Is Target’s price-match guarantee an empty promise?

1-TargetQuestion: I recently tried to price-match merchandise at a Target store in Framingham, Mass. I had read the price match policy online, and I was sure I was eligible. But I was denied.

I followed up with the corporate 1-800 number, and was twice given the same
(startling) answer: Target will not price match any printed ad that is not valid for an entire week. They exclude these ads because they are “timed” events, like door-busters and early-bird sales.

I think this is really not very honest of them. Target appears to be trying to wiggle out of granting a price match. Can you help me get them to do the right thing? — Ben Blout, Boston

Answer: Price-matching sure sounds like a great idea. You find an item that costs less at a competitor and the store matches that price. But in practice, it can be difficult to make a successful claim.

You reviewed the fine print in Target’s offer before trying to make a claim. That’s good. But unfortunately, you don’t get to interpret the contract — they do. And Target told you repeatedly that the item you were trying to make a claim on was marked down as part of a “timed” event.

The irony is that Target’s price-matching was a timed event itself. Its offer on “select” items ran from Nov. 1 to Dec. 16.

You sent several emails to Target, making some valid points. The wording on its price-match offer could have been clearer (it was obviously written by attorneys) and its answers to you seemed canned.

I’ve dealt with guarantees like this in the hotel and airline industry for many years, and once you peel back all the layers of fine print, you’re not left with much. These price promises really serve as nothing more than marketing gimmicks, in my experience. But as a Target customer, I felt you would stand a good chance of getting something beyond a boilerplate response.

After you’ve emailed Target at this form, you might try an appeal to one of the executives. The naming convention for emails is — it’s fairly easy to determine the rest.

I contacted Target on your behalf. In response, it sent you yet another form email saying it was “sorry” for your disappointment and thanking you for your feedback. How disappointing.

Is Target's price-match guarantee an empty promise?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    As you said, it’s usually very difficult to take advantage of these price-match guarantees. I’d love to know what percentage of total claims actually get granted. I’m guessing 10%, if that… So, timed events less than a week = no. But timed events > week = OK?

  • TonyA_says

    Was he trying to get money (the price difference) back from a recent purchase or was he trying to convince the store to match another price so he can purchase the item at Target?

  • sdir

    Target announced a couple weeks ago that they were making their price match guarantee effective year-round, so it is no longer a limited-time offer. You can find the details here:

    I can appreciate Mr. Blout’s frustration, however it is shown in the the guarantee under exclusions: “Items advertised as limited time/limited supply/limited quantity.” This must be why they denied his sale.

    I’m curious what was in the ad he was trying to price-match. Though I’ve never tried to price-match at Target, I’ve done it at other stores and it’s usually a straight-forward process. The big difference now is that Target will match online prices of Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy, which is a MIGHTY BIG DEAL. And yes, it’s also an advertising gimmick.

  • $16635417

    Many companies keep imposing restrictions on very generous policies in order to curb the abuse. For example, many airlines gave up on refunds for medical reasons, as was yesterdays case, when the amount of “questionable” documentation starting coming in.

    There are websites for extreme shoppers, the retail equivalent of the flyertalk gang, who find deals and how to maximize stores liberal policies to maximize their gain. Many of these contributors end up buying multiple quantities and resell the items on ebay.

    It would be interesting to know more details. Was the OP trying to buy something prior to Black Friday that another chain had listed as a 4AM Early Bird deal? In that case, I understand why the price match was denied.

    Personal experience with a price match fail….I recall an instance with Walmart years ago where I purchased a TV and saw the exact same TV (or so I thought) at Best Buy cheaper. I took the ad and my receipt to Wal-Mart for a refund of the difference and was denied. Without even looking at the ad or my receipt, the clerk told me it would be denied because the TV’s were different models. Sure enough the Best Buy TV had one model number and the Walmart TV had another. Both chains bought so much that the manufacturer gave each chain unique model numbers on identical TV’s, in part, to prevent this from happening. What really made me upset was that the clerk gave me the old “find a better price after you buy and we’ll match it” song and dance…knowing they never would.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thanks for the update on the policy. I should have included that in the story.

  • William_Leeper

    I agree with you on the model number business. I have worked on a marketing project where Wal Mart was going through their suppliers and comparing product data with Target, sure enough, it is not limited to just electronics.

    Wal Mart may have a 2.9 ounce baby powder, target will have a 2.7 ounce, a 45 pound bag of dog food versus a 50 pound. You get the idea, I don’t necessarily think it is right, but Wal Mart and target go to great lengths to make sure they do not have “identical” products.

  • JenniferFinger

    If Target or anyone else doesn’t want to match prices by way of saving money, it shouldn’t advertise it. Or it needs to make the time limits much more clear to customers-no fine print.

  • john4868

    I’m honestly shocked that so few people had figured out the empty Price Match game. All of the major retailers have unique model numbers with some very small difference (might be trim color or minor feature included/excluded). That’s the way the retailer can guarantee they have the lowest price. No one else sells that item.

    Having said that, I can understand the reasoning behind requiring the full week for items that can be price matched. Otherwise, Walmart could advertise iPads for $0.50 between 1:30 am and 1:35 am on a Sunday night with no rainchecks and only 1 in stock with Target forced to price match that. I’m sorry but to me it would be unreasonable to think that Target would Price Match that.

  • cjr001

    The problem is legalese, which is intentionally written (imo) so that the layman cannot understand it.

  • S E Tammela

    All those shop promises are just the same. An Australian court recently found that a major travel agency chain’s “Price match guarantee” was also worthless and that the company could freely advertise a lie.

  • Kairho

    And this deception is not new. Appliances and matresses, for two, have had different “model numbers” at different stores for many years.

  • pradcliffe

    so, by calling Target’s new policy an “advertising gimmick” are you sayiing they will end up denying the price match guarantee or that all such adds are gimmicks in general?

  • Steve Rabin

    There are some companies (Best Buy comes to mind) where their price match plus a little more is meaningful…I’ve used it, and as long as you can document the lower price, it is refunded. There are others that are not so truthful…one of my personal favorites is for a mattress company that advertises they will “match the price or the mattress is free”. Anyone with a quarter of a brain will figure out they will match the price–they’d rather lose a little money than all of it!!!

  • pauletteb

    Trying to get a price match on a “door buster” special that lasts only a few hours smacks of dishonesty to me. The store where the OP purchased the merchandise wouldn’t even honor that price once the event time was up.

  • Joe Farrell

    Price matches always have so many conditions all they are are a form of advertising. As others have noted there are model numbers that have an A B or M at the end to distinguish the retailer or 6.4 instead if 6.5 oz. any company that plays this game is basically thinking its customers are all fools. And some are. It’s an imaginary benefit. It’s a tough world out there.

    The question for a consumer advocate to ask is: how many price match payments have you made? It’s likly zero. That’s evidence of deception.

  • pauletteb

    Some manufacturers make special models specifically for Wal-Mart; although they may look alike, very often the Wal-Mart model is made with cheaper materials and/or missing some features.

  • Kimrod219

    I am continually surprised by the short-sighted strategy of intentionally misleading customers. Although Target will increase traffic to their store during their running of these promo ‘price-match’ guarantees, they will also drive customers away when the reality of their offer becomes known. It is a heavily documented consumer fact that a displeased consumer will tell an average of 8 people of their unhappy experience, while a pleased person tells less than 2 people. Bottom line, fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me.

  • pauletteb

    You’re dead right on the mattress business. I sold them for many years, and the reps admitted that they used different ticking and gave different names to the same mattress for each store group to make it difficult for consumers to compare prices.

  • $16635417

    In this case, the features were the same. The TV had multiple model numbers on the manufacturers website. One matched the Wal-mart TV and one matched the Best Buy TV…and there were still more.

  • SoBeSparky

    While there are all sorts of caveats to any guarantee, the financial industry considers the new price match guarantee, wherein Target matches Amazon and other on-line retailers, to be an industry first and worthy of consumer notice.

    The new guarantee (noted by sdir, see ) seems pretty simple and straight forward to me, though it can be tricky in confirming an on-line price.

    The bottom line to most consumers, after all the hoopla, is that Target wants to create the impression it will be a low-price leader, no matter the competition. They will match the “Always the low price. Always.” people and those who deliver your item to your door, many times without shipping and tax costs.

    Only time…and shopping will tell.

  • Fedor Pikus

    I’ve never dealt with Target but I used Fry’s pricematch. It has to be the same item and it has to be offered at that price at the time when you want to buy it (they also pricematch NewEgg and Amazon, so they go to the web site right in front of you, and if it’s the same item they give you the price). They use manufacturer’s part numbers, so it works better with some products than others. For example, CPUs and motherboards don’t have superfluous part numbers, while hard drives often have several variants of essentially the same drive.

  • emanon256

    I didn’t vote today. I have almost always had good experiences with Target and I totally understand them not wanting to price match a door buster or limited quantity special sale. It makes more sense to price match everyday prices, or weekly sale prices where the quantity isn’t going to run out before the demand. Otherwise it would fore target to have that same sale on something that may be a loss leader.

    I don’t know the wording of Targets price math, or the add the OP showed them, so I can’t agree or disagree with Target. But I completely understand their point. If I sell electronics and price match, and my DVD Player Model XYZ is $100, and another store sells it for $95, I would match, but if Wall Mart marked a limited quantity down to $75, and wholesale was $80, why would I sell all my stock at $75 to price match when Wall Mart was only selling 5 at that price, or only selling it from 8:00am to 8:05m. If you want that special door buster price or limited quantity price go wait in line and take your chances.

  • emanon256

    Ive priced matched regular sale items with a 100% success rate. Mrs. Emanon browses the circulars every week and compares, and goes to whomever is closest. I didn’t even know price matching was a limited item offer, they seem to do it all the time at my target if its the same item and a regular sale price.

  • y_p_w

    We discussed mattresses in a previous set of comments. The issue with mattresses is that they are made to order and every retailer can customize their particular offerings. It’s almost impossible to price match because every retailer gets a different name and slightly different specs for the mattresses it sells.

    I’ve gotten a retailer to price match a few times. Once was under less than honorable circumstances, although I’ll say I was young. The other time I brought in an ad and the brand name, model number, and size was clearly the same for Sony recordable DVDs. I actually would have bought it with the original ad, but the retailer that price matched has a slightly different inventory. Most of their stock was made in Japan, and anyone who does research knows who the supplier is – the one with the best reputation in the industry. It was a backdoor way to get the same price and the product I wanted, but I don’t think I cheated anyone to get it.

  • Simon Dixon

    Walmart has the most convoluted price match guarantee in the world. They will match any ad from any store but their own. Also, they do not match websites. We went to purchase some Wii accessories a few weeks ago, and everything was in disarray so the price of the items we were looking at were not easily found. I looked on the website, and the item was listed for $20. We went to check out, and it rang up at $35. We went to customer service and we were told that they do not match any other Walmart price or They don’t want to compete with each other. So if you get an ad for 1 Walmart, and go to another, don’t necessarily expect to pay that price.

    I have used Targets price match before, and never had an issue, although they limit their matching to certain stores and websites.

    Fry’s electronics has the best price match policy, its just a pain because their POS system is archaic.

  • Dutchess

    Yes, the model number game is a huge scam! You think TVs and appliances are bad, look at mattresses. They’re the worst.

  • Dutchess

    I price match often and do so with great success. I do think retailers try to stack the deck in their favor to prevent black friday deals and doorbuster type events from being price matched but honestly I don’t see any problem with these kinds of limits.

    I buy things at Best Buy price matched with other retailers all the time. I can often combine the PM with other savings such as rebates from previous purchases and save even more money. It’s kind of a game but recently I was able to get a $59 Waterpik at BB PMed with Walgreens for $35 (plus the manufacturer has a $5 rebate so my net cost was $30. Same thing for a lens I purchased. PMed a $79 cell phone lens with amazon for $39 and I had $25 in savings certificated and my net cost was $14.
    Price matching is a game, you just need to learn the rules and make them work in your favor!

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Another way the stores have found to stick you (and stay with me, this might seem relevant, at first) is to say you have to have the ad with you to get the price match. Best Buy isn’t one of those, though. They will allow you to show them the online price and will match it.

    I’ve had WalMart, Target and several other stores tell me I had to have the printed ad, not even a print out from the website.

    Again, Best Buy doesn’t have that policy. If you can show it to them on your Smartphone, it’s a deal as far as they’re concerned.

  • RB

    In my opinion the best path is to ignore Price Matching claims and trade directly with the business offering the best price and value for the items you are interested in.
    When getting ready to buy an item, especially more expensive things, do your homework, know what you are looking for, then find a merchant that offers exactly what you need. Sometimes the lowest price tag is not the best deal. Look at cost of delivery, disposal of old items, and the merchants return policies. Superior customer service before and after the sale is a high value item in and of itself.

  • LonnieC

    As a retired attorney, let me share some advice: “The big print giveth, and the small print taketh away….)

  • bodega3

    Over the holidays, some stores, and I don’t remember which ones they are, wouldn’t allow price matching from a site pulled up on your phone, you had to bring in a printed ad. With false websites online, it would be very easy to cheat the stores and in Target’s case, they have every right to state how they will or will not price match. I did see their price matching statement in an ad and over the holidays it had limitations.
    Many novices head out to shop during the holidays and never spend much time shopping the rest of the year. Shopping is and always has been a game. You learn to read the rules of the game very carefully so you don’t waste your time and hopefully don’t waste your money.

  • dourdan

    if it’s cheaper at a competitor go to a competitor.

    i live in a big city so this is probably easier for me but that is just what i think when i see article after article about companies that don’t price match (even though they have signes all over their store.)

  • cjr001

    And with the creation of social media, the number of average people reading about an unhappy experience is likely skyrocketing.

  • bodega3

    My experience with social media and complaints is that people often don’t have their facts together and are often their own worst enemy and look foolish. Just like the OP, he didn’t read the fine print. Buyer beware and becareful about the details BEFORE trying to bad mouth a company. There certainly are legitimate complaints, but many are just dumb mistakes on the part of the customer. With this said, I know that word of mouth can work, as we closed down a dry cleaning business many years ago when they screwed a friend.

  • DavidYoung2

    The mattress game is totally rigged. The mattress retailers have the major manufacturers make the mattresses for them but give each retailer a unique name and SKU for the same mattress. That way, you can’t directly compare a Sealy mattress from one retailer to the exact same Sealy mattress from another because they have different names and SKUs for the exact same thing.

  • $16635417

    I love mocking the car dealer ads as well. “We’ll beat any price on a new Honda or it’s free!” First off, try to find a car that is exactly the same on the different dealers lots anywhere….second, even if you found an identical car elsewhere, what dealer would rather give you the car for free than undercut the other price by $1???

  • Jessica Smith

    As an avid coupon user, and all around bargain shopper, I am a member of a large forum that scrutinizes and questions all of these policies. Target’s policy was alway, even for the limited time event, rather clear. And, it is standard practice that a store that does price-match, does not do so for Black Friday doorbusters, or super short times sales.

  • y_p_w

    It’s actually more complicated than that. Mattresses from mattress retailers are typically made to order and even ones made in large batches (like warehouse stores) are customized to be different. Each retailer specifies a different mattress for a particular class, and they really aren’t the same in every detail. I remember visiting a mattress factory once for a special warehouse sale. I saw the racks of different materials used to assemble mattresses. It was relatively easy for retailers to actually sell a unique combination of spring count, thickness, padding material/thickness. cover pattern. etc. I’m thinking there are at least a dozen different variables and perhaps billions of possible combinations.

  • JenniferFinger

    If Target is going to use legalese or any other means to deny what it is advertising to customers, then it shouldn’t be advertising to customers. Regardless of the specifics of the law, it seems to me like a deceptive trade practice to offer something and then throw in so many conditions in legalese, fine print, and elsewhere that the average customer can’t take advantage of the offer.

  • JenniferFinger

    If they’re worried about abuse, that suggests to me that the policy as a whole needs rethinking.

  • y_p_w

    Just try to compare. Different spring counts, different cover patterns, different names. Each retailer has a different offering because it’s literally possible to create billions of combinations of the product. The factories have no problem with it because they’re set up to make mattresses on demand.

    Now I’m not sure how it works for the memory foam mattresses. I’m thinking one retailer could have one maybe a half inch thinner or perhaps a slightly different cover pattern. They might even have computer controlled equipment now that can create a different quilting pattern on the cover as well as any number of different cosmetic designs.

  • bodega3

    Ever look at a Macy’s coupon? It would probably be better is they just list what is covers rather than what it doesn’t. Target was very clear in the ad on how and when you could use the price match.

  • Jesse

    If she tried price matching a “timed item” within the time frame of that “timed promotion” then I do not see a problem, if she was outside of it then I guess she’s out of luck. Why not go to the store where they had those items at the better price?

  • y_p_w

    A lot of the 4-hour/1-day/3-day specials are often available in limited quantities without rainchecks.

    Honestly I’ve thought about bringing in an ad for a sale item that sold out so I get the item for the same price at a store that price matches. That’s within the typical policy. It’s not as if most places call in to check, and there’s always the chance that not every store in the chain sold out of a particular item.

    The hardest thing is price matching food items. You see an ad at Target for “selected General Mills cereals” and they show one picture with no other description. When you look at the tags on the shelf it may actually be up to 10 different items in different sizes. If they run out and you can find a price match elsewhere, the ad may not be enough to convince a manager.

  • Chris Anderson

    social media might also be causing the number of below-average people reading to skyrocket

  • shannonfla

    FYI – Target last night was in a state of rearranging. I also noticed that my makeup remover cloths now are cut smaller and come in a pack of 25 instead of 30. (I compared when I got home.)

  • bodega3

    This is happening with a lot of products. We are getting less, but paying more. Interesting though, Target has one product I buy from them, a major brand name food item, that is larger than I find at all other grocery stores (Costo excluded) that has more in the package for less money.

  • rl

    I tried to price match at Target last week. Was told at the customer service desk they only match if the other store is in the same zip code. Toys r Us is 1 mile away but a different zip. No other large store in Targets zip code, so they never have to price match. Left the other $300 merchandise in the cart as already waited 20 minutes and did not want to go and wait again for another cashier.

  • bodega3

    Here is the link to their policy. I did not see a zip code stipulation, only the stores that they will price match with.

  • Philip Brown

    As a semi-retired CONSUMER ADVOCATE; I wish the stores would fully advertsie & EXPLAIN all the fine print. Dealing with “legal-eze” is difficult for me; even more for the average customer. I do have to respect that merchants limit their exposure to “timed promotions”; as these are not truly the weekly prices.
    Philip C. Brown
    PS – if a merchant treats you badly, go somewhere else or comment on FB…