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.
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.
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.