This holiday season, the hottest trend among retailers isn’t on a store shelf. It’s taking place at the cash register.
Major retailers, from Best Buy to Toys R Us, are promising to match competitors’ prices. Generally customers just need to bring in an advertisement or printout to prove that the same item is available elsewhere at a lower price. In some cases, shoppers can come back with a receipt and get a refund for the difference if the price of an item they bought fell.
Best Buy Co. Inc., Target Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears Inc. offer price matching to customers year-round. What’s different now is that Best Buy and Target are matching online retailers such as Amazon.com. That’s a big deal, since online prices tend to be lower than those at stores.
Shoppers will be able to save some extra money, but they’re going to have to read a lot of fine print to do so.
“Price matching sounds good, but there are so many exclusions, it sometimes isn’t as good as it sounds,” says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org, which tracks deals for shoppers.
For instance, Target limits the number of online retailers that it will price match against to just five. Best Buy has selected 20, but will only match prices through Dec. 24.
Toys R Us is offering price matching for the first time but will only match prices that customers find in other brick-and-mortar stores. Walmart also matches against in-store prices.
Toys R Us, Best Buy, Sears and Target say they will match prices found on their own Web sites. It’s not uncommon for retailers to offer steeper discounts online. (Toys R Us says it won’t match prices on its own Web site if the item is marked as an “online-only price.”)
Even the most experienced bargain hunters can get tripped up by the rules. But shoppers can save money if they’re diligent. Here are five ways to get the most out of price matching offers:
KNOW THE POLICY: If you want to take advantage of a price match offer, read the store’s policy closely. You can find the guidelines on the store’s Web site. Print out the policy and bring it with you. Having a hard copy will be helpful if you need to argue your case.
BRING PROOF: Always bring the advertisement or the printed Web page for the item you want to match. Walmart doesn’t require bringing the ad because cashiers have access to all local advertisements. But Dworsky recommends bringing ads anyway. If there’s any confusion, you’ll be better prepared. Cashiers and customer representatives are always looking for a reason not to approve the transaction, he says.
SAVE RECEIPTS: Some retailers will give you money back if you see a lower price after you buy an item. Keep your receipts and, particularly for big-ticket items, continue to look for lower prices. Best Buy will issue refunds until the end of January. Toys R Us lets you seek a refund up to seven days after buying an item. Sears customers can get a refund after 14 days. Target is letting customers price match against brick-and-mortar retailers until Dec. 24 for any item bought after Nov. 1 and until Dec. 16 for online retailers.
GO STRAIGHT TO CUSTOMER SERVICE: Many retailers have hired cashiers just for the holidays, so the new employees might not be up-to-speed on the store price matching policy. Heather Wheeler, who runs TheKrazyCouponLady.com, recommends handling the transaction at the customer service desk. “(Those staffers are) trained a little more and are more knowledgeable,” she says.
LOOK BEYOND RETAILERS: You can also price match depending on how you pay. EBay Inc.’s payment processer, PayPal, promises to match a lower price if you’ve already made a purchase using the service. PayPal will match the prices of retailers that don’t let customers use PayPal, however. Just fill out a form and upload a receipt. PayPal will give you back up to $1,000 for all purchases made until Dec. 31.