Retailer Price Matching: On the Rise, But With Caveats

PHOTO: Price matching at retail stores is perfect if youre shopping for Thanksgiving or in the madness of the day after.

This was supposed to be a Halloween-themed column about the pros and cons of price matching, but--like many on the East Coast--at the end of October I was suffering from a new syndrome called "Hurricane Brain." Thank you, Sandy. Fortunately, there's always another holiday tie-in around the corner and price matching is perfect if you're shopping for Thanksgiving or in the madness of the day after.

Here's the good news: Increasingly, brick and mortar stores are offering to match the prices of online outlets. A treat! Now the bad: According to Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, some retailers have quirky rules that make it hard to actually exercise their price matching offer. The trick!

"Price-match guarantees can theoretically save shoppers a fortune, allowing them to shop locally but also get the advantage of lower online pricing," Dworsky said. But "price-matching policies today have complicated requirements and exclusions that could trip up even the savviest of shoppers."

In Dworsky's informal survey of the marketplace, he found retailers that:

•Only offer to match the prices of certain websites.

•Limit the eligible categories to just electronics or appliances.

•Exclude Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales.

•Don't match early bird, night owl or limited quantity sales.

•Refuse to match a price after the purchase is made.

The good news is that big box stores like Toys R Us and Target that never used to match their own website's prices, now sometimes do. For example, Target has pledged to do some matching from now until Christmas Eve.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it's often possible to get a local store manager to match her company's web price, if you show her the price and earnestly explain that you'd rather have your money--and tax dollars--go to the local area. This has worked for me on several occasions. Be polite not pushy!

Even with some restrictions, price matching can net you some sizzling deals, so it's worth the research. To navigate the world of price matching Dworsky suggests printing and reading the company's policy in advance and then bringing it with you to the register. That way, if the clerk is unaware of the chain's own policy--a common problem--you'll be ready with proof. Dworsky tabulated nine major stores' price matching policies and deadlines. You can see his detailed chart here.

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