Although more and more people are doing their holiday shopping online, many still prefer to head to a store. They want to browse and handle the products, avoid shipping costs, and carry home an item rather than wait for delivery. And yet, plenty of consumers who would otherwise shop offline fret they're missing out on potentially lower prices at Amazon, the dominant online purveyor of just about everything. How do bricks-and-mortar competitors lure shoppers back to the fold? By matching Amazon prices.
From one angle, this is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Retailers garner headlines with vows to price-match the ecommerce behemoth and other vendors, while only about 5 percent of consumers request discounts, according to NPD Group, and exclusions abound in the fine print. To qualify for price matching, the items must be identical, down to the model number, which disqualifies store brands and goods produced for specific big-box retailers. With online retailers that also serve as marketplace hosts (maintaining platforms where others can list items for sale), price-match guarantees don't apply for goods sold by third parties. Store policies differ when it comes to shipping charges. Some retailers include them in the total price when matching an online price and some do not.
Ironically, the widespread perception that Amazon's prices beat all others may be misplaced. In a price comparison between Amazon and Walmart, for example, Cheapism.com found that for 57 identical and nearly identical products, Walmart undercut Amazon on half, sometimes by pennies and sometimes by several dollars. Bed Bath & Beyond also beat Amazon at the low-price game by 6.5 percent on a basket of 30 items, according to a BB&T analyst, who tallied the results without factoring in coupons from the home-goods retailer.
Still, Amazon can't be ignored, and dedicated frugal shoppers can take advantage of broad price-match policies that include online retailers. The five national chains listed here have all agreed to match prices at Amazon.
A recent decision by Walmart to establish an online price-match policy that extends to more than 30 retailers -- notably Amazon -- was roundly applauded by consumers. The new rule was abused by some, who set up third-party stores on Amazon and convinced store managers to sell a $399 PlayStation 4 for less than $100. That ruse was quickly shut down.
Target earned top marks in Cheapism.com's ranking of retail stores' price-match policies partly because it was one of the first to match online retailers such as Amazon. Shoppers must request a match of Amazon's price at the customer service counter rather than the checkout lane, which could be a plus or minus depending on the number of people in line at each.
Staples may not be a go-to store for holiday shoppers, but it does stock a range of electronics and other gift-worthy items. A wide selection of office supplies and numerous locations make it a primary resource for small business owners and parents of school-age children. Anyone planning to stock up on paper, printer ink, markers, and the like or who may be pressed by a last-minute need should first check prices at Amazon to learn whether savings are available. If yes, request a price match.
An effort by Best Buy to undo its reputation as a showroom for products that people later buy online is proceeding apace. The electronics retailer's price-match policy includes Amazon, Tiger Direct, and Newegg, all popular retailers among techies. Sales are up at Best Buy and consumers seem happy to purchase the merchandise on site, knowing that they'll pay the same price as they would at an ecommerce competitor.