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The Best and Worst Price-Matching Policies for Holiday Shopping
Just about every major retailer offers some sort of price-matching policy that can help you avoid overpaying — not only for holiday gifts, but everyday purchases the rest of the year, too.
Chances are, though, that you’re not taking advantage of this benefit: Only about 5% of shoppers use price matching, according to retail analysts, likely because the fine print and hassle involved isn’t worth the few bucks they could ultimately save.
So you don’t have to, I compared the price-matching policies of 10 popular big-box stores, grading them on several criteria: Is the policy nicely specific or frustratingly vague? Are there any additional benefits or funky exclusions? Does the store allow price matching for online-only stores, or does it restrict the benefit to local competitors? Can customers get a price adjustment after they make a purchase, or do they have to request a match when they’re buying the item?
Before I dive into specific stores’ policies, let’s look at some price matching basics, including some of the common fine print and how price matching differs from its close cousin, price adjustments.
Price Matching 101
On the surface, price matching is straightforward. If you have proof that a competing store is currently offering the same item for a lower price, show a store associate before purchasing the item and they’ll give it to you for the same price in order to keep your business.
Unfortunately, it’s often not that simple in practice. Retailers will make you jump through a number of hoops before putting a few bucks back in your pocket. Here are some price-matching requirements that you’ll encounter just about everywhere:
- The item must be identical: When we say identical, we mean identical. If you find a sweater for cheaper somewhere else, it better be the same brand, size, and color. If you want a price match on a big-ticket item such as an appliance or a television, the model number must match — but since model numbers are often unique to major retailers, you may be out of luck.
- The other retailer must be a direct competitor: Stores will define competitors in different ways. Some include stores within a certain radius, such as 25 miles, while others leave it to the discretion of a manager. A few stores will price match certain online-only competitors such as Amazon.com, while others specifically exclude them or only allow a few. Some won’t allow price matching from membership clubs like Costco, and nearly all will exclude third-party sellers such as Amazon marketplace or auction sites like eBay.
- The item must be in stock at the other retailer: Perhaps you found a particularly good sale at another store and the item flew off the shelves. In this case, most stores won’t offer you a price match.
- The item can’t be listed as clearance, closeout, doorbuster, or some other special deal: Almost any price that results from something beyond your run-of-the-mill sale will be off limits. This includes any sweet deal you could get from a store that’s going out of business. Some stores even specifically halt price matching during the ultra-competitive shopping stretch between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
Price matching vs. price adjustments
Price matching is what happens when a retailer lowers a price so that you can pay the same price as you would with a competitor. However, many retailers also allow price adjustments after you purchase an item. During a certain window of time (commonly a couple of weeks) the retailer will pay you the difference if you show proof that a competitor is selling the item you recently purchased for less.
It turns out, though, that you may not need to depend on a retailer’s generosity if a price drops after you buy an item. Many credit card issuers offer price protection — essentially the same thing as price adjustment — as a benefit. According to CardHub, Barclays, Citi, Chase, and USAA offered the benefit on all credit cards in 2015. Wells Fargo, Capital One, and Bank of America offered it on select cards, while American Express and U.S. Bank did not offer it at all.
You’ll need to check your card’s benefits guide for applicable details, but there’s typically cap of $250 to $500 per eligible item, and a time limit of 60 to 90 days. Price protection benefits will also have a yearly cap and may exclude certain items such as jewelry, art, or auction items. And of course, you’ll have to use your credit card for the initial purchase in order to get the card’s price protection benefits.
How do I keep tabs on competitors’ prices?
You probably don’t want to scour every weekly circular, right? An easier solution is to use a price tracker. PriceZombie, one of the trackers I profiled in The Best Price Trackers to Beat Black Friday, even has a Price Protection Tracker that specifically tracks price drops during the time window specified by the store or your credit-card issuer.
In store, you’ll want to use a price-comparison app such as ShopSavvy while shopping. Take a picture of the item’s barcode on your phone, and the app will show you competitors’ prices. Keep in mind, though, that these apps themselves won’t suffice as proof of lower prices — policies vary by store, but you’ll probably have to show a current print or digital ad or the current price on the competitor’s website.
Price Matching Policies at 10 Popular Stores
Below, I grade the price matching policies of 10 major nationwide retailers. While I’ve tried to hit the highlights, I recommend reading a store’s policy yourself before you try to use the benefit — you can save yourself some valuable time arguing with a store associate if you know your stuff going in.
Target’s price-matching policy is nicely detailed, leaving little chance of confusion for store associates or customers. Unlike some retailers, they will allow you to apply manufacturers’ coupons to your purchase after the price match.
One small annoyance that kept Target from an A+: You’ll have to go wait in line at customer service instead of getting a price match at the register.
Who will Target price match? Local retail competitors within a 25-mile radius and 30 online competitors including Amazon.com, ToysRUs.com, Walmart.com, and Wayfair.com. You can also request a price match in store if the item is cheaper on Target.com.
When will Target price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase or a price adjustment for 14 days after you’ve made a purchase. Target does does not offer price matching from Thanksgiving to the Monday after Thanksgiving (Cyber Monday).
How do you request a price match? Head to customer service with either a printed or digital ad showing the lower price. You can’t get a price match for an item on Target.com in store — you’ll have to call the site’s customer service number.
Any notable exclusions? Nothing out of the ordinary. Target stores won’t price-match other Target stores or membership clubs such as Costco. Clearance and closeout items are not eligible. Items must be identical and in stock at the competing store at the time you request a price match. Stores in Alaska and Hawaii won’t price-match online competitors.
Walmart’s policy is a bit more liberal than Target’s on a couple of key points: They don’t specify a specific time window for price matching, ultimately leaving it to the store manager’s discretion. They also leave the burden on the store associate to obtain proof of a price, rather than requiring the shopper to produce it. In theory, both are nice perks, but in practice, it can lead to confusion and long wait times for customers.
Who will Walmart price match? Local competitors and 30 online competitors including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Target.com, and ToysRUs.com. You can also request a price match in store if the item is cheaper on Walmart.com, but Walmart won’t price-match other area Walmarts. Competitors’ buy-one-get-one-free and percentage-off offers are fair game as long as a final price is specified.
When will Walmart price match? You can ask for a price match at the time of purchase; there is no official window for price adjustments after you buy. Walmart.com does not offer price matching from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
How do you request a price match? Request a price match for in-store or online items from any Walmart associate. If you’re requesting a price match at the time of purchase, you can do it right at the register.
While it is officially “the store’s responsibility to obtain the local competitor ads,” you’ll probably still want to bring proof in the form of a printed or digital ad. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait around for the associate to verify the price themselves. If you need Walmart.com to match a competitor’s price, you’ll need to call the site’s customer service number.
Any notable exclusions? The standard stuff: Items must be identical and in stock at the competing store at the time you request a price match. Closeouts and going-out-of-business prices are excluded. Stores in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico won’t price-match online competitors.
Staples has a pretty fair price-matching policy that includes most items and major competitors. Like Target, you need to go to customer service to get a price match at Staples. Be aware that Staples will also consider competitors’ shipping charges in any price-matching decisions, too.
Who will Staples price match? Local competitors and 14 select online retailers including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, OfficeDepot.com, and Walmart.com. They will also match prices from Staples.com.
When will Staples price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase or a price adjustment within 14 days of the purchase. The policy doesn’t specifically exclude any busy holiday shopping periods.
How do you request a price match? Take the competitor’s current ad to customer service. If you need a price match for a Staples.com purchase, you’ll need to call the site’s customer service line — you cannot get it in store.
Any notable exclusions? Nothing out of the ordinary: Staples won’t price match special clearance, grand-opening, or liquidation sales; it also specifically excludes auction sites, which is standard. Phones or other items with service plans must be purchased in store to be eligible.
Best Buy: B
On the positive side, Best Buy’s price-match policy is nicely detailed, and it doesn’t exclude membership clubs. However, you cannot use a coupon on a price-matched item, and the list of online competitors Best Buy will match is fairly skimpy. It also restricts price adjustments to Best Buy and BestBuy.com price drops.
Who will Best Buy price match? All local retail competitors within a 25-mile radius and their online prices, as well as the prices of seven major online retailers, including Amazon.com. You can request a price match if the same item is cheaper at BestBuy.com, and vice versa.
When will Best Buy price match? You can ask for a price match at the time of purchase. You can ask for a price adjustment within the return and exchange period for an item, but only if Best Buy or BestBuy.com lowers the price — not competitors. Typically, that’s 15 days, but it may be longer for Best Buy Elite Members and for all purchases during the holidays. Best Buy does does not offer price matching from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
How do you request a price match? Bring in the competitor’s current ad or show the online price to a Best Buy associate on your mobile phone. Associates may verify the prices and availability of the item. If you’re requesting a BestBuy.com price match, you can’t do it in store — you’ll need to contact the site via phone.
Any notable exclusions? Standard stuff. Online third-party vendors, online-only retailers not specifically listed, contract cell phones sold online, clearance and other special offers, and prices for services such as installation.
Lowe’s price matching policy stands out because it will actually beat competitors’ everyday prices by 10%. When competitors are offering a certain percentage off, it will match the net price of the item. However, it won’t price match any online-only stores — bummer. And the policy is a bit vague on some key points.
Who will Lowe’s price match? Local competitors and the websites of those competitors. Lowe’s will not price match against online-only competitors such as Amazon.com. Lowe’s says it will automatically give online customers the lower price if the price differs between Lowes.com and the Lowe’s store, but only if they select store pickup or Lowe’s home delivery.
When will Lowe’s price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase or a price adjustment 30 days after the purchase.
How do you request a price match? Show an associate the competitor’s current ad.
Any notable exclusions? Like most stores, items must be identical. Note that this is a particular concern for appliances, which may be the same between stores except for unique model numbers. You also cannot price-match the cost of installation or competitors’ special order and clearance items.
Toys ‘R’ Us: C+
Toys ‘R’ Us has a nicely specific price-matching policy that allows for matching with a reasonable range of stores, but it is stingier than competitors about price matching during the holidays. It also will only allow price adjustments for seven days.
Who will Toys ‘R’ Us price match? Local competitors’ in-store prices and online prices at a dozen retailers including Walmart.com, Target.com, and Amazon.com. They will also match ToysRUs.com and BabiesRUs.com except for online-only prices. You cannot request a price match for items you originally bought at ToysRUs.com or BabiesRUs.com, however.
When will Toys ‘R’ Us price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase or a price adjustment within seven days of purchase. This year, printed ads for Thanksgiving and Black Friday were specifically excluded, as were online prices from the Sunday before Black Friday through Cyber Monday.
How do you request a price match? Show the competitor’s current, complete advertisement to a Toys ‘R’ Us associate. You can also display the competitor’s website or app on your smartphone as long as the price is verifiable.
Any notable exclusions? Special offers such as percentage-off discounts, buy-one-get-one deals, clearance, and doorbusters aren’t eligible. Third-party marketplaces online are also on the blacklist. Toys ‘R’ Us also won’t match competitors’ coupons or offers limited to one day or less.
Home Depot: C
Home Depot’s vague price-matching policy says that, like Lowe’s, it will also beat competitors’ prices by 10%. But it also says “prices must be regular retail prices of competitors” — something that could be open to significant interpretation. Like Walmart, there is no official window for price adjustments after a purchase — that is left to the store manager’s discretion.
Who will Home Depot price match? Local competitors and the websites of those competitors. They will also match prices on HomeDepot.com, but you won’t get the additional 10% discount. Online items must also be available in stores. They won’t price-match online-only stores such as Amazon.com.
When will Home Depot price match? You can ask for a price match at the time of purchase; when and whether you can get a price adjustment after your purchase is up to a store manager.
How do you request a price match? Show an associate a competitor’s current ad or a current online price on either a printout or your phone.
Any notable exclusions? Home Depot, like Lowe’s, won’t price-match appliances unless the model numbers are identical, which is a big limitation. Also like Lowe’s, you won’t be able to get a lower price on installation or competitors’ clearance items.
J.C. Penney: C-
J.C. Penney’s price-matching policy is better than major competitors Sears and Kohl’s, but not because it’s particularly generous. You can’t get a price match for any online price, even if it’s J.C. Penney’s own website. However, you may be able to get a price adjustment within a decent amount of time after a purchase if you find a willing store manager.
Who will J.C. Penney price match? The prices of local competitors that “are a reasonable distance of our store.” They will not match competitors’ online prices, prices at online-only stores such as Amazon.com or prices at JCPenney.com.
When will J.C. Penney price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase or a price adjustment after purchase, as long as a store manager will allow it and the competitor’s price is still valid.
How do you request a price match? Officially, J.C. Penney requests customers to show associates a competitor’s printed store ad, but says “photocopies and mobile phone versions may be accepted,” subject to verification.
Any notable exclusions? Like most retailers, J.C. Penney won’t match special offers such as clearance and closeout prices, or any prices from membership-only stores like Costco.
Sears has long touted its “softer side,” but the Sears price-matching policy probably won’t inspire much flowery prose. Price adjustments are limited to Sears-branded stores and sites, and it will include the cost of shipping and handling in online price matches, potentially cutting into or eliminating your savings.
Who will Sears price match? Local competitors that “are a reasonable distance of our store” and the websites of those competitors, other Sears stores, and Sears-branded websites including Sears.com. It will not offer price matches for online-only retailers.
When will Sears price match? Competitor price matching is available only at the time of purchase. You can request a price adjustment for a lower price from another Sears or Sears-branded store or website within seven days of purchase. They do not offer price matching from Thanksgiving Day until the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.
How do you request a price match? Show the current printed or digital ad to a Sears associate before you make your purchase. If you’re requesting a price match for a competitor’s online item, you must show the ordering page that includes shipping and handling costs.
Any notable exclusions? Like Lowe’s and Home Depot, Sears requires items to be identical down to the model number. It also won’t price match clearance items, doorbusters, buy-one-get-one deals, and other special offers. Stores in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico won’t price-match online competitors.
Kohl’s should get a major lump of coal for its price matching policy, which is both stingy and vague. It won’t match anything other than competitors’ in-store prices, including its own website, and excludes a long list of brands from price matching and price adjustments.
Who will Kohl’s price match? Competitors’ in-store prices only, but who qualifies as a competitor appears to be up to storage associates or managers. They will not match online-only retailers such as Amazon, competitors’ online prices, Kohls.com prices, or the prices of membership-based retailers such as Costco.
When will Kohl’s price match? You can request a price match at the time of purchase. Price adjustments are limited to Kohl’s and Kohls.com price drops, and you must request one within 14 days of the original purchase.
How do you request a price match? Show the competitor’s current printed ad to a Kohl’s associate before you make your purchase.
Any notable exclusions? Unfortunately, lots. Kohl’s doesn’t match sales prices that are only good for a certain time or percentage-off discounts. It also won’t let you use coupons in a price-match transaction. There is a list of dozens of brands that are excluded from price matching, including Nike, Levi’s and most electronics manufacturers.
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