Sale signs are displayed at a Target store in Colma, Calif. Big retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Toys "R" Us are engaging in a price war this holiday season, and shoppers can score some good deals if they know how to navigate them.
This holiday season, the hottest trend among retailers isn't found on a store shelf. It's taking place at the cash register.
Major retailers, from Best Buy to Toys "R" Us, are promising to match their competitors' prices. Generally customers just need to bring in an advertisement or printout to prove that the same item is available elsewhere at a lower price. In some cases, shoppers can come back with a receipt and get a refund for the difference if the price of an item they bought fell.
Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and Sears offer price matching to customers all year round. But what's different now is that Best Buy and Target are matching online retailers such as Amazon.com for the first time. That's a big deal, since online prices tend to be lower than those at stores.
Shoppers will be able to save some extra money, but they're going to have to read a lot of fine print to do so.
"Price matching sounds good, but there are so many exclusions, it sometimes isn't as good as it sounds," says Edgar Dworsky, the founder of ConsumerWorld.org, which tracks deals for shoppers.
For instance, Target limits the number of online retailers that it will price match against to just five. Best Buy has selected 20, but only matched online prices from Nov. 1 to Nov. 17 and will start again from Nov. 27 to Dec. 24.
Toys "R" Us is offering price matching for the first time and will only match prices that customers find in other brick-and-mortar stores. Walmart also matches against in-store prices.
Toys "R" Us, Best Buy, Sears and Target say they will match prices found on their own websites. It's not uncommon for retailers to offer steeper discounts online than in their actual stores. (But Toys R Us says it won't match prices on its own website if the item is marked as an "online-only price.")
Even the most experienced shoppers can get tripped up by all the rules.
Here are five ways to get the most out of price matching offers:
1. KNOW THE POLICY
2. BRING PROOF
3. SAVE RECEIPTS
4. GO STRAIGHT TO THE CUSTOMER SERVICE DESK
5. LOOK BEYOND RETAILERS