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Holiday price matching wars: If you can't beat 'em, match 'em

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Stylized image with this caption: As early as next year, price matching (to some degree) will develop into a norm for multichannel retailers.Price matching announcements from a number of multichannel retailers are getting quite a bit of attention this holiday season from consumers and press alike. Target, Best Buy, Wal-mart and Toys R Us are just a few of the retailers making headlines with their holiday-specific price matching strategies this year. While actual price matching guarantees have always varied significantly in the retail sector, this year there are more aggressive and extensive positions are popping up more often than ever before. Why is this practice becoming more predominant? Here are a few key trends to consider. Don’t blame Amazon, blame mobile. NRF's first consumer survey of the holiday season notes that nearly 53% of smartphone owners and 64% of tablet owners will use their phones and tablets to research products, look up store information, and/or make purchases this year. For the consumer driven by price and value, mobile has made comparison shopping and the hunt for discounts easier than ever. And as true in any time of year, access to these devices is making shopping online more convenient than ever before. Wal-mart has big plans to deliver on the in-store experience as well, creating an "in-store" mode for its iPhone (and soon to be Android) app so that customers can maximize their time in the store.

More retailers match their own online pricing. Many retailers still have different pricing strategies in-store versus online. As multichannel retailers continue to adopt an integrated and omnichannel focus, the transparency between channels may help evolve this aspect of price matching to become a norm for most retailers. This is a huge opportunity area to win over the consumer. In their eyes, it’s one store – one brand – one price.

If you can’t beat ‘em, match ‘em.  Most significantly this holiday, some of the largest multichannel retailers also include price matching to compete with online retailers, including Amazon. Is this an answer to showrooming for the stores? Or could it be the stores striking back? It will be fascinating to watch how this tactic will impact in-store sales. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how store associates are trained to help consumers who will be ready to talk price matching guarantees.

As pure play and multichannel retailers step into what should be a bustling holiday season for the entire industry, retailers must also think about the future of price matching beyond the holidays. Just as free shipping evolved from a promotion for online retailers around the holiday season, merchants must consider that as early as next year, price matching (to some degree) will develop into a norm for multichannel retailers.

As retailers continue to consider price matching, other consumer decision factors including convenience, customer service, and product selection must not be overlooked. While price remains the most important factor for many consumers, exclusive products and an unmatchable customer and brand experience may be the key to winning the sale in stores or online.