Comparison shopping used to mean going to different stores, checking prices, and purchasing from the retailer with the best price. That took a lot of time and didn’t make sense for something small, like a pound of hamburger.
Today, you can save hundreds of dollars with little effort. You just need to know how.
Thanks to smartphones and the Internet, you can check competing prices anytime, even in-store. If you find a lower price, you don’t always have to go to the other store to get it – some stores allow you to show the lower price offer at the register, and they’ll match it.
Major chain retailers, such as Target and Walmart, offer price-matching policies as a way to attract more shoppers. This can be a great way to save both money and time on grocery shopping. Instead of running around town for the best deals, you can go to just one store and get the best price on everything.
At least that’s the theory. In real life, taking advantage of price matching isn’t always so simple. Each store has different rules about when it will and won’t match prices. Often, the lower price you found at some other store doesn’t qualify for a match because of some obscure “gotcha” rule.
To save money with price matching, you need to know the store’s rules, along with the hidden traps and exceptions they contain. Learning about each store’s policies can help you figure out when it’s worth asking for a match – and which stores are most likely to give it to you.
Here’s everything you need to know about price-matching at seven of the biggest retailers in the U.S.
No store makes a bigger deal about its price-matching policy than Walmart. Bloomberg describes a 2013 TV commercial in which a Walmart clerk assures a shopper who has found a lower price that the store will “match it right at the register.” In fact, the cheery clerk says, “You don’t even need your ad!”
But for many Walmart shoppers, it doesn’t work that way. Bloomberg quotes several visitors to the store who say their request for a price match was turned down for some obscure reason – or for no clear reason at all.
How the Policy Works
Walmart’s price-matching policy says if you find a product in a Walmart store that’s cheaper on Walmart.com, the store will match the online price. It also offers to match the prices of 29 other online stores, including Amazon, Sears, and Target.
If you find a lower price at one of these stores, just go to the register and ask the clerk to match it. However, the store won’t just give you the lower price with no questions asked. Walmart reserves the right to double-check and make sure the other store has the item for that amount. If it’s not in stock, the store won’t match the price.
What to Watch Out For
Walmart’s policy sounds simple, but it has a long list of rules and exceptions. The policy specifically says you cannot get a price match for the following:
- A Similar Item. The store will only match the price of an item if it’s identical in every way to the one you’re buying. It has to be the same brand, the same model, the same size – even, for clothing, the same color. Bloomberg reports that there was a big flap when Walmart caught some of its cashiers in the Dallas area matching prices on items that weren’t the same, such as seeded oranges in place of seedless ones, and told them to stop. When these stores warned their customers that they could no longer get price matches on not-quite-matching items, hundreds of them called the corporate hotline to complain.
- Two of the Same Item. Walmart says each customer can only get one price match per day on a given item. You can match prices on a box of raisin bran and a bag of dog food in the same order, but not on two boxes of raisin bran. However, shoppers in New Mexico get a break on this rule. They can price match as many boxes as they want, as long as they aren’t planning to turn around and resell all that cheap raisin bran at a higher price.
- An Item Walmart Doesn’t Have. When a store has a great sale on an item, it sometimes runs out. If this happens, you can usually ask the store to give you a rain check – a ticket allowing you to come back another day and buy the same item for the sale price. However, Walmart will not give you a rain check for another store’s sale price. If the item you’re trying to match isn’t in stock at Walmart on the day you show up, you’re just out of luck.
- A Price That’s Listed Incorrectly. Suppose a store plans to offer a large-screen TV set on sale for $1,400. However, due to a typo, the website lists the price as $140. You can’t take advantage of that misprint to walk into Walmart and buy the set at the $140 price. (However, you should still be able to get it for $1,400.)
- Certain Types of Sellers. Some of the stores on Walmart’s list, such as Amazon, have a “marketplace” for third-party sellers. Sometimes, these sellers offer goods for less than the price charged by Amazon itself. However, Walmart will not match the prices from these third-party sellers. So if you find a great deal on a pair of shoes at Amazon, double-check the listing. If it doesn’t say “Sold and fulfilled by Amazon,” the price isn’t matchable. Walmart also won’t match prices from auction sites, such as eBay, or any site that requires a membership, such as a warehouse store.
- Certain Types of Items. Walmart won’t match prices on secondhand or refurbished items, even from the stores on its list. It also won’t match the price on any item that’s marked down because it’s damaged.
- Certain Types of Sale Prices. There are special offers that Walmart specifically excludes from its price-matching policy. It does not match prices for clearance items, instant or mail-in rebates, or special hour or flash sales – including the One-Hour Guarantee prices from Walmart.com. It also won’t match any prices that have special conditions attached, such as “bundle” offers on more than one item, discounts on multiples of the same item, or any price that includes financing. And, in general, it will only match prices if you can tell what the actual price is from the website. If a site promises “50% off” but doesn’t list the original price, Walmart won’t just take 50% off. The same goes for “buy one, get one” offers and prices that have other fees (such as shipping) built in.
- Any Item in Certain States. You can’t use online price matching at all in any Walmart store in Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico. Prices in these areas are higher overall, so stores there won’t match the lower prices offered in the rest of the country.
- Anything on Thanksgiving Weekend. If you think you can go to Walmart on Black Friday and get all the best sale prices on the Web in just one store, think again. Walmart refuses to match sale prices for any item – including its sale prices on Walmart.com – between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday.
With all these rules, it’s sometimes hard to figure out whether an item qualifies for a price match. In cases where it’s not clear, it’s up to the store manager to decide whether to match the price or not. Some store managers try to give customers the benefit of the doubt, while others seem to look for any excuse to refuse to match a price. To some extent, it’s the luck of the draw.
However, it never hurts to ask. You can always put the product back on the shelf. Just don’t assume you can go to Walmart and get the best price on every item on your list. Be prepared to go somewhere else if price matching doesn’t work.
Like Walmart, Target will match the prices of 27 online competitors. Its list is very similar to Walmart’s, including Amazon, Kohls.com, Sears.com, and, yes, Walmart.com. So you can match Walmart prices in Target, or Target prices in Walmart – it all depends on where you prefer to shop.
However, Target’s Price-Match Guarantee does Walmart one better: It doesn’t just match prices from other chains’ websites – it also matches prices listed in print ads for their local stores. “Local,” in this case, means any store within 25 miles of the Target where you’re shopping.
How the Policy Works
To get a price match at Target, you must show the ad with the lower price at the checkout. If you found the lower price online, you can display the website on your phone or a printout of the page. However, if the lower price is in a local store’s print ad, you need to hand over the original ad – a photocopy or a picture on your phone isn’t good enough.
Unlike Walmart, Target will also match prices on items you’ve already bought within the past two weeks. For example, say you buy a pair of pants at Target for $30 on Wednesday. Then, on Friday, you see an ad showing the same pants on sale for $20 at another store. Just take that ad and your receipt to the checkout and ask for a price adjustment, and Target will refund the extra $10.
This deal gets even sweeter during the holidays. If you buy any item at Target between November 1st and December 24th and then find a lower price elsewhere, Target will adjust the price – even if it’s been more than two weeks since your purchase. However, like Walmart, Target makes an exception for Thanksgiving weekend. In fact, it won’t match any sale price offered during that whole week – from Thanksgiving Day through the first Saturday in December.
Target also allows you to stack a matched price with a manufacturer coupon. Say you have a coupon for $1 off on two cans of beans, and a local store is selling those beans at two cans for $1. You can match the price and then apply your coupon on top of that, getting both cans for free. However, you cannot stack a matched price with a Target store coupon.
What to Watch Out For
Just like Walmart’s, Target’s price match policy comes with a lot of fine print. Many of the rules for Target are the same ones found at Walmart.
For example, just like Walmart, Target only gives price matches on items that are identical and in stock at both Target and the competing store. It doesn’t match prices in Alaska or Hawaii. And most of the sale prices that Walmart doesn’t match – including third-party offers, clearance sales, bundle deals, offers that include financing, store brands, rebates, and any price that’s a misprint – are off-limits at Target as well.
However, unlike Walmart, Target allows you to use the same price match on more than one item. The store “reserves the right to limit quantities” for each item – so if you try to buy every single bottle of detergent on the shelf for $1 each, you probably won’t get away with it. However, you should have no problem buying two bottles at that price. That’s better than you could do at Walmart, which limits you to one price match per item.
In many ways, Target’s price-matching policy is similar to Walmart’s. They match prices for most of the same chains, and they have most of the same rules and limits. However, Target’s policy is more generous than Walmart’s in three significant ways.
First, it matches prices at local stores as well as online stores. Second, it allows you to adjust prices up to two weeks after purchase. And third, it offers price matching for more than one of the same item.
So if you only have time to go to one store, Target is probably a better choice than Walmart. By going there, you can pay the lowest price found at any store in your area – including Walmart – for any item that Target has in stock. And if one of those items goes on sale later in the week, you can always come back in and get your price adjusted.
3. Best Buy
Unlike Target and Walmart, which sell nearly everything, Best Buy specializes in electronics. Because of this, the only stores it will match prices for are other stores that sell electronics. So while Target and Walmart match prices for dozens of online retailers, Best Buy matches prices for only seven: Amazon, B&H, Crutchfield, Dell.com, HP.com, Newegg, and TigerDirect. It also matches online prices from BestBuy.com.
However, like Target, Best Buy also matches prices for local retail stores. That includes all retailers within a 25-mile radius – not just the ones that specialize in electronics. As long as the store is authorized to sell “a new, factory-sealed product with a warranty,” it counts as a competitor. So, for instance, if you want to buy a tablet, and a nearby Walmart store is selling it for less than your local Best Buy, Best Buy will match Walmart’s price.
How the Policy Works
Unlike Target and Walmart, Best Buy doesn’t offer price matching right at the register. To get a price match, you have to go to the customer service desk and quote the lower price you’ve seen. You can either show a printed ad or name the website where you found the lower price. Best Buy employees will double-check the site to make sure the price is legit.
However, in a couple of ways, Best Buy’s policy is better than Walmart’s. For example, it specifically includes prices offered at warehouse clubs, as long as they’re local. Also, Best Buy’s price matching works in every part of the country – including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
What to Watch Out For
Like Target and Walmart, Best Buy only matches prices for new items – not used or refurbished ones. It also won’t match prices for any marketplace or third-party seller.
Like other stores, Best Buy requires that the items be identical and in stock at both Best Buy and the competing store. This means that the model numbers must match for items like appliances. However, it’s important to note that Best Buy often uses a unique model numbers for many appliances and other high-priced items. So even if two products look the same, they can have different numbers, making them ineligible for a price match.
Most specific types of sales that are off-limits for price matching at Target and Walmart are off-limits at Best Buy too. This includes all bundle deals, freebies, mail-in offers, clearance items, and items with the wrong price shown. It also includes any sale price found during Thanksgiving weekend – from Thursday through Monday.
Also, like Walmart, Best Buy will only allow you to match a price once for each item you buy. For example, if you find a fitness tracker on sale for $30, you can’t buy one for everybody on your holiday gift list. You also can’t stack that $30 matched price with a $10 coupon to get the total price down to $20. You can use the coupon or the price match, but not both for the same item.
Best Buy also has several specific rules that aren’t found at other stores. For instance, it says you can’t get a price match prices on a cell phone that comes with a contract from any online seller. Game discounts related to a membership program are also off-limits. Finally, you can’t match prices for services, such as delivery, installation, or computer repair.
The main reason to choose Best Buy over other big-box stores is its wide selection of electronics. Any gadget that’s for sale at your local Target or Walmart is likely to be in stock at Best Buy too, so you only have to visit one store to get the best price out of all three.
However, this only works if the model number on the item you’re buying is the same at both stores. Since Best Buy uses store-specific numbers for many big-ticket items, you can’t always match prices. So if you’re buying something big, it’s probably best to check prices online ahead of time, instead of counting on Best Buy to match the lowest price when you get there.
4. The Home Depot
The Home Depot has one of the most generous price-matching policies you’ll find anywhere. If you find a lower price on anything Home Depot sells, it won’t just match the lower price – it will beat it by 10%.
For example, say a cordless drill costs $110 at Home Depot, but you find it on sale for $100 at Sears. If you show that price at the register, Home Depot will knock 10% off the competitor price and sell you the drill for $90.
How the Policy Works
To get a price match at Home Depot, you must display the ad with the lower price when you check out. You can use a printed ad, a photo, or a printout from the Web. The clerk may contact the other store to make sure it has the item in stock at a price shown.
What to Watch Out For
Unlike most other stores, The Home Depot says it will match prices for “any retailer” – not those on a specific list. However, the fine print shows that there are quite a few exceptions to this rule. Home Depot won’t match prices for third-party sellers or discount sites because it says these are not “competing retailers.” It also won’t match prices for auction sites or wholesale clubs.
The Home Depot limits its price match policy in many of the same ways as other stores. For instance, it won’t give a price match on any used, reconditioned, or open-box items. Deals that include rebates, financing, freebies, and bundles do not qualify for price matching, and neither do misprint prices.
On top of this, Home Depot has a few extra rules of its own. It doesn’t offer price matching on any custom or special-ordered products, such as custom-fitted window blinds. It also won’t match other stores’ wholesale pricing or volume discounts.
Finally, like other stores, The Home Depot will only match a price if the two products are “identical” – including their model numbers. But like Best Buy, Home Depot has store-specific model numbers for many appliances and some tools. So in many cases, it isn’t possible to get a price match for these large items.
The Home Depot’s policy is better than most – as long as the item you’re buying qualifies. For custom orders, or for big items like appliances, price matching won’t work.
But for everything else, price matching is worthwhile. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll find that Home Depot’s price is already the lowest, so you know you’re getting a good deal. And in the best-case scenario, you’ll find a lower price and Home Depot will beat it by 10%, giving you an even better deal.
In some ways, the price-matching policy at Lowe’s is even better than The Home Depot’s. Its basic offer is the same: If you find a better price at another store, Lowe’s will beat that price by 10%. However, unlike The Home Depot, Lowe’s guarantees its prices for a full 30 days after purchase.
For example, suppose you buy a tool for $110. Then, a week later, you see the same tool advertised at another store for $100. You can take that ad to Lowe’s (along with your receipt) and ask for a price adjustment. The store will adjust the price you paid down to $90, giving you $20 back.
How the Policy Works
Getting a price match at Lowe’s works pretty much the same as at The Home Depot. All you have to do is go to the register and show your ad.
The ad must be current, and it must be from a “local retail competitor.” The policy doesn’t define the term “local,”so it’s up to the manager to decide which stores are covered. Any store that operates strictly online, such as Amazon, is excluded.
What to Watch Out For
Lowe’s policy has similar exceptions to The Home Depot’s: Clearance, closeout, or liquidation prices are not included; the store will not match prices for any item that’s damaged or for any special-order item; it also won’t match prices for labor.
Also, unlike The Home Depot, Lowe’s says it will only match the price for “reasonable quantities” of a given item. It doesn’t specify what “reasonable” means, so once again, it’s up to the manager to decide. Getting a price match for two of the same item shouldn’t be a problem, but trying to match 20 of the same item could be.
A final problem is that, like The Home Depot, Lowe’s uses store-specific model numbers for many large items. Therefore, you probably can’t get a price match on a new refrigerator, because its model number at Lowe’s won’t match the one at the competing store.
The biggest advantage of Lowe’s price-matching policy is the 30-day guarantee. When you shop at Lowe’s, you don’t have to worry about whether the item you’re buying might go on sale if you just waited one more week. You know that if it does, you can just come back and get the lower price – plus an extra 10% off to sweeten the pot.
However, like many others, Lowe’s policy doesn’t work for many big-ticket items, such as appliances. It’s also limited to prices from local retail stores – and there’s no clear definition of “local.” So if you live out in the country and Lowe’s is the only home center nearby, you’re likely to be out of luck when it comes to matching prices.
Just like The Home Depot and Lowe’s, Staples goes one step beyond matching prices: Its 110% Price Match Guarantee promises that if you find a lower price, Staples will give you that price plus a 10% discount.
Staples will match prices for any business that has both a retail store and an online store under the same brand name. It will also match prices on Amazon, even though it doesn’t have any brick-and-mortar stores.
How the Policy Works
Getting a price match at Staples is as easy as 1-2-3. The three steps are:
- Find a lower price.
- Bring in proof of the lower price (such as a print ad or a website).
- Show it to a store associate at the checkout or at the customer service desk.
Staples also offers a 14-day price guarantee on its prices. If you buy a product at Staples, and within two weeks you see it being sold for less at either a Staples store or Staples.com, you can go back to the store and get a refund for the difference. However, this only works for prices at Staples itself. If you find a product you’ve already bought for less at a different store, you can’t get a refund.
What to Watch Out For
Staples has far fewer rules and exclusions for its price matches than most other stores. The only things you cannot get a price match for are:
- Services, such as computer repair or virus removal
- Copy and print products from third-party vendors
- Custom print and promotional products
- Gift cards
- Phone cards
- Apps sold at Staples.com
That means everything else you can find in a Staples store is eligible for price matching. That includes nearly any office-supply product you can buy – from a ball-point pen to a new computer.
The Staples 110% Price Match Guarantee is quite possibly the best price-matching policy there is. It means that for any office product, you can be sure of getting a price that’s as good as Amazon’s or better – all without having to pay for shipping or wait for delivery. That’s a deal you really can’t beat.
Toys”R”Us has run into problems with its price-matching policy in the past. In 2013, the store was displaying a sign that says, “Spot a lower advertised price? We’ll match it.”
This policy was too broad, and store workers didn’t know how to apply it. When one customer tried to match the online price for a game, he got conflicting answers from several different clerks in the same store. His complaint triggered a probe from the National Advertising Division, which concluded that the store’s claim was misleading. The group recommended that Toys”R”Us either cancel the policy or make its limits clearer.
The store took this advice to heart. The updated version of its Price Match Guarantee is more than 1,000 words long, with lots of details about what it covers and what it doesn’t. This doesn’t make it any easier to get a price match – but at least when the store refuses, you know why.
How the Policy Works
To get a price match in a Toys”R”Us or Babies”R”Us store, you must go to customer service and show an ad for the lower price. The store accepts only original print ads – no photocopies – or online ads from the other store’s website or app.
Toys”R”Us matches prices from 19 other stores and websites, including Amazon, Walmart, Diapers.com, and Baby Depot. The store also matches online prices from ToysRUs.com and BabiesRUs.com. You can ask for a price match when you make a purchase or any time up to a week later, as long as you still have the receipt.
What to Watch Out For
Like most stores, Toys”R”Us requires the item you’re buying and the one you’re matching to be identical. The brand, size, and style all have to be the same, but the two items can be different colors. Also, the item must be in stock both at Toys”R”Us and at the other store. You can get a price match on up to two copies of the same item.
Toys”R”Us also has an extensive list of offers that it will not match. These include:
- BOGO (buy one, get one free) offers
- Free gifts with the purchase of another item
- Items that are part of a clearance, closeout, or liquidation sale, or are limited in quantity
- Secondhand, refurbished, or open-box items
- Items from third-party sellers
- Services and subscriptions
- Any price that’s a misprint, either in print or online
- Any online offer that’s limited to one day or less, such as a doorbuster or six-hour sale
- Any sale prices that comes with added conditions, such as “save $10 when you spend $50”
- Store-wide or category-wide sales, such as “10% off all toddler clothes”
- Any sale price during Thanksgiving weekend (Thursday through Monday)
A final catch with the Toys”R”Us price guarantee is the way it works with coupons. If you have a store coupon, and you also have a competing price you want to match, the coupon has to be applied first.
For instance, suppose you want to buy a board game that costs $35 at Toys”R”Us. You find the same game for $30 on Amazon, and you also have a $5 coupon you want to use. You figure that should bring the total price down to $25.
However, that’s not the way it works at Toys”R”Us. Instead, your $5 coupon is applied first, bringing the price of the game down to $30 – the same as the online price. At that point, your price match does nothing.
Even with all these limits, you can get some good deals with price matching at Toys”R”Us. You just need to be careful about sticking to the rules. First, make sure the item you’re matching is the same as the one you’re buying. Second, make sure it’s not the kind of deal that’s off-limits.
Finally, be careful about how you combine coupons with price matching. If you can take $5 off with a price match or $5 off with a coupon, there’s no way to get them both. Your best bet is to use the price match and save the coupon for another day.
Price matching can be a great way to get deals. However, it’s just one of many tools in your smart-shopping kit. Sometimes it’s the best way to get rock-bottom prices – but not always.
For example, suppose you go to Target for groceries. You see that your favorite brand of peanut butter is selling for $5 a jar. That seems high, so you check online and find that Walmart is selling the same brand for only $4 a jar. So you figure that by asking for a price match, you can save $1.
That sounds great, but before you do it, check the other jars on the shelf. Maybe there’s another brand that’s on sale for only $3 a jar. If you pass that jar up because you assume that price matching will give you the best deal, you’ll end up spending $1 more than you need to, instead of $1 less.
So before you snatch at a price match, remember to keep your eye on the bottom line. Look at all the possible ways there are to save, such as buying store brands, stacking coupons, or shopping at cheaper stores that aren’t on the price-matching list. Then you can figure out which one gives you the best deal.
Do you use price matching? Any other tips you’d recommend?