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June 17, 2013

Don’t Get Burned by the Lowe’s Price Match Policy

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:40 am

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:

*MOUSE PRINT:

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.

• • •

12 Comments

  1. Why didn’t the guy just buy the washer and dryer at Home Depot?

    Edgar replies: Two reasons: he wanted the extra 10% off H/D’s prices, and had a gift card that could only be used at Lowes or Sears.

    Comment by Susan — June 17, 2013 @ 9:04 am
  2. It’s a shame for Lowe’s to have mis-leading ads. But at the same time, I truly admire them for their customer relations, but only as it applies to specific stores. I bought a rider mower last year. Eleven months later I happened to mention in passing that I was not happy with it. There, on the spot, they offered to send a truck the next day to pick it up and for a full refund, no questions asked. And this after I had mowed with it all last season. Instead, we traded for a different one, same brand, but newer model (I could have chosen anything they had). Delivered next day and no charge whatsoever. This was at the Franklin, Indiana store, but when I asked at the Columbus, Indiana store, they didn’t have the time of day to even talk with me if I wasn’t buying anything. And it cannot be forgotten that they give a 10% discount on everything for Veterans. Lowe’s (Franklin, IN) is my store of choice.

    Comment by Jim West — June 17, 2013 @ 9:25 am
  3. See, this is where you need google glasses, videotape your exact conversation with the employees/managers then use it against them.

    Comment by Grant — June 17, 2013 @ 9:26 am
  4. So the policy in math terms is greater OrigBeforePrice * .9 or SalePrice. Whichever is greater or the store policy feels like doing? So not a very good price matching program. Basically gives the manager wiggle room. But unfortunately still lets the customer walk out the door. Not only walk out the door, even if they end up buying from you makes them mad.

    Comment by me — June 17, 2013 @ 9:40 am
  5. Whenever I shopped at Home Depot I would see them matching both Lowe’s normal price and sale price with the additional 10%. Unless the price match policy has changed since then it would seem better to just shop at Home Depot. I thought Lowe’s would have copied Home Depot’s policy by now.

    One should always read the fine print on those price match policies. The store has plenty of incentive to try and deny that the customer meets the criteria.

    Comment by Wayne R — June 17, 2013 @ 10:44 am
  6. You can bet on a couple of things: First, Lowes has written their price match policy VERY carefully and undoubtedly with legal input specifically to make it look better than it technically is. This is to intentionally fool people. Second, Lowes will NOT make any changes to this carefully crafted policy strictly on the basis of ‘it’s the right thing to do’. Why would they if it’s working to their benefit?

    My own experience when comparing Lowes to Home Depot and vice versa is that they carry almost completely different product lines so it is difficult to ever find an exact match for price comparison purposes. I suspect that is no accident. On the other hand it has the benefit that if I can’t find what I’m looking for at HD, I just go across the street to Lowes to see what they’ve got.

    Comment by John R — June 17, 2013 @ 11:03 am
  7. Not to seem harsh, but I think the wording indicates everything you should expect, including “If a competitor is offering a percent off discount, we’ll match the final net price the competitor is offering.”

    and to say “Since most advertisements contain mostly sale items, it seems pretty clear the intent of the policy is to cover sale items as well” well that’s just speculating what the intent was. Granted, there seems to be a lot of deception in advertising, but don’t try to assume it, especially when they told you they will “match the final net price”

    As for the indication that the item “was a “special order.”” well, that’s just stupidity on the company’s internal operations, where the left arm doesn’t know what the right arm is doing.

    The biggest thing I got out of this is that the casual reader will likely get deceived by seeing 10% off competitor’s price, and not read the the other half off “on everyday priced items”.

    Edgar replies: You are misreading their policy. The “match the final net price” only language ONLY refers to percent off sales of a competitor, such as “30% off off refrigerators at Sears”. It is NOT referring to the policy of getting an extra 10% discount when price matching.

    Comment by RobS — June 17, 2013 @ 11:22 am
  8. This past Memorial Day weekend,both HD and Lowes advertised Kingsford Charcoal,2 20LB bags.Lowes for $9.99 and HD for $12.99.I was all set to visit HD and get my 10% off Lowes $9.99 price.When I got there,HD had lowered their price,a few cents below $9.99.Bought it anyway.I think this is a game,played by retailers and consumers,both trying to win.

    Comment by jrj90620 — June 17, 2013 @ 12:45 pm
  9. I had a problem with Walmart’s price match policy when trying to purchase a pack of fluorescent bulbs. For some reason these bulbs were priced at Walmart for around $14 when the identical item was available at local home improvement stores for around $10 dollars. When I went to customer service desk to ask for the price match deal, I was told I had to produce a weekly sale paper from the competitor’s store. Well, these bulbs did not appear in a weekly sale paper because they weren’t on sale. The everyday price was just lower. The Walmart employee insisted that to get the price match I had to produce an ad. I asked her if she could call the other stores or look on line to verify their everyday lower price, but she declined to do so. I needed the bulbs so I paid the $14.

    Comment by Bob — June 17, 2013 @ 1:06 pm
  10. Sure policies published on the retailers’ own websites often raised more questions than they answered…. Easy to read and understand policies kill profit for the company.

    Comment by Richard Ginn — June 17, 2013 @ 3:08 pm
  11. @Bob – you don’t even NEED an ad to get walmart to price match. They should have a stack of ads, but usually if you sound like you know the price, they’ll give it to you for that price without even checking. I haven’t had any issue with price matching at walmart, but I suspect a lot of it has to do with the management at a particular store. (That, or if you have a smart phone, you can show it on the phone).

    Comment by Amber — June 17, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
  12. I went to Lowes for a price match+10% off on plastic sheeting carrying an add from Menards (which lost my business years ago). They wouldn’t honor it, as the name brands weren’t exactly the same.
    I went across the street to the Home Depot. Although the name brands weren’t identical, they honored the price match plus 10% off.
    Guess which store gets my business from now on.

    Comment by Jack — June 17, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

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