Commentary

Price Matching vs. the Mobile Shopper

This is a tale of two mobile price checks.

Over the course of this week, I had the opportunity to experience two totally different price check experiences.

As a matter of course when shopping, I use my phone to scan product barcodes to make sure the price is right, as it were. I’ve been doing this for a number of years.

In some cases, as a consumer I’ve had to help sales associates understand what price matching is. Before even going to mobile scanning apps, the first question, almost as a benchmark, is “do you price match?”

If you get a blank stare or a “what’s that,” you know the next step is to ask for a manager, who almost certainly will know what it is and how to do it, rather than flashing a lower price on your smartphone.

Most major retailers will match competitors’ prices, with some caveats. For example, a merchant may not match a special sales price of an item at a competing store or an online price, like from Amazon, though some are modifying that stance.

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So back to the two examples.

Earlier this week, I selected an item at Staples, scanned it and showed my phone to the cashier at checkout so Staples could match the price. It took a few seconds and I saved $45, as I documented in this space several days ago (The Higher Value of the In-Store Mobile Shopper).

The Staples experience was quick, painless and easily worth the scan.

Yesterday, I was at Target and just before heading to checkout went through my usual routine of scanning, finding the real-market value of the product and getting ready to show it to the cashier.

After waiting a short time (unlike Walmart, Target long ago figured out that getting people throughout checkout quickly is important to many), I reached the cashier and showed him my phone with a picture of the same product I was buying, but a lower price at Walmart.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s for a price match.”

“What’s that?”

I could see where this was heading.

“Target matches prices of its main competitors, right?” I asked.

“Oh, you have to go to customer service for that.”

I headed to the relatively short customer service line and got to the person at the counter.

I showed her my phone with the exact photo and model number of the item I was attempting to buy. She said she had to call a manager to get the computer. What?

A manager was called over and the customer service agent told her this was a price match “situation,” at which time the manager unlocked a drawer where a tablet was held.

The customer service agent kicked on the tablet and began her search for Walmart.

I suggested she just scan the barcode as I did and use a price matching app (the scanner inside the Target app also had a lower price listed, though not as low as Walmart).

“No, this is what I have to do,” she said, as she searched, and searched and searched. She finally found a Walmart price that was lower, though not as low as the one my app showed.

I got the discount but unlike the Staples experience, the Target experience was slow, painful and hardly worth the scan.

If a merchant’s intent is to suppress mobile price matching, this method could do the trick.

The difference in retailers matching prices for mobile shopper may ultimately be decided less by policy and more by execution.

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