Every holiday season, most major retailers roll out special seasonal price-match policies in an attempt to assure customers that they won't be undersold by the competition. This year Target and Best Buy raised the stakes, taking the unprecedented step of offering to match the prices of select online competitors.
But Target and Best Buy's holiday price-match policies just got blown out of the water -- not by another retailer, but by payment processor PayPal.
Yes, PayPal, the service that lets you send money to friends and pay for stuff on eBay, last week announced what is arguably the best price-match policy of the 2012 holiday season: If you buy something using PayPal and then find a lower price on the product within 30 days, PayPal will reimburse you the difference.
That sort of retroactive price-match isn't unheard of, but the scope of the policy is -- the company promises to match prices from all retailers, online and off. By comparison, Target's online matching is limited to Amazon and the websites of a few of its biggest bricks-and-mortar competitors, including ToysRUs.com and Walmart.com; Best Buy's is more expansive, including big online players like TigerDirect and NewEgg, but still limited to about 20 competing merchants.
But there appear to be no limits to which retailers PayPal will match, even going so far as to match the "Buy It Now" price from an eBay Top Seller. And if you buy an airline ticket with PayPal and then find a lower fare within 7 days, you can be reimbursed for the difference.
Reimbursement is capped at at $250 per purchase, with a maximum total reimbursement of $1,000 per person for the duration of the program, which lasts through Dec. 31. And there's a list of excluded products: PayPal won't price-match boats, animals, mobile phone contracts or credit card offers, for instance. Likewise, prices from Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday doorbuster sales won't be matched, nor will limited-quantity promotions or one-day-only sales.
But those are pretty standard exclusions, found in one form or another in all price-match policies. So long as PayPal honors the terms of the agreement without undue hassle and customers don't mind filling out the price-match form, this looks like the best game in town. And with PayPal accepted far and wide -- in addition to its ever-expanding roster of participating online retailers, it's also accepted in bricks-and-mortar stores including Toys R Us and J.C. Penney -- you can get price protection most places you'd likely want to shop.
One other thing: In the same blog post in which it announced the price-match policy, PayPal also said it would reimburse customers for return shipping for any online purchase they decide to send back. That's a feature already offered by the likes of L.L. Bean and Zappos, but for the duration of the holiday season you can get it anywhere that accepts PayPal. The company will reimburse up to $25 in shipping fees per item, and a maximum of $100 for the season.
PayPal seems determined to leave a little extra money in your wallet this Christmas. It's hard to think of any reason not to take it up on the offer.
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.