Have you mastered the art of shopping sales and using coupons? Then it's time to take your skills one step further and learn how to price match. Price matching means getting a store to honor its competitor's price - usually a printed, advertised price.

Why do stores offer price matching? Won't it put retailers with already thin profit margins at risk of losing money? Not necessarily. Price match policies can actually be good for business.

"A given price is likely to be evaluated as lower at a store with a price match guarantee than at an equivalent store without such a guarantee," writes Ryan Parker Hamilton in "Price Image in Retail Management."

In "The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow," Rafi Mohammed writes, "If a customer makes the effort to cut out a rival's sales page (or coupon) and bring it to a store, that customer cares about price. A price-matching policy garners additional sales by discreetly offering lower prices to price-sensitive customers."

To give you an idea of how price matching works, let's examine the policies of three popular stores: Target, Walmart and Sears.

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Target
Target stores, but not Target.com, will match a competitor's price if it is in a local, current ad and the product is identical in brand name, quantity, size, weight and model number. To be clear, Target calls its policy ad matching, not price matching. The competitor's price must be clearly stated. It cannot be a dollar amount or percentage off discount. Target will also match prices on previous purchases made within the last seven days.

If the competitor's lower price requires a coupon, however, Target will not price match it. Target stores also will not match competitors' online prices or Target.com prices. Competitors' timed events, like early bird specials, are also not eligible for price matching. Neither are prices that are advertised as limited time, limited supply or limited quantity. Prices that require a loyalty card will also not be matched. If the competitor's low price is the result of a typo, it cannot be used for a price match. Target will not match prices on non-branded items such as produce.

To receive the price match, you'll need to bring in the competitor's entire printed advertisement - you can't use the ad on your smart phone as proof. (For related reading, see Never Pay Retail For These 7 Expenses.)

Walmart
Walmart, much like Target, calls its price-matching policy an ad match guarantee. The item must be identical and the price must be printed in a local competitor's ad. Unlike other retailers, the customer does not need to bring the ad to the store. Again, the competitor's price must be clearly stated. It cannot be a dollar amount or percentage off discount.

The store does not match competitors' price typos or online prices. It will match competitors' buy one, get one free sales as long as the item's price is stated. Walmart even accepts competitors' coupons that specify an item's coupon price (so "Hot Pockets, $1.69 with coupon" would be accepted, but "50 cents off Hot Pockets" would not be).

Unlike Target, Walmart will match prices that require a loyalty card as long as the prices are printed in an ad. Also unlike Target, Walmart will match prices on produce. (For related reading, see 5 Painless Ways To Save More Money.)

Sears
Sears will not only match a competitor's price, but give you 10% off the difference. The item must be branded, in stock and identical. If it's an electronic item, it must have an identical model number. You'll need to bring the ad to the store, but if you forget it at home, you can go ahead and buy the item and bring the ad back within 14 days, along with your receipt, to get the price match.

If you want to price match against another Sears Holdings store, the 10% difference will not apply. Sears Holdings stores include Sears Essentials, Sears Grand, Sears Hardware, Sears Dealer Stores, The Great Indoors, Kmart, Lands' End, Sears.com, kmart.com, Landsend.com and thegreatindoors.com. Sears does not match the prices offered in its outlet stores.

Unlike Target, Sears stores will match Sears.com prices unless they are noted as "online only" prices. Unlike many stores, both Sears stores and Sears.com will match competitors' online prices plus give you 10% of the difference for identical items.

There are a number of restrictions. For example, the competitor must have a local retail store. The competitor's retail store must honor its own online prices, so don't try to match a Target.com price to a Sears price. Sears also does not honor competitors' "online only" prices.

To get an online price match, put the competitor's item in your online shopping cart and proceed through the transaction until you get to a page that shows the item's price plus its shipping, handling and delivery charges. For other price matches, bring the competitor's ad to the store with you.

Like Target, Sears does not honor competitors' limited quantity sales or short-duration sales. Short-duration sales are defined as fewer than 6 hours. Sears does not match competitors' coupons or free offers, and it doesn't price match competitors' typos. Sears' price match policy is not valid during the Thanksgiving holiday. (Don't miss these great tips. For more, see 6 Ways To Save Online.)

The Bottom Line
Every store's price match policy is slightly different. There are no hard and fast rules. If you want to price match something, don't assume anything. You should read the retailer's policy, and read it all the way through. If you can't find a store's price match policy online or in its ad, call and ask a manager because the policy might be unadvertised.

Stores occasionally revise their price match policies, too, so it's a good idea to review the policy before you go to the trouble of trying to get a match.

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