Which Stores Price-Match Their Own Websites - and Which Ones Won't

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Walmart stores Price matching policy
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After years of watching "showrooming" customers check out products in their stores and then leave to buy them online, Target (TGT) and Best Buy (BBY) took bold steps to stem the tide: Earlier this year they changed their price-matching policies to include online competitors like Amazon.com (AMZN).

But not every retailer is so progressive. Most major retail chains will only price-match local competitors, refusing to match online sellers. And a few retailers won't even price-match their own websites: If that blender is $30 at your local Walmart but you find it on Walmart.com for $25, don't expect to get the cheaper price in the store.

Shopping site Cheapism.com recently compiled the price-match policies of eight major retailers and visited store locations to see how well the front-line employees complied with the corporate policy. As part of their survey they also looked into which retailers price-matched their own sites.

The results were noteworthy. Of the eight retailers surveyed, Cheapism found that Target, Best Buy and Sears (SHLD) all explicitly say that they will price-match their own websites. Another two retailers, Lowe's (LOW) and Home Depot (HD), weren't explicit in their policies, but store employees told Cheapism reporters that the stores would indeed price-match lower prices online.

That leaves J.C. Penney (JCP), Walmart (WMT) and Kohl's (KSS), all of which explicitly refuse to price-match their own websites in cases where the online price is lower.

Walmart explains on its website that "our stores will not match prices with our online store (or other online stores) because we do not consider them to be in competition with our retail stores." While the idea that Walmart doesn't consider Amazon a competitor beggars belief, we suppose it's technically true that Walmart.com wouldn't be considered a Walmart competitor.

When we asked J.C. Penney about its policy, a company spokesperson said, "We strive to keep jcp.com and in-store prices similar, but if an online item does not sell as quickly as it does in store, it may reflect a clearance discount."

Kohl's did not respond to a request for comment.

A Workaround for Shoppers

If you're shopping at one of these retailers and find a price differential with a shopping app, then you're not completely out of luck. A few months ago, I found a slow cooker at Kmart for $35, but discovered with my smartphone app that it was available for just $18 on Kmart.com. Since I wasn't sure if Kmart price-matched its own site (as it turns out, it does), I just ordered it with my phone and selected the free store-pickup option; I was able to get it an hour later.

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And that's exactly what Cheapism editor-in-chief Kara Reinhardt recommends people do if they find such a price differential in Walmart or J.C. Penney. Both stores allow you to order online and pick up at the store for free, though delivery may take a few days if the retailer is actually shipping the product from a warehouse instead of just taking it out of the stockroom. It's up to you to decide whether waiting a few days and then driving back to the store is worth whatever you're saving.

This isn't an option at Kohl's, as it does not offer site-to-store pickup. So if you find a better price on Kohls.com, your only option is to pay to have it shipped to you.

While it's good that J.C. Penney and Walmart provide this workaround, we're not crazy about the fact that consumers who want to get either retailer's best price have to jump through hoops.

Still, whether a retailer chooses to price-match its own site is just one small part of the equation when it comes to assessing the policy. You also need to consider how long after purchase you can bring the item back for a retroactive price adjustment; which items and competitors are excluded; what sort of proof of the competitor's price you need to furnish; and how well the front-line employees comply with the corporate policy.

Cheapism considered all that in putting together a rough ranking of the eight retailers' price-match policies. For the full rundown of when those stores will and won't price-match, see our gallery below.

Stores That Price Match
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Which Stores Price-Match Their Own Websites - and Which Ones Won't
Shopping site Cheapism.com recently completed a survey of eight major retailers' price-match policies. After considering the written policies and assessing whether front-line employees actually complied with the policies as written, the site divided the retailers into three tiers of consumer friendliness.

Here's how the retailers stacked up. We've included post-purchase price-adjustment windows, notable exclusions and a few notes on how well employees understood the policy and complied with price-match requests.
Target made headlines earlier this year when it became the first major retailer to agree to price-match Amazon.com. That inclusion helped it become one of the top retailers for price-matching.

The policy allows you to show the competitor's price on an original print ad or on your mobile phone.

Interestingly, while it will price-match Target.com prices, it will not price-match other Target stores in the area. Another downside is that you only get 7 days after your purchase to get a price adjustment.
Despite not matching its own website's pricing, J.C. Penney's price-match policy made the top tier in Cheapism's ranking. It helps that there's no fixed time span for price adjustments -- the policy says that as long as the competitor's ad is still valid, the store will be able to do a price adjustment.

Only physical retailers in the area are included in the policy, though a lot of discretion is given to store managers. Cheapism editor Kara Reinhardt tells me that a reporter visited the same store location on two occasions and asked them to match a price from another department store's website; one manager agreed to do so, while the second turned down the request.

Still, she says that for the most part, J.C. Penney managers were "really helpful and flexible" when it came to price-matching requests.

While Lowe's doesn't match online-only competitors, they will price-match local competitors and their websites. And you have a very generous 30-day window to get a price adjustment after your purchase.

But here's the most generous part: If you've got proof of a lower price, you'll get the competitor's price plus an additional 10% off.

The only other retailer that offered an extra 10% off was Lowe's biggest competitor, Home Depot. And like Lowe's, it requires a current ad, and will match local competitors and their websites.

Still, it falls slightly short of Lowe's when it comes to post-purchase price adjustments -- instead of the 30 days you get at Lowe's, Cheapism found that price adjustments are left to the manager's discretion.

With that said, sometimes employee discretion can work in the customer's favor -- Consumerist found last year that Home Depot associates are empowered to take $50 off any purchase to make a sale, and managers can discount a lot more than that.

Best Buy followed Target's lead in offering to price-match Amazon earlier this year. But as we pointed out at the time, the policy falls short in one very important way: Best Buy doesn't do price adjustments if a competitor lowers its price after the fact. Cheapism adds a little more context, noting that it will make a price adjustment 15 days after purchase -- but only if it's Best Buy lowering its price.

Other than that, it's a generous policy -- it boasts a long list of online competitors beyond Amazon that it will price-match, including NewEgg, TigerDirect and Apple.com. And Reinhardt says that Best Buy employees "were really well-versed in the policy at both locations" that a reporter visited.

Walmart probably talks about its price-match policy more than anyone, running ads touting the fact that they'll match competitors' prices without even seeing the ad.

But apparently the reality is a bit different: Reinhardt said that a Cheapism reporter visited five different Walmart locations, and that employees at four of those locations said that they needed to see the competitor's ad.

It also restricts itself to local competitors and won't price-match its own site, though site-to-store delivery is free. And while the price adjustment window for store purchases is unclear, it's just 7 days for Walmart.com.

In some ways, Sears is more generous than Walmart: Its got a 14-day price-adjustment policy, and it will match the prices of local competitors' websites.

But online matching only applies if the local competitor matches its own site's prices. And it also loses points for calculating the online price after shipping and handling have been accounted for.

 Cheapism also cites customers who have complained online that employees at their local Sears gave them a hard time about price-matching and adjustments.

Kohl's will only match local competitors, refusing to match any online prices. That includes its own website, but unlike J.C. Penney and Walmart, it doesn't offer the option of ordering online and having it delivered to the store for free.

Price adjustments are similarly hard to come by: Like Best Buy, it will only grant you a price adjustment if it changes its own price within 14 days. Cheapism also notes that employees seem unclear on the retailer's policy.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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