Hidden camera investigation: Price matching

Ruth to the Rescue tests retailers to find out how, if they honor price matching

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DETROIT - Many retailers are offering price matching, but consumers need to make sure they know a store's policies to get the lower price.

Local 4's Ruth to the Rescue unit wanted to see what it took to get retailers to honor a price match and did a few tests using hidden cameras.

Before we did, we consulted bargain expert Jolyn Felten for some guidance. She created and manages Bargainstobounty.com, a website which showcases deals to help stretch your dollars in Metro Detroit.

Felten said there stores do benefit from offering price matching.

"I think they know that its just a great incentive to get shoppers into their store and stores know once they can get you in, that there are so many things you'll see there and all the great displays and everything that you'll probably end up buying more than you intended to," said Felten

"The toughest part about price matching, sometimes, is that you need to find an identical item," said Felten.

So if you're looking for a specific item and can't find the identical product at two stores, your price-matching journey could end right there, with no deal.

Local 4 decided to try Target's price matching for the holidays.

According to their website, they offer the following:

"We'll match the price if you buy a qualifying item at a Target store between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 and find the identical item for less at Target, Target.com or in a competitor's local printed ad. Simply bring in proof of the current lower price and we'll match that price at the Guest Service desk."

The retailer says it will also match prices between November 1 and December 16 if you find the item for less at Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Bestbuy.com, ToysRUs.com or BabiesRUs.com. You simply have to show the current online price using your mobile device or bring in a printed page showing the current online price by Dec. 16.

So Local 4 went looking for a Scrabble Flash game that was selling for $19.99 at Target but a Toys R Us flier advertised the same game for just $12.

The price match cannot be done at the regular check out lines, it has to be done at guest services, but unless you read the retailer's price match policy
online before arriving at the store, we found that's not immediately clear inside.

Once at the service counter, the Local 4 producer showed them the Toys R Us price on her iPhone.

The two clerks at the service desk told her they had to verify the price themselves on their iPad, however they had trouble finding the price and called for help. A third employee came over and said it was fine to take the price from the phone.

It took about 14 minutes in line to make the purchase and to save about $8.

Felten said when weighing whether to do price matching, you have to consider your time as well as how much money you're saving.

"If you're looking at a big ticket item, like a TV or washing machine, even some of the hot toys that are around, it's usually worth looking into price- matching," said Felten.

Local 4's producer found the smoothest price matching process at Walmart.

In Walmart's ad match guarantee it says the retailer will match the price in the following ad types:

"Buy one, get one free ads with a specified price
Competitors' ads that feature a specific item for a specified price
Preferred shopping card prices for specific items that are in a printed ad
For fresh produce and meat items when the price is offered in the same unit type (lb. for lb.; each for each)"

Walmart also does not require customers to have the ad with them to honor a competitor's price.

Cashiers at stores in Livonia and Clinton Township were able to handle the transactions right at the cash register. We saved 22 cents on celery, $1.29 on pineapple and $1.47 on Sharpie markers using competing fliers from Aldi and Office Depot.

Our least successful price matching journey took place at Toys R Us.

Toys R Us will match competitor store pricing on all products in its stores and you must have the competitor ad with valid times when you make the purchase.

Our producer went looking for a Razor E-90 electric scooter.

Online, Toys R Us listed a price of $114 for the scooter and said the item is sold in stores. The retailer also had a flier promising a $10 gift card for purchases over $80 that week.

Target offered the scooter $80 in its flier, so if we could find the scooter at Toys R Us and price match and get the gift card-- we could save more than $44. Unfortunately, when were were looking, Toys R Us never had the scooter in stock at five local stores.

"You really do need to consider the return on your time. If you're going to spending a lot of time researching it and doing it and trying to find it in the store, for just 50 cents- it might not be the best way to do that," said Felten.

The research includes the following:

-- You must know the store policies because there will be restrictions on what prices are matched.
-- You must be price matching identical items.

"You might find something at one store, but they don't carry it at the other store. They carry a different variety, a different size, a different model number. And when those things don't match up exactly, you're not able to price match," said Felten.

At the store, make sure you can see the actual price on the item and always have the advertisement for the competing price with you whether if it's a flier or an online offer on your smart phone. Again, check the store policies to see what they deem acceptable as proof of the competing price.

"It is always worth trying it and prepared for the no in case it happens, but what's the worst thing that will happen a no. Okay, you spent a little bit of time. and the best case scenario is that you walk out with a good deal," said Felten.

Felten put together a list of dos and don'ts on price matching for her readers at her website www.bargainstobounty.com

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