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A Frugal Shopper's Guide to Price-Matching Policies

We examined eight popular stores that price match, from department stores to home improvement centers, with the goal of identifying the best price-match policies and the ones that may not be worth the effort. Two retailers topped our list: Target has expanded its Low Price Promise to 29 online stores, including Amazon, and Lowe's not only matches competitors' prices but throws in an extra 10 percent discount.

A few other retailers have similar guarantees that don't quite measure up to the best price-match policies. Best Buy, for example, followed Target's lead in matching online prices but has limited the list to a handful of retailers. Although Home Depot mirrors Lowe's 10-percent-off guarantee, it's limited to regular retail prices, whereas Lowe's matches discounted prices. Walmart's guarantee is admirably clear but less lenient in practice than on paper. Although JC Penney's open-ended policy gives managers broad authority to grant customers lower prices, it's likely to be inconsistently applied. Sears and Kohl's are the least permissive retailers we researched.

We compared the retailers on a number of fronts, from basic policy exclusions to employee attitudes toward price matching. We read feedback posted online by customers around the country and paid visits to the stores to see how they apply their guarantees in practice. All the price-match policies seem to have some rules in common: Price matching is allowed only for identical items and closeout prices are excluded, to name a couple. But other important factors, such as which competitors a store will match and what kind of proof you need of a competitor's price, vary among stores. Most chains let customers request a price match even after the fact (if they find a better deal) but provide different time frames for such adjustments.

When you request a price match, you generally expect to pay the lowest price you can find at the store that's most convenient for you. Retailers are often willing to oblige, even if it means a little less profit, in order to acquire loyal customers and reinforce an image as a low-price destination. But as we illustrate in this guide, not all price-matching policies are created equal and some common exclusions may catch consumers off guard. Official rules are also inconsistently applied in practice. Keeping up with the best price-matching policies can empower frugal shoppers, guaranteeing they get the best deals possible without driving around to every store in town.

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