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Fighting to Price Match Online Retailers There are many reasons why consumers buy things online, instead of going to a physical store.

Fighting to Price Match Online Retailers

There are many reasons why consumers buy things online, instead of going to a physical store.

Online retailers often have a bigger inventory, complete with reviews from other consumers,

which can be searched quickly and easily. What is more, online retailers typically have much

lower prices than physical stores, since they don't have to incur costs for in-store inventory

management, transportation to stores, or human resources (i.e., in-store staff). For example, the

prices at Target are typically 14 percent higher than Amazon, while those of Best Buy are 16

percent higher than Amazon. This is, of course, a significant benefit for consumers. Another

benefit that online retailers deliver to consumers is a high level of customer service, as

companies like Zappos offer free express shipping and a no-exception return policy.

These benefits of online shopping often motivate consumers to go "showrooming." They

will go to a physical store to check out a product physically, maybe play with it for a bit, or

check out its build quality. When they are satisfied, or not, with the product, they will go home,

hop on their computer and buy the product online. In essence, then, the physical store is not

much more than a physically accessible online catalog for their online competitors.

In an effort to stem their losses and gain an advantage over their Internet competitors,

Target and Best Buy recently announced a price-matching policy. During the holiday shopping

season of 2012, both retailers promised that they would match the prices offered by a specific

number of online retailers. Target's plan identified five online competitors:,,,, and, and promised that it would match

product prices from November 1st to December 16th. Best Buy, on the other hand, will match

prices from 20 websites, including Amazon, Dell, and Wal-Mart, but not third-party sales sites

like Amazon Marketplace or Ebay, where prices tend to be much more volatile. According to

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, the price match move is intended to show consumers that Target

should be their preferred shopping destination. "We're already rock solid in price. But if

periodically some competitor has a lower price, this gives our guests the ability to know 'I can do

all of my one-stop shopping in Target.'"

On the surface of things, the price-match policies would seem to favor consumers, since

they can physically check out a product and get the lowest price. However, there are a number of

exceptions to both policies that may make them ineffective. At Target, for example, the shoppers

have to ask for the price cuts and show proof to an in-store employee of the lower price. This

requirement is likely to lead to quite an unpleasant experience during the busy holiday season,

when workers are overwhelmed by demanding consumers, who themselves are stressed out by

crowded stores. As Sheri Petras, CEO of the consulting company CFI Group asks, "Can you

imagine being on the checkout line at Target with 20 items and you're scanning products on your

phone to find out the gum is 12 cents less at Amazon? Can you imagine standing behind that

person in line?"

The exceptions at Best Buy may be even more vigorous. The company's will only match

prices on electronic and appliances, and not items like DVDs, CDs, or accessories. There will be

a stretch of eight days, from the Sunday before Thanksgiving to the following Monday, when the

policy will not be in place. As with Target, all competing prices must be verified by an employee,

but they will do so only when asked by a shopper. And more importantly, the store employee can

refuse to match the price if they feel that it is disadvantageous to do so.

Most retail experts thus feel that the price-matching policies, far from increasing physical

store sales, will actually do the opposite. They argue that, in practice, it will be simply too

difficult to match Internet prices, since they fluctuate so much. Moreover, they argue that even

with a price-match, there simply is not enough motivation for customers to buy them at a

physical store. If a consumer finds something that is cheaper online than at a Target or Best Buy,

they are more likely just to buy that product online than driving to a store, waiting in line, and

hoping that an employee doesn't make them the exception to the rule.


1. What kind of price strategy are Target and Best Buy using to overcome online retailers'


2. Target and Best Buy are enacting their price-matching policies only for a limited amount

of time. How would you describe this pricing tactic?

3. How could Target and Best Buy use other kinds of pricing tactics to gain an advantage

over online competitors?

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