Undercover Shopping: Testing Holiday Promises
Every year it seems the holiday season gets more competitive for retailers. First it was free shipping, now it's free layaway and price-matching in guaranteed, speedy in-store pickup.
Promises, promises. But do the programs really work?
CNBC producers and I went shopping undercover so we wouldn't get any special treatment.
Many retailers say they'll match their competitor's prices, but there are certainly exclusions and nuances from retailer to retailer.
A little online research showed Target pricing the DVD player at $139.99. Wal-Mart's selling the same one for $129 dollars on its website. Best Buy offers a "special price" that you can only see at check out. It turned out to be the cheapest at $108.99.
(Read More: Will Electronic Device Sales Light up the Holidays?)
Both Wal-Mart and Target have price-matching policies posted online, and Best Buy also has a holiday price-matching program, but since it has the lowest price we didn't need to test it there.
Armed with a print out of the Best Buy deal, we made a stop at a Walmart store. There, the Blu Ray DVD player had a list price of $138, despite the fact that it was listed on the store's website for $129.
At first, an associate said he wasn't sure he could match Best Buy's price because it was from the web. However, after a discussion with a manager, it is decided Walmart will indeed match the price.
(Read More: Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List.)
When I went to buy the Blu Ray player, a scan of the barcode revealed the price had been reduced to $98, much to our surprise. So in the end, the price-match wasn't necessary.
We then hit a Target store. Once again, the employee said he wasn't sure he could match an online deal. But after a little pushing, and a radio call to a manager, he did match the price.
We learned some lessons from our price-matching experiment. First, make sure you've done the research yourself, and have the print out—either from the web or physical advertisement—with you and make sure it has a date.
Second, if the associate isn't sure, or says no, push to speak with a manager. Some retailers will match online prices, some will only match brick and mortar competitors, and some will not match at all, but it's worth asking.
Our next test was in-store pickup.