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Ad-Match Guarantees: Convenience and Flexibility

If you're wondering exactly how to price match, it's pretty straightforward: Most of the stores we researched authorize cashiers to match competitors' advertised prices right at checkout. In most cases, if you've brought a print ad with you and it meets all the requirements, the clerk working the register can easily match the price on the spot.

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Some stores also accept a copy or picture of the ad or an ad you've found online and printed out or displayed on your smartphone, although others specifically prohibit these substitutes. Shoplocal collects circulars from all the store we researched and lets you search for the weekly ads for your local area. The clerk may call to verify the competitor's price, which takes a little time but is still relatively easy.

Walmart's ad-match guarantee states that customers don't even need to have an ad with them, in any form, to request that the retailer match a competitor's price. However, employees at four different Walmarts told us that customers not only need to present the ad, it must be a print ad; photos or copies won't be accepted. A customer service manager at a fifth store offered an alternative view of the policy: Strictly speaking, if you know of a competitor that is offering a lower price, a Walmart representative can call the store to verify it. But bringing in a print ad as proof of the lower price is recommended to avoid the hassle. In general, if there's a dispute over the fine print, you may find yourself having to wait for a supervisor. Kohl's requires that a supervisor be called over to approve any price adjustment.

At Target, alone among the stores we researched, prices cannot be matched at the register; shoppers must visit the customer service desk to get special authorization. Luckily there weren't many people waiting for help when we were redirected to the guest services counter. On past visits to the store, however, we've noticed long, slow-moving lines, as have customers reviewing Target's low-price guarantee online. In a blog post on CreditCards.com, an editor writes that the seemingly unending lines at guest services are incentive enough to skip price matching altogether. Then again, the customer service line may be shorter than the lines at the registers. And even if the line is long, the opportunity to pay Amazon prices offline and apply coupons on top of a price match may make the wait worthwhile.

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Employee Discretion.

After closely reading a number of ad-match guarantees and speaking with numerous store representatives over the phone and in person, we've come to realize that price matching often comes down to an employee's discretion. Several policies we examined are surprisingly short, which leaves room for interpretation -- and for confusion. The Kohl's policy runs only a few sentences, for example, but when we put it to the test, we discovered some unwritten rules in response to common questions: Would a picture on a phone suffice as a copy of the competitor's ad? Do membership stores such as Costco count as competitors? Can customers use coupons after they're granted a price match? The answers, according to a customer service rep, are no, no, and no again. On Pissed Consumer, when a shopper complained that Kohl's wouldn't match a discounted price because the competitor's ad listed a different starting price for the item than Kohl's, current and former Kohl's employees responded differently in the comments: One would have approved the match, because the products were clearly the same, and the other said the store was right not to match the price in this case.

Even companies that clearly address such issues in the fine print online give employees a little bit of leeway -- and sometimes that can work in consumers' favor. A shopper who posted on a Best Buy forum was looking to have the cost of a camera lowered by $200 to match a local competitor and called customer service to make the request before heading to the store. The first person who answered denied the match; the second approved it. A commenter pointed out that technically the situation didn't meet certain requirements in Best Buy's guarantee, but the retailer seems to allow customer representatives some discretion in order to keep from losing business.

While consumers appreciate such flexibility, it can also breed inconsistency. In comments on a Hip2Save post, a couple of Walmart shoppers say cashiers seem to apply the seemingly straightforward policy irregularly, matching prices one week but not the next; on milk but not on bread or produce. In cases like this, it can help to know the main points of the fine print and maybe bring a copy of the ad-match guarantee with you, especially if you have your eye on an expensive product. At some stores -- JC Penney, for example -- the policy is posted at the registers for reference. Generally store managers will follow the rules, although some have their own interpretations.

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by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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