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When Target’s New Price Matching Will Help You–And When It Won’t

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Target price matching policy

This week Target announced a new price matching policy, and there was much rejoicing. But is the joy warranted? As you’d expect, there’s fine print. (There’s always fine print.)

The price matching policy was originally a holiday-season-only practice, but they’ve extended it to a year-round service. Prices are matched against retailers specified in the policy–ones that just about anyone could have guessed were Target’s biggest competitors in their respective categories: Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, ToysRUs.com, and BabiesRUs.com. It also applies to the following week’s Target sales, Target.com, and the more vague “a competitor’s local printed ad.” The policy does not clarify whether said local competitors could include other stores beyond those whose websites are listed.

Many people have commented that this is a pretty bold move for Target, especially when it comes to online-only Amazon and its associated low overhead. It was my first thought as well. It hasn’t been a week since we were looking at a boxed set of books in our local Target and I said to my husband, “I already checked Amazon–it’s cheaper there.” Then yesterday I decided to go put price matching to the test, at least when it comes to Amazon.

Armed with my Amazon Price Check app, which lets you scan the barcode of an item to bring up its Amazon listing, I wandered the aisles of my local Targets, scanning random items in every department to see how they measured up. I was stunned.

I scanned electronics, games, DVDs, blankets, and coffee makers. I only found one product that Target didn’t already have a lower price for. The FitBit was five cents cheaper on Amazon. What I did find was a lot of products with no matches–and that’s one of the most important parts of the fine print. “The item must be the identical item, brand name, size, weight, color, quantity and model number.” It must be identical in every way. You may well find a cheaper pair of jeans, cheaper iPod dock, or cheaper doll elsewhere. But there’s no price match unless that’s the exact same pair of Levi 505s, iHome, and 12″ Ivory Ice Crystals Lalaloopsy. That effectively rules out entire departments at Target, starting with clothes, where most of the options are found only in Target, like Mossimo, or rarely elsewhere, like Cherokee. In the grocery section, it’s Target brands Archer Farms and Market Pantry. In household/personal care, it’s up & up. In the electronics, it’s Trutech. Target shelves are filled with products you can’t price match because they don’t exist anywhere else.

There are a few more potential pitfalls that are going to keep you from saving money with the Target price matching service:

  • “Competitor online items must be in stock at the time a price match is requested.”
    Hot item and you found it in your local store? Seems like you’d just buy it. But hot sale at a competitor? You might be out of luck if it’s no longer in stock at their website when you show up at Target for the price match. In my experience, Best Buy in particular seems to run out online with their rare good prices. Which leads to a side point…I’m not sure Best Buy is even worth listing for price matching. Except for the occasional sale–usually a Black Friday special you have to get in line for before the turkey’s done–there’s a reason it’s nicknamed “Worst Buy.”
  • “Marketplace” prices don’t count.
    Amazon third-party sellers, which account for quite a bit of its stock and best prices outside of books, don’t count for price matching. You can’t go buy a new copy of The Monster at the End of This Book for a penny just because an Amazon Marketplace seller is making up for it in the shipping costs.
  • Certain types of sales are excluded, including anything advertised as limited time, supply, or quantity, which takes care of most Black Friday specials–but they also specifically exclude Black Friday ads anyway.
  • Also excluded: “Clearance, closeout, damaged product, used,¬†refurbished, open packages or liquidation sales.”

There are two final categories of exclusions that I’m still questioning, because they nearly scream “Toys “R” Us”:

  • Buy one, get one if the retail price is not shown in the advertisement.
  • Prices advertised only as a percent off or dollar off.

Take a look at a Toys “R” Us ad, and you’ll see that those two exclusions take out most of their best sales. For example, here’s an ad from their current homepage, with wording similar to that of sales that run in their print ads:

No price listed. When you click through, each of those categories is listed on sale–still no specific prices. When you get to the final item page, only then do you see a price. None of the toys listed in that particular ad are sold at Target, but an item from their regular ad is:

Based on the exclusions, that ad could not be used to get a better price on the LeapFrog Touch Magic Guitar, which is $14.99 at Target. Online on the item page, you can see the price as $10.49 at Toys “R” Us–so would you be able to use that to get a price match in the Target store, even though the ad excludes it? (To make it even more complicated, this particular item gets an extra 20% off online, but only after you’ve added it to your cart. This is a clearance discount that would clearly be excluded.) I emailed Target’s press department to inquire about this specific case, explaining the two lines of the exclusion policy and the specific question here about Toys “R” Us ads vs. seeing the prices on an item’s page–essentially what you’ve just read. The reply I received clarified nothing:

Thanks for reaching out. All of the details and exclusions to the price match policy are available on our website:


Take a look and let me know if you have any additional questions.

In my opinion, the excitement over the new policy isn’t particularly warranted, given the number of exclusions and vagaries in the policy that offer them a lot of escape routes. Price matching happens at customer service, and I already had mixed feelings about that department. On the one hand, you don’t have to look far online to find horror stories of people who found the wrong end of their understated return policies. On the other, I’m an infrequent returner, but when a pair of shoes I bought for my son lasted less than two weeks before disintegrating, they took them back with no questions and a full refund. And my discovery in the process of writing this that Target’s prices are already much more competitive than I realized is pretty good news regardless of how price matching plays out.

And how does this play in the other direction? Well, largely, the targeted competitors were already doing this. Target is just late to the game, although they are the only ones who are specifically offering Amazon price matching.

  • Amazon price matches only against its own lowering prices for pre-orders and for TVs any time within 14 days of purchase.
  • Wal-Mart matches any local competitor with the same sort of identical-item restrictions Target has. They will match certain buy one, get one ads, but have their own list of exclusions and do not match online prices.
  • Best Buy doesn’t match online either and is of course full of exclusions, but unlike the others, does specify in its policy what “a local competitor” includes.
  • Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us match in-store within 7 days. They do match online prices from “selected national competitors” that aren’t listed in the policy.

If you’ve already tried out the price matching policy, whether over the holidays or as it was reintroduced this week, what did you think?¬† Was it easy? (And have you price matched a Toys “R” Us percent-off item?)

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