Price matching policies of major retailers have come under increasing scrutiny and criticism recently. Both Bloomberg and Time have reported that big chains like Walmart and Toys “R” Us are getting complaints from customers and advertising watchdogs that their price matching policies are confusing and not even understood by store personnel when they are asked to match prices.
In fact, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus ruled against Toys “R” Us in February saying that they need to either modify or discontinue their overly broad price matching claim.
Last November, Consumer World endeavored to publish a consumer guide to stores’ price matching policies, and found that policies published on the retailers’ own websites often raised more questions than they answered. And asking questions about the policies of store personnel and PR folks at company headquarters often revealed conflicting terms of the published policies, good and bad, not made known to shoppers, and sometimes not known to store personnel.
Lowe’s is a good example. Their price match policy currently says:
“We guarantee our everyday competitive prices. If you find a lower everyday price on an identical item at a local retail competitor, just bring us the competitor’s current ad, and we’ll beat their price by 10%. If a competitor is offering a percent off discount, we’ll match the final net price the competitor is offering. Our price guarantee does not apply to installation labor, to the competitor’s closeout, special order, discontinued, clearance, liquidation or to damaged items. Limited to reasonable quantities. Visit store for complete details.”
A customer reading this quickly would believe that Lowe’s has a very generous price match policy, that they give the customer an additional 10% off a competitor’s sale price, and all you have to do is just bring in their ad.
Not so fast.
On MrConsumer’s advice that he could get an extra 10% off, a neighbor (“Andy”) contacted Lowe’s to order a washer and dryer that Home Depot had on sale for about $100 to $200 less. The salesperson never heard of the extra 10% off, and seemingly had no idea how to verify a Home Depot price online. After checking with the manager, Andy was told they will match the price, but not give him the extra 10% off because the item was a sale item and not Home Depot’s “everyday” price.
A literal reading of the Lowe’s policy indeed says that it applies to EVERYDAY prices of competitors. However, the very next phrase advises customers to “just bring in the competitor’s ad” and they will beat their price by 10%. Since most advertisements contain mostly sale items, it seems pretty clear the intent of the policy is to cover sale items as well, despite their clumsy choice of words.
MrConsumer also knows the exact terms of the Lowe’s policy because he had asked their PR person a series of very detailed questions last fall in order to compile the survey results and accurately describe each company’s policy. Here was the key question asked, and their answer:
Consumer World: Your policy, in part says:
“If you find a lower everyday price on an identical item at a local retail competitor, just bring us the competitor’s current ad, and we’ll beat their price by 10%.”
Are you only matching a competitor’s EVERYDAY (non-sale) price or are matching both sale and non-sale prices? By definition, if you are asking a customer to bring in a competitor’s circular or ad, that *shows* sale prices. Do you see how your statement of the policy is contrary and confusing for customers?
Lowe’s PR person: We match the competitor’s EVERYDAY and sale prices and will verify prices of the competitor pricing through competitor print advertising or call our competitor to confirm.
[Note: If you review Consumer World's digest of their actual price match policy, based on information provided by the Lowe's PR department, you will find other unexpected terms and requirements. For example, the extra 10% only applies BEFORE you buy the item at Lowe's, not after. Who would understand that from reading their policy?]
Andy felt completely frustrated by the experience at Lowe’s, so MrConsumer suggested he simply contact a second Lowe’s store in the area, because surely they would understand the policy correctly. Nope. They said that price matches only apply to non-sale items in order to get the extra 10% off.
Not wanting to start the whole appliance shopping ordeal again, our shopper called back the first Lowe’s store and ordered the washer and dryer (at the Home Depot price) but without the extra 10% off. MrConsumer, however, vowed to fix this injustice by contacting the PR person at Lowe’s whom had provided the original, full explanation of their price match policy.
When they checked into Andy’s story, the company reported back that he was denied the extra 10% not because the item was a sale item, but because it was a “special order.” That was a complete fabrication, according to Andy, because he says both stores told him there is no extra 10% on sale items. And further, Andy says that both items were carried by Lowe’s, and the washer was in stock for immediate delivery. (And if you re-read the Lowe’s policy, it is not whether Lowe’s has to special order the item, but rather whether the competitor has to.)
So, they refused to do any more for Andy than they already did. No extra 10%. MrConsumer failed.
From the beginning of contacting Lowe’s several weeks ago, MrConsumer had two goals: (1) getting Andy the extra 10% to which he was seemingly entitled, and more importantly (2) getting the company to once and for all fix the wording of their published price match policy to clearly reflect its actual terms and limitations, since they already had nearly eight months to do so.
Consumer World made FOUR requests over a two week period to interview the company executive responsible for overseeing their price match policy and implementing it correctly at store level. We’re still waiting.
Companies that mislead the public about their price match policy have been hauled into court. In 2009, Best Buy was sued over their price matching policy. While the retailer widely promoted its price matching policy, the complaint against them alleged there was an internal policy to deny price match requests for various reasons, such as “we don’t match that store,” “the item is not in stock,” etc. And apparently some staff compensation was allegedly tied to whether price matches were approved or denied. That case was settled last summer, with Best Buy agreeing to change some of its practices, and not tying price match approval or denials to employee compensation.
If other customers besides Andy are wrongfully being denied price matches at Lowe’s, the company could be asking for legal trouble as well. We hope they will do the right thing and modify their policy to clearly state all the requirements. (And it wouldn’t hurt to have a brochure available at the store to give to customers. Despite the fact that the policy posted on the website says “visit store for complete details”, a check of several stores revealed they had nothing more in writing explaining the policy.)
As to Andy, he says he will never shop at Lowe’s again.