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Stores’ price-change policies get more generous

  • MarketWatch
  • Published Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, at 7:15 a.m.

Holiday shopping shouldn’t end at the checkout counter this year.

So called price-adjustment policies — which offer a refund for the difference to customers who spot a better price at the retailer or a competitor after buying — have gotten a little more generous. Best Buy and Target expanded their policies to include online competitors this holiday season, pledging to match prices from sites including Amazon.com, Walmart.com and each other’s websites. (Normally, the two match store prices only.)

Best Buy will match prices through the typical 30-day return period for purchases, while Target will do so through Dec. 24 for items bought by Dec. 16. In November, Citibank also expanded its year-round Price Rewind feature to encompass all its credit cards, letting cardholders register select purchases made on their card for price tracking over the next 30 days. If the bank spots a price that’s at least $25 lower during that period, the cardholder will get a credit for the difference.

The shift in policies is potentially valuable as the holiday sales fly fast and furious. “That first discount shoppers see is not always the end-all be-all,” says Erica Bell, co-founder of price-tracking site Hukkster. It’s common for site users to see multiple price drops over a product’s shelf time, she says. Missing out adds up: In 2010, the average household lost $177 in forgone price adjustments, according to Pricetector.com.

In almost all cases, it’s on the shopper to spot any new sales and request a credit for the difference, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, an advocacy site. But that’s not hard. Look up items you bought on a site that tracks prices like Hukkster, PriceSpider.com or any of the numerous other options and then opt in to get alerts if the price changes.

Most important, hang on to your receipt. You’ll need it to claim the adjustment, along with proof of the new, lower price. Some policies specifically require a dated ad or a printout of a Web page, says Anisha Sekar, a vice president at comparison site NerdWallet.

Don’t wait too long to claim the better price, experts advise. Retailer policies usually expire 14 days after purchase, although a few, including those of Lowe’s and Best Buy, stretch as long as 30 days. Adjustment deadlines for Web orders are similarly short, although retailers start the countdown at various points in the purchase process. Tory Burch, for example, offers an adjustment within 10 days of the shipment date, while Nordstrom counts down 14 days from the order date. Credit card policies have more generous timelines. Citibank tracks 30 days from purchase; MasterCard, 60 days, and Discover, 90 days, Sekar says.

It’s also worth assessing the policy limits. Not every purchase or new sale qualifies. “The holes this year are really extraordinary in that they tend to exclude the best sales,” Dworsky says. Sears, for example, won’t adjust prices for competitors’ doorbusters or sales that are available for less than six hours, he says. Toys R Us and Walmart won’t if the new sale is a percentage-off deal, while J.Crew only offers adjustments if the item was originally purchased at full price. Auction sites and warehouse clubs are common exclusions.

Many retailers won’t even match price drops on their own website if you made the original purchase in store. And often, corporate policies dictate that adjustments are made at the local store manager’s discretion. Dworsky recommends printing out a copy of the retailer’s policy to have on hand. “Expect a fight,” he says. “You’ll need to know the policy backwards and forwards.”

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