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 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 six of the biggest retailers in the U.S.
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Walmart’s price matching policy is much less generous than it used to be. Back in 2013, Bloomberg described a 2013 TV commercial in which a Walmart clerk assured a shopper who had found a lower price that the store would “match it right at the register.” But as of 2017, Walmart promises only to match prices from its own websites in the store. Shoppers on Walmart.com can still get price matches, but only from a limited number of stores — and the feature is kind of a pain to use.
How the Policy Works
Walmart’s official Price Match Policy states that if you find a product in a Walmart store that’s cheaper on Walmart.com (or Jet.com, which is owned by Walmart), the store will match the online price — probably. You can ask for a price match at the register, but the store may choose not to grant it. The policy specifies that “the manager on duty has the final decision” about whether a particular store allows price matching.
However, the Walmart.com Price Matching Policy is not the same as the in-store policy. When shopping on Walmart.com, you can request a price match if you find a lower price at any of 29 other online stores, including Amazon, Sears.com, and Target.com.
To get this price match, you must contact Walmart.com Customer Care before placing your order. The customer service rep must verify the item is eligible for a price match, and the rep “has the final decision” about whether to match another store’s price. In other words, even with online price matching, there are no guarantees.
What to Watch Out For
As limited as Walmart’s in-store price-matching policy is, it still 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, model, size, and color.
- 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.com Doesn’t Have. When a store has a great sale on an item, it sometimes runs out. If this happens to the item you’re trying to match on Walmart.com, you’re out of luck, even if it runs out during the time you spend waiting in line at the cash register. You can only get a price match on an item that’s in stock on Walmart.com at the moment you present the price to the cashier. And if the cash register doesn’t confirm the item is available, the cashier must call over a supervisor to log into Walmart.com through a store terminal and check.
- Certain Types of Sellers. Some of the items on Walmart.com are sold not by Walmart itself, but by third-party sellers, known as Walmart Marketplace Retailers. Walmart specifically states it will not match any price offered by these sellers You can tell if a product on Walmart com is a Walmart Marketplace product because the listing will say “Sold and shipped by” followed by the seller’s name.
- Certain Types of Sale Prices. There are special offers Walmart specifically excludes from its price-matching policy. It does not match prices for instant or mail-in rebates, offers that include financing, ads that offer a gift card with a purchase, or “bundle” offers on more than one item. It also won’t match prices with a percentage off or buy-one-get-one-free deals that don’t show a specific price.
- 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.
The most important thing to know about price matching at Walmart is that the store manager is completely in charge. Some store managers try to work with customers as much as possible, while others simply refuse to allow price matching under any circumstances. To some extent, it’s the luck of the draw.
However, it never hurts to ask for a match on a Walmart.com or Jet.com price when shopping at Walmart. The worst the cashier can do is say no, and if that happens, you can always put the product back on the shelf.
The price-matching policy at Target is considerably more generous than Walmart’s. Unlike Walmart, Target provides in-store price matches for 25 online competitors, including Amazon, Kohls.com, Sears.com, and, yes, Walmart.com. You can also match prices when shopping at Target.com, but you must call Target.com Guest Services to do so.
Better still, Target’s Price-Match Guarantee doesn’t just cover other chains’ websites — it also includes 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.
However, Target makes an exception to this two-week grace period for Black Friday. 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, 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. Most of the sale prices Walmart doesn’t match — including third-party offers, clearance sales, bundle deals, offers that include financing, and rebates, and any price that’s a misprint — are off-limits at Target as well. In addition, Target does not grant price matches on competitors’ store brands.
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.
Target’s price-matching policy is the most versatile one we’ve found. It matches competitors’ prices for both online and local stores at the register, and it allows you to use the same price match for more than one of the same item. Better still, it allows you to adjust prices up to two weeks after purchase. And best of all, these deals are available for all the many, varied products Target sells.
In short, if you only have time to go to one store, Target is probably your best choice. By shopping there, you can pay the lowest price found at any store in your area for any item Target has in stock, and it has the most variety. If one of those items goes on sale later in the week, you can always come back 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 matches prices for dozens of online retailers, Best Buy matches prices for only five: Amazon, Crutchfield, Dell.com, HP.com, 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. Best Buy also promises to match prices offered at warehouse clubs, as long as they’re local.
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 must either approach a salesperson or 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 may double-check the site or call the store to make sure the price is legit.
In one way, Best Buy’s price matching is better than either Target’s or Walmart’s: It works in every part of the country, including Alaska and Hawaii. Best Buy also offers price matching in Puerto Rico, but its policy there is somewhat different. The terms are posted in the chain’s Puerto Rico stores.
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 the items be identical and in stock at both Best Buy and the competing store. That means the model numbers must match for items like appliances. However, it’s important to note that Best Buy often uses its own unique model numbers for 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. That 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 week, from the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day through the Monday after the holiday.
Also, like Walmart, Best Buy only allows 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 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, that 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 straightforward price-matching policies you’ll find anywhere. Basically, if you find a lower price on anything Home Depot sells, it guarantees to match the lower price, period. If you’re shopping at HomeDepot.com, it promises to match the price on any competitor’s website, including the shipping cost. This deal applies as long as the product on the competitor’s site is available to ship to your location.
How the Policy Works
To get a price match at The 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 other retailer,” not those on a specific list. However, the fine print shows there are quite a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, 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, The Home Depot has a few unique 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,” down to their model numbers. But like Best Buy, The Home Depot has store-specific model numbers for many appliances and some tools. So in some 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 and for certain items like appliances, price matching won’t work. But for everything else, price matching guarantees you’ll get the lowest price possible while only having to go to one store.
In one way, 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 match it. 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 $100, giving you $10 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 can be in any format, including a printout, local ad, photo, smartphone display, or app. The store associate will check to make sure the product meets all Lowe’s criteria before giving you the matching price.
The ad you present must be current, and it must be from a “local retail competitor.” Lowe’s defines “local” to mean “located in the same market of your local Lowe’s store,” which isn’t very specific. Most likely, it’s up to the manager to decide which stores are covered.
Lowe’s also matches prices from stores that operate strictly online, such as Amazon. However, it won’t match the prices of third-party sellers on Amazon or other sites.
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; and it won’t match prices for labor.
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 its 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 wait one more week. You know that if it does, you can come back and get the lower price.
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.” 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.
Staples has a more generous price matching policy than any other store we’ve seen. This retailer 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.
For example, say a printer costs $150 at Staples, but you find it on sale for $120 at Office Depot. If you show that price at the register, Staples will knock 10% off the competitor’s price and sell you the printer for $108.
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. However, that applies only to products both sold and shipped by Amazon. The store won’t match prices for Amazon Marketplace sellers.
How the Policy Works
Getting a price match at Staples is as easy as 1-2-3:
- 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 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, that only works for prices at Staples itself. If you find a product you’ve already bought selling for a lower price in 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, virus removal, or printing and marketing
- Custom print and promotional products
- Any products from third-party vendors
- Gift cards
- Phone cards
- Apps sold on Staples.com
- In-store pickup orders
- Sale prices from special events, such as grand openings or clearance sales
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. However, you’re limited to one price match per item.
The Staples 110% Price Match Guarantee is quite possibly the best price-matching policy available from a large retailer. 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.
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 your favorite brand of peanut butter is selling for $5 a jar. That seems high, so you check online and find 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.
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 up that jar because you assume 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 jump 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?