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In this review:
  1. Best Price-Matching Policies
  2. Price-Match Guarantees: The Fine Print
  3. How to Price Match
  4. Online Price Matching
  5. Price Adjustment
  6. Stores That Price Match: Comparison Chart

A Frugal Shopper's Guide to Price-Matching Policies

The idea behind price matching seems simple: You see that a store is advertising a sale on an item you want but you'd rather buy somewhere else -- maybe someplace closer to home, where you'll already be shopping anyway. Instead of driving the extra miles, you approach a nearby store with a price-match policy and offer to buy the item there if you can pay the lower price.

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Win-win, right? The retailer gets your business and you get the price you want. If only it were really that simple. Even the best price-match policies are rife with rules and exclusions. Each retailer's policy is different and ignoring the fine print can lead to frustration and wasted time.

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. Three retailers topped our list: JC Penney, Lowe's, and Target. JC Penney's open-ended price-match policy gives managers broad authority to grant customers lower prices; Lowe's not only matches competitors' prices but throws in an extra 10 percent discount; and Target changed its Low Price Promise to match online stores including Amazon. 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 Amazon prices but also put in place a shorter return period, and many shoppers haven't taken kindly to the change. Although Home Depot mirrors Lowe's 10-percent-off guarantee, it gives customers far less time to request a price adjustment after purchase. Walmart's guarantee is admirably clear but less lenient in practice than on paper. 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.

Review continues below

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.

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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Filed in: Home Depot, Kmart, Kohl's,

Best Price Matching

Target Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

Target Price-Match Policy

Target has announced that it will match prices from a select few online retailers, including Amazon, in addition to local competitors. Although you'll need to wait in the customer service line to request a price match, the policy is clear, easy to follow, and a winner in our book. The store's practice of applying manufacturer coupons after matching, rather than before, makes for greater savings.

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JC Penney Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

JC Penney Price-Match Policy

JC Penney's policy applies only to local competitors but is very lenient when it comes to returns and post-purchase price adjustment. The company also seems to give store managers a decent amount of leeway. For instance, a supervisor might match a price you show on your mobile phone, even though it's technically against policy.

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Lowe's Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

Lowe's Price-Match Policy

The Lowe's guarantee, which covers local competitors and their websites, comes with an extra 10 percent off if you find a lower price somewhere else. The home improvement retailer automatically gives online shoppers the lower of the Lowes.com and Lowe's in-store prices with store pickup or local delivery. Lowe's gives customers a full 30 days after purchase to find a lower price and claim a refund for the difference.

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Good Price Matching

Best Buy Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

Best Buy Price-Match Policy

Best Buy now matches prices advertised not just by local competitors but also by online-only stores such as Amazon and Newegg, a huge bonus. However, it allows a relatively strict 15 days for post-purchase price adjustments, which are granted only when Best Buy lowers its own prices. Return and rebuy, you say? Not so fast. Taking back too many items can get you temporarily banned from making any returns, even if you have a receipt.

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Home Depot Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

Home Depot Price-Match Policy

Home Depot offers a price-match-plus-10-percent-off policy that applies to local competitors and their websites. But ineligible appliances and no explicit provision for price adjustment after purchase keep the home improvement retailer from claiming one of the best price-match policies. An insider tip points to possible savings from helpful store employees, who have the power to give discounts even without a competitor's ad to match.

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Walmart Price-Match Policy
Gold Medal

Walmart Price-Match Policy

A store already well known for low-prices, Walmart will match local competitors' prices on a variety of items, including food. But consumer complaints are prevalent online. It seems many store employees don't know the rules or simply don't follow them. Technically you don't need to have a print copy of the competitor's ad with you, but bring one along, if you can, to avoid a hassle.

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Don't Bother

Sears Price-Match Policy

On the positive side, Sears will match online prices from websites associated with nearby stores, as long as those retail stores honor their own online prices. But unlike other retailers that match websites, Sears asks that you print out the order page and factors in shipping and handling charges, rather than matching the subtotal.

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Kohl's Price-Match Policy

Kohl's requires shoppers to bring in a print ad from a local competitor; won't match Kohls.com prices, much less other online prices; and won't let customers use coupons if they request a price match. A number of online reports and our own experience reveal that employees often don't know about the price-matching policy.

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