Joel Bines, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners, praised recent moves by retailers to have an online policy.
"Retailers have finally gotten the message," he said. "You can't put an impediment between consumers and consumption." But he said that the policies can backfire. Stores have to make it easier for shoppers to get the price match. And he noted the move could also turn out to be "profit draining" as more people are encouraged to shop the Web to get the lowest price.
Bines 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.
As for the holiday price match plan, Schindele noted that shoppers like the plan. Price matches may be requested at Target's guest services desk prior to purchase, with proof of an online competitor's current price or after purchase with the original Target receipt and proof of the lower online price.
"This has been a seamless experience," Schindele said. "There have been a lot of positives."