Shoppers who tried finding the details on target.com were locked into an endless loop. Clicking on the link provided on the chain's news page took shoppers (and us) to a "More reasons to love Target" page, which had a link taking us to an "Our low price promise" page, which looped back to the "More reasons" page. As of Wednesday (Oct. 24), Target had finally inserted an updated price-match page, complete with details, into that loop.
The details, though, paint a very different picture than Target's announcement did. In the October 17 statement, Target promised: "For the first time, Target will offer guests the ability to match select online competitors' prices in its stores between November 1 and December 16." That statement differs from Best Buy in that it didn't exclude Black Friday. But in the terms and conditions, Target did indeed exclude November 22–24. (Best Buy's exclusion is much greater, though, running from November 18–26; a difference between three days and nine days.)
The online retailers didn't change much, with the initial published list of "amazon.com, walmart.com, bestbuy.com and toysrus.com" only getting one additional name: BabiesRUs.com, which is within the Toys"R"Us family.
Some of the other exclusions, though, are more baffling. Target stores in Alaska and Hawaii aren't involved, and the program has a "limit quantity of 1 online price match, per identical item, per guest." So if a shopper has two children and wants to get them the identical toy, and if that toy is being offered at Amazon for less, Target will only grant the lower price on one of them? Wouldn't that simply make the shopper buy the lower priced one at Amazon and, given the effort, they might as well buy both of them there? What's the rationale of that limit in a holiday price match?
Part of the problem is that rules need to be rigid. Target spokesperson Jessica Deede said the rule is there "to ensure Target is managing our inventory appropriately this holiday season."
That's understandable. But if a customer came in and truly sought two or three of the same item, is it really so problematic to honor the price and retain the sale? The problem is with quantity. Two might be fine, but what if that shopper wants 20? Or 2,000? Setting a limit makes sense. But why not five? Setting the limit as one would seem to undermine the point of the program.
Or this rule: "Items that are out of stock at Target or a competitor at the time the price match is requested; rainchecks will not be issued for any item being price matched." Let's set aside the legal question about whether some states will require rainchecks to be issued and honored.Wouldn't Target want to say: "Don't buy it from the rival. We'll match the price, but it will take us four days to get it in"? I can see why customers might decline that offer—why should they wait? But why would Target shut down that option? If the customer is willing to wait, why not?
Target also wisely opted to not trust whatever image customers show on their phones, because it might be a manipulated image. Its shopper instructions: "Please show us your mobile device or a printout from a qualifying competitor's Web site or Target.com. A Target team member will then verify the match using a Target device."
Target has started thinking about whether key rivals will start offering CRM-based discounts, and it wants to short-circuit those efforts by excluding any "prices that only display on a Web site after guest login." Target's Deede added a more practical reason: Given that "a team member needs to verify the price using a Target device, the price must be accessible without a guest login," she said.
But matching prices online is still very clearly a lot more difficult than old-fashioned brick-and-mortar price-match programs. True, there's no online equivalent to "bring in a published newspaper ad," but Target's lengthy list of exclusions and limitations looks like a lawyer's wonderland. And some of the items on that list appear to be made irrelevant by other items on the exclusions list. Target is trying really, really hard to close all the loopholes.
Unfortunately, the result of all that fine print comes across sounding something like this: "Target has a holiday price-match program. But if we can find any possible way at all to refuse to match a competitor's price, we won't do the match. Of course, because the only five competitors we're matching are easily accessible from the phone, we insist that you show us their prices on your device and then you're free to stand right there and buy from a competitor as soon as we refuse to price match. Thank you for trying and failing to shop at Target."
Maybe Best Buy's idea of giving associates the final say on whether to match prices isn't so foolish after all. It really begs the question: Is rule rigidity—where commonsense need not apply—a better approach than discretion, where the customer isn't certain whether the price will really be matched? Choose your price-match poison.