Many big box retailers do it: They don’t just engage in price matching, they price match with Amazon. Some will let you take your discount at the register. Others will throw in free shipping if you demonstrate that the eCommerce behemoth has a lower price on the same product of the same brand. Still, college stores face a different set of challenges from traditional retailers. Should they jump on the price-match bandwagon, or are the dangers of revenue loss too great?
You don’t have to look much farther than your own experience to grasp the benefits of price matching. While I was researching this article, I learned that a big box store near my office will match any price found on Amazon. All you have to do is present evidence of the lower-cost item at the register and the sales associate will adjust the price immediately. There’s no need to hunt someone down behind the customer service counter or stand in a second line.
Before I read that, I had that particular store pegged as overpriced. Now, I’m much more likely to shop there, because I know that, in addition to getting a good deal, I’ll be able to hold and inspect the item that interests me before I make a purchase — and enjoy the immediate gratification of in-store shopping instead of having to wait for shipping. The combination makes the store downright irresistible.
Price matching inspires trust
You’ve undoubtedly noticed students glancing back and forth between the prices on your shelves and the prices they’ve pulled up on a phone. When you offer price matching — and advertise it widely — they feel less compelled to check online offerings before they make a purchase. They trust the store will make prices competitive rather than exploit proximity to students.
Without price matching, students may see the tag on a new algebra book and immediately assume it must be cheaper elsewhere. Many aren’t accustomed to spending any amount of money on books. How could a boring, required text possibly be worth that much? Price matching circumvents the assumption that the store is gouging students from the outset.
Even with the advantages, many store directors worry that price matching will cut too deeply into revenue. It seems like a great risk, because you don’t know how many students will take you up on the offer. That wouldn’t be such a problem if, like a big box store, you were comparing prices on, say, coffee makers. The difference in cost between an appliance bought from an online retailer and one purchased at a brick-and-mortar discount store is likely to be small — a few dollars, maybe even just a few cents. But textbooks appear in the virtual marketplace at prices radically lower than the list price. Not many collegiate retailers can afford a slew of $100 rebates.
Towson University Store’s Stacy Elofir has offered price matching for years. According to her, stores don’t have to worry about too many students asking for refunds. In her experience, customers don't often turn up with requests. When they do, the small cost to the store is nothing compared to the business price matching secures.
“Out of the millions of dollars in books sales we do in the fall, I only had 32 price-match requests. 30 were accepted. Two were declined, because we were actually cheaper. Our margins were cut, but we didn’t lose money. And we gained customers,” Elofir said.
Given that stores don’t need to make big changes to introduce price matching, it might just be that the advantages outweigh the risks.