Is Target’s price-match guarantee an empty promise?

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By Christopher Elliott

Ben Blout thinks Target will price-match his holiday merchandise. Target has other ideas. Who is right?

Question

I recently tried to price-match merchandise at a Target store in Framingham, Mass. I had read the price match policy online, and I was sure I was eligible. But I was denied.

I followed up with the corporate 1-800 number, and was twice given the same
(startling) answer: Target will not price match any printed ad that is not valid for an entire week. They exclude these ads because they are “timed” events, like door-busters and early-bird sales.

I think this is really not very honest of them. Target appears to be trying to wiggle out of granting a price match. Can you help me get them to do the right thing? — Ben Blout, Boston

Answer

Price-matching sure sounds like a great idea. You find an item that costs less at a competitor and the store matches that price. But in practice, it can be difficult to make a successful claim.

You reviewed the fine print in Target’s offer before trying to make a claim. That’s good. But unfortunately, you don’t get to interpret the contract — they do. And Target told you repeatedly that the item you were trying to make a claim on was marked down as part of a “timed” event.

The irony is that Target’s price-matching was a timed event itself. Its offer on “select” items ran from Nov. 1 to Dec. 16.

You sent several emails to Target, making some valid points. The wording on its price-match offer could have been clearer (it was obviously written by attorneys) and its answers to you seemed canned. (Related: Did Amazon bait-and-switch me on this toy car I ordered online?)

I’ve dealt with guarantees like this in the hotel and airline industry for many years, and once you peel back all the layers of fine print, you’re not left with much. These price promises really serve as nothing more than marketing gimmicks, in my experience. But as a Target customer, I felt you would stand a good chance of getting something beyond a boilerplate response. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)

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You might try an appeal to one of the executives. The naming convention for emails is [email protected] — it’s fairly easy to determine the rest.

I contacted Target on your behalf. In response, it sent you yet another form email saying it was “sorry” for your disappointment and thanking you for your feedback. How disappointing.

Is Target's price-match guarantee an empty promise?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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