Price matching promises to save you money, but how easy is it?

Hidden camera investigation tests price matching

CLEVELAND - Parents, no need to waste gas driving from store to store to find the deepest discounts. We've done all the work for you so you can save time and cash. With price matching, you can get these savings at one store so you can save money and gas.

Many stores advertise low prices, but one store is taking rollbacks to a whole new level.

In an ad for Walmart, the customer tells the casher, "This other store has these for 20 cents less." The cashier says, "What?"

TV ads, ads in the paper, and advertisements at the register alert customers to Walmart's ad match guarantee .

While Walmart isn't the only store promising to meet a competitor's price, it's the one screaming it loudest.

"Match it! Match it! Match it! Match it!" people yell in the commercial while a cashier says, "Thank you. I got it. I'll match that price right here."

But is it really that easy?

Price matching basics

To find out if it's that easy, we took hidden cameras to Walmart and two other stores that price match.

"I have some price matching going on here," our photographer said.

Price matching requires organization. Look through all the ads, pick out what you need and see who offers it the cheapest. Then, look for coupons to save even more.

Finally, create a shopping list and you're ready to go.

We found scissors for $1.47 at Walmart, but Target was selling the same scissors for $1, saving you 47 cents.

Finding the exact product is the hardest part. It was easy to find Sharpie markers at most stores, but difficult to find the quantity listed in the ad we were price matching. Every store sells different counts and finding the exact match takes some patience.

And it also means looking in another section. Target and Walmart have featured back to school sections, but our adventure took us to the stationary aisle where we found other pens and pencils that matched the items we wanted to ad/price match.

I found it easiest to create an Excel spreadsheet with the sales. I listed the store, product, quantity and other descriptors, along with the sale price. Then, I used that list at Walmart and looked for similar products and product counts.

Once you're organized and armed with a list, you're ready to shop.

Novice couponer tests price matching

In our test, we had our photographer try to price match. He doesn't use coupons and isn't familiar with price matching. We wanted to see how easy it was to price match and find out if we could turn a spender into a saver.

We gave our photographer a copy of Walmart's policy and told him he can ad match at the register and not customer service. That's the only information we gave him. Like most first-time couponers, he was a little nervous.

"What am I calling this? Match price?" he asked.

He got it down and didn't let a Walmart cashier trip him up when she asked a question.

"Do you have the ad with you?" the cashier asked. Our photographer said, "You don't have to have it, right?" The cashier responded,"Well, you should."

Walmart's policy clearly states you don't need the ad. But you might want to take it along anyway to avoid any problem at checkout. Plus, having that ad handy is a good habit to get used to because other stores need it.

At Staples , their low price guarantee works when you show them the lower price. Staples made copies of our ads and looked at the details of every sale item.

During our transaction, four employees had to come over to help.

We asked Staples to price match a Master lock which Dollar General had on sale for $3.

The two items looked the same, but that wasn't enough for Staples.

An employee said, "I''ll do it for you this time. If they don't have model numbers, we don't do it," he explained.

Another lesson: Model numbers and other product details are key. A picture won't always suffice.

Ashley Muth ran into a similar problem at Walmart while trying to price match Scotch tape.

"They didn't like the picture of it even though it matched their Scotch tape. They said it must have been a bigger volume," Muth explained.

As a goodwill gesture, the store matched two Scotch tape rolls. But that was it.

Coupons and price matching may confuse the cashier

Ashley Muth said she's also had trouble when she uses coupons with a price match.

"They don't understand if you have a buy one get one sale, and a buy one get one coupon that the item is free," Muth said.

In our test, we also had trouble when we price matched and used coupons for Wite-Out. Walmart didn't price match the Wite-Out, but they did apply the coupon discount. So, they tallied the transaction half right.

But with everything going on, our novice couponer didn't catch it.

At OfficeMax , we had a second mix-up over the Wite-Out deal. The two packages of Wite-Out should have been free with our coupon and price match, but OfficeMax charged us $4.79, meaning they only price matched one package and charged us full price for the other. The cashier never applied the coupon discount.

Coupon blogger, Michelle Filler, of Filler's Finds

, said that's a common mistake.

"You want to make sure you are watching everything they are doing, otherwise all your time and effort could be for nothing," Filler said.

Paying attention to everything that was going on was the hardest part for our novice couponer.

"This is something I'm not used to even thinking about, and I was pretty surprised," Filler said.

Filler gave our photographer a quick tip to make sure he didn't overpay again.

"One of the things I would have suggested is to do the price matching first, and leave your coupons for the end," Filler said. That helps avoid confusion at the register.

Despite the minor problems, we turned a spender into a saver.

"It made me maybe want to try it again," our photographer said.

With back to school supplies you're saving a dollar here, and fifty-cents there. It's not big money. But, it all adds up, especially when you buy big ticket items like electronics or appliances.

Tricks of the Trade

1. Get organized
2. Figure out where you're going to price match and read their policy
2. Go through the ads and figure out what you want and what you can price match according to the store's policy
3. Create a spreadsheet with all sale items you're interested in, the product details, like size, sale price and store offering the deal
4. Go shopping with the ads and price match policy
5. When you're checking out, price match first, use coupons last
6. Watch the register receipt to make sure you're getting your deals

It sounds like a lot, but the prep work will take you 30-60 minutes depending on whether you know what you want. Just think about how much time you save driving from one store to the next.

"I'm not a big coupon person, so I'm not used to doing all this. It always seemed like a pain, but what a huge savings," our photographer said after the experience.

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