on price matching if he wanted to add more RAM or an SSD to the factory-standard computer model. Yet another example: many appliances you’ll find on sale around Black Friday and Cyber Monday are called “derivative products”: versions that have been slightly stripped down so they can be sold at a lower price, yet closely resemble the model containing all the bells and whistles.
Another thing to watch out for is the specific exclusions and conditions each store’s lawyers have come up with. There are a number of ways a retailer can tell the world that they offer some form of price-matching; phrases like “guaranteed lowest prices!” are common. This doesn’t mean that all of these policies work the same way, though, nor that they don’t change from time to time. Some companies may refuse to match a price found online, not applicable in your area, from small retailers, or not including shipping and handling. In some cases, a coupon for one store will be accepted by others, but don’t count on it. It’s a good idea to have a general idea of how your favorite retailers apply price matching in general (as we’ll describe down below) and double-check this information before you go on a serious shopping spree.
There is also a special kind of price matching called price adjustment. Basically, if you bought something for $100 but the same retailer is now selling it for $90, you can visit them and ask for the difference in either cash or store credit. As always, though, you need to watch those terms and conditions: you’ll generally have a very limited window of time during which you can take advantage of this policy. Additionally, it may simply not apply in certain circumstances, like when a retailer holds a clearance sale to get old stock off the shelves.
Making a Habit of Searching Out Low Prices Every Time You Shop
Most people, when buying a big-ticket item – a new or used car, washing machine, etc. – will spend at least some time on their phone or computer to make sure that they’re not paying more than they should. They would be fools not to and they should certainly keep an eye out for any retailers that are willing to match the lowest legitimate price. What about expenses you have to cover every month, though? Don’t you, over time, spend more on groceries than cars?
Over time, amounts of only a few dollars really add up. If you make a habit of putting these sums into a savings account rather than spending them on soda and doughnuts, you can even end up with a handy emergency fund sooner than you think.
Finding savings such as these does take a little bit of work, but there are numerous apps and websites to make the process easier. It’s probably best to run through your entire shopping list at home before you set out, but you can also use your mobile device to check prices on the fly. While we’re not encouraging you to stumble, zombie-like, into other people’s shopping carts because you were staring at your phone, keeping one of these apps open while browsing the aisles can show you some worthwhile discounts.
The following apps are all worth looking into:
- RedLaser allows you to check prices from dozens of retailers by simply scanning a QR or barcode. It also gives you easy access to product reviews, can store electronic coupons, and works with a variety of store loyalty cards.
- ShopSavvy works similarly to RedLaser in terms of scanning products on the shelf. It will also track price changes and newly available coupons for you based on alerts you set yourself.
- ScanLife is another product scanning and price comparison app, notable for its simple user interface. It also has a rewards program that integrates with several retailers’ systems.
- Grocery Exchange has a larger social media component: instead of getting various stores’ and websites’ prices online, this app allows you and other users to share prices you find. It’s very useful in that it also manages your grocery list for you.
Retailers That Offer Price Matching
Let’s take a look at some stores, online and in real life, and their price matching policies:
Both online and in-store purchases can be price-matched, but only against certain retailers (Amazon, Autozone, Bass Pro, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Bestbuy, Chewy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Home Depot, JC Penny, Kmart, Kohls, Lowes, Office Depot, Petco, Petsmart, Sears, Staples, Target, Walgreens, and some others). Walmart certainly tries to offer the lowest prices possible, making it fairly unlikely that there will be a huge difference in their prices compared to these other giants. In case you do find a bargain, you have to request a price match through Walmart‘s online portal. You can do this for only one item per day, and it has to be in stock at both retailers – less than ideal for run-of-the-mill purchases.
Unlike Walmart, Home Depot will match a price from any retailer. There are a few wrinkles, though: in addition to being identical, the item from the other retailer has to be sold as new (i.e. not “open box” or refurbished). If you order online, Home Depot will even match the total price including shipping to your location.
Like Walmart, Target will match prices only with selected online retailers but will accept price matching from any local store. It gets better: if, after buying, you can find the same item for less either from Target itself or any competitor, you have 14 days to pocket the difference. Unlike with Walmart, you can apply in-store; you need only bring in a newspaper clipping containing an ad to ask for a price match.
Like Target, Lowe’s will match either local retailers or online stores. Certain brands are, unfortunately, excluded from this policy, but the other restrictions on price matching are pretty intuitive. If the comparable offer includes professional installation, for instance, Lowe’s will only match the price on the materials or appliance, and you can’t combine other discounts such as coupons with a price match transaction.
Best Buy will match the price of any local competitor, but only Amazon, Crutchfield, Dell, Hewlett Packard, and TigerDirect in the online world. Overall, their price matching policy is pretty straightforward and they have an online chat service to answer any questions you may have. Many sale items are excluded, though, as are competitors’ cell service plans – you’ll need to find another way of lowering your phone bill.
How to Make Price Matching Work for You
Many manufacturers have a suggested retail price. Retailers usually aren’t bound by this, though, and consumers today are very conscious of savings opportunities. In some cases, this has led to a kind of “race to the bottom” where stores cut their prices close to the bone.
Given how many retailers offer price matching, you can and should take advantage of this opportunity. You may well prefer to shop somewhere else than the store with the cheapest prices, perhaps due to an inconvenient location or poor customer service. In many cases, you don’t actually need to pay more: simply research your preferred retailer’s price matching policy, then keep an eye on the savings it can bring you.