| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Nov 21 Are price-matching programs for
holiday gifts worth the extra time and effort?
With a price-matching guarantee, consumers can buy a product
any time and get a refund if the price goes down, typically
within 30 days. Big retailers such as Amazon.com Inc
and Best Buy Co Inc and payment processors including
Citigroup Inc and eBay Inc's PayPal are offering
generous price-matching policies this holiday season.
Relatively few customers will use price-matching programs
for holiday gifts, though. Michael Pachter, research analyst at
Wedbush Securities, a financial services firm, estimates that it
will likely be around 3 percent at most.
Those figures are very low considering that half of all
consumers research prices online before buying items, according
to the National Retail Federation. Most simply choose the
lowest-priced option and do not look back after they make that
One-fifth of those consumers, however, will check prices and
then go to Retailer A and ask them to match the lower price of
Retailer B before they buy, Forrester Research finds.
A low-price guarantee is a nice public-relations feature,
yet the programs to obtain the cheapest price after you have
already made a purchase are too restrictive to be practical,
according to Pachter and other analysts. In addition, the
price-matching process is often too onerous to make it worth a
"Price-matching is a wonderful deal, but most of us are too
lazy to deal with it," Pachter said.
TOO MUCH FINE PRINT
What makes price-matching tricky is the fine print. PayPal's
new program for purchases made through Dec. 31 applies to any
purchase made with PayPal, including airline tickets. It does
not include close-outs, doorbusters, one-day sales, jewelry,
perishables, boats, animals and a host of other items.
Amazon will price-match for 14 days, and Black Friday prices
are not eligible. Stores like Best Buy, Target and
Walmart exclude the days around Thanksgiving and limit
the kind of stores eligible. MasterCard Inc and Visa Inc
offer some limited price-matching protections with various
card products - card members should check their benefits for
A new entrant to the marketplace attempts to overcome these
obstacles. The Citi Price Rewind program allows any Citi
consumer card member to register purchases at a Web portal ( here
) and search engines will troll for lower prices for 30 days.
If a price drops more than $25, the consumer receives an email,
fills out a form, and gets the money back.
Citi's program went into wide release last week, after a
year-long private trial. In the trial, Citi said that one out of
four registered purchases over $100 qualified for a rebate. Some
of the items that made the cut: a Keurig coffee maker, a DKNY
black suit, an Apple MacBook Pro and a Nintendo
Wii Console. The ratio was even higher for products
costing more than $1,000, where 39 percent received a rebate.
The average refund overall was $80.
For most price-matching programs, consumers typically have
to produce a print ad or a screenshot of an online price to
Citi's innovation is to do the search work for the card
member. However, comparable items have to match exactly - which
is, in fact, very difficult in a high-tech world where unique
inventory identification numbers (SKUs) can be sliced and diced
in many ways.
Items like appliances have a different number at every
store. Laptops and TVs might have slightly different
configurations at various retailers, making them just different
enough not to qualify for price-matching. Most clothing is
specific to a given retailer, so brands that are sold many
places could have different identification numbers.
"If you bought Levi's 501 Jeans from Macy's for $60, will
you get an alert for the Levi's 501 Jeans that JCPenney sells
for $30? No idea," said Dan de Grandpre, CEO of dealnews.com (), a shopping website.
Citi's Rewind program relies heavily on its search engine,
which worries de Grandpre. "It's a great idea that's only as
good as the actual price-monitoring engines employed by Citi,"
de Grandpre said. "What stores does it track? Citi Rewind
doesn't say. When Amazon updates a price multiple times a day,
does Citi Rewind track that?"
Citi is optimistic that its program can keep up with the
latest pricing based on its beta testing. "We've seen some good
success with people who have been using it," said Ralph
Andretta, Citi's head of co-brands and loyalty. The service
relies heavily on the information that consumers and
manufacturers supply directly, he noted.
After analyzing bargain-hunting behavior for more than a
decade, de Grandpre is nevertheless unimpressed with this
season's offerings. The biggest upside for participating
companies? You are more likely to feel that your favorite
retailer or credit card issuer "has your back," so your affinity
for its brand will increase. "More loyalty for almost no cost?
That's brilliant," he said.