Friday, January 18, 2013

Target matching rivals’ online prices year-round

Target Corp. is pledging to match prices of select online rivals year-round, a move that underscores how physical and online retailing is being meshed.

Matching online prices is rare but expected to become more common as shoppers move increasingly online. Target, the nation’s second-largest discounter behind Walmart Stores Inc., said it will match prices that customers find on identical products at top online retailers, all the time. The online list includes Amazon.com, as well as the websites of Walmart, Best Buy, Toys R Us and Babies R Us.

Target’s move follows a similar holiday price match that began Nov. 1 and ended Dec. 16. Target is also making permanent its holiday offer of matching prices of items found at its stores with those on its website. And for the first time it will include products that are out of stock on Target.com.

The moves follow a disappointing holiday shopping season for the Minneapolis-based retailer, hurt by stiffer competition from online rivals and stores such as Walmart that have hammered its low prices. It’s also the latest step from brick-and-mortar stores to combat "showrooming" — a growing trend for customers to browse stores to check out products, and then go online to buy the same products for less.


Many major stores have offered price matching guarantees for local competitors’ brick-and-mortar stores, but it wasn’t until this past holiday season that the focus was on matching online prices. Analysts believe that the trend will increase as stores are realizing they need to wake up to the increasing shift among consumers to online, which accounted for about 10 percent of holiday sales this past season. Still, such policies can be difficult in practice, because online prices tend to be lower and fluctuate often.

Joel Bines, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners and other analysts say the online price match policies are also tough to implement given the constant fluctuation of online prices, even in the same day. That was particularly evident around Thanksgiving week. From Nov. 19 to Nov. 30 Amazon.com doubled the average number of promoted products it changed prices on each day compared with the same period a year ago, according to Dynamite Data, which tracks online prices.

Still, having a price match policy in place is essential for cheap chic Target, analysts say. The discounter, known for selling trendy merchandise and staples like toothpaste under the same roof, has seen uneven sales growth since the economic downturn as it tries to convince frugal shoppers it has good prices. This past holiday season, Target chose to limit promotions to preserve profits. That resulted in muted sales in November and December. However, Target expects fourth-quarter earnings to meet or possibly top the low end of its previous outlook. Salt Lake Tribune

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