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Price Protection Report: Credit Cards Shielding You From Price Drops

PRICE PROTECTIONThe combination of recession-reduced budgets, intense competition in the retail space, and tried-and-true consumer price sensitivity has fostered an environment in which price-match guarantees are something of a staple. Most of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers – think Walmart, Best Buy and Toys”R”Us – use price matching to avoid serving as showrooms for Internet giants like Amazon.com. It’s also a direct reflection of consumer preferences, as 21% of shoppers request a price match when they encounter prices in a store that they feel are too high, according to Cognizant’s Shopper Experience Study, while 19% leave and look for a lower price online. Furthermore, 29% of people said that price matching by store associates is their top priority for store improvement.

As much as people love price matching at the point of sale, the ability to make a purchase knowing that you’re guaranteed to get the best price that comes available in the next 60-90 days would have to be pretty mind-blowing. That power may already lie in our wallets, believe it or not. Much like they provide rental car insurance, extended product warranties and purchase protection, many credit cards also provide price matching programs. While these programs vary by card, they generally enable consumers to receive a refund when they purchase an item and soon after submit proof of a lower price available elsewhere. Such an option is extremely important in the contemporary retail environment, considering how frequently merchants seem to hold sales.

Still, differences in these policies as well as the circumstances in which we must avail ourselves of them necessitate a closer investigation into what our cards have to offer. That’s exactly what CardHub did, examining the price protection policies of the 10 largest credit card issuers and ultimately scoring their effectiveness. Check out our findings below.

Main Findings

  • The Best Credit Cards for Price Protection Benefits are:
    1. All Chase Cards (87% overall score)
    2. All Discover Cards (84% overall score)
    3. USAA American Express and USAA MasterCard (78% overall score)
  • More than half (53%) of consumer credit cards (excluding co-branded, student and business cards) have a price protection program, up from 49% last year.

 

Price Protection Benefit by Issuer

 

U.S. Bank and American Express do not offer a price protection program with any of their credit cards.
  • As is the case with Return Extension policies, jewelry is the type of item to which price protection policies most commonly do not apply.
  • Price protection works pretty much the same for most issuers – consumers have to notify the issuer of a price drop – with the exception of Citi, which requires customers to proactively register items in return for automatic price monitoring.
  • Most of the issuers that offer price protection provide coverage for 60 days, but Barclaycard and USAA (on its MasterCard and American Express cards) go all the way up to 120 days.
  • Cardholders must keep their purchase receipt and provide a dated, printed advertisement showing a lower price for an item in order to be eligible for a refund of the price difference.
  • Consumers should be on the lookout for fine print that limits the number of claims that can be submitted in one calendar year to 4, as 17% of credit cards do so.

The Coverage You Can Expect

 

Example of a Standard Policy Best Policy
Sign Up No sign up or product registration required
Type Of Coverage If an item you purchased with your credit card is advertised at a lower price, you can claim a refund for the price difference
Covered Items Clothes, shoes, electronics, computers and certain other items
Exclusions Perishables, jewelry, on-sale items and certain other purchases Perishables, jewelry and certain other purchases
Coverage Limit Per Item $250 per eligible item $500 per eligible item
Annual Coverage Limit Up to $1,000 per account Up to $2,500 per account
Price Protection Period 60 days from the date of purchase 90 days from the date of purchase
Annual Claims Limit 4 No limit
Claims Limit On Items Purchased As A Set No limit
Claims Process Filing a claim requires a copy of the original itemized sales receipt and a dated, printed advertisement with the reduced price for an identical item
Cards Offering This Type Of Policy Capital One Platinum All Chase Cards
Full Policy Details Capital One Price Protection Policy Chase Price Protection Policy

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Detailed Scoring

 

Issuers not represented in the chart do not have any cards offering the benefit. If only certain cards from an issuer are listed, it is because the rest of the issuer’s cards do not offer the benefit.

 

Sign Up Covered Items Price
Protection Period
Claims Transparency Total Score
Maximum Points 10% 45% 20% 15% 10% 100%
All Chase Cards 10% 39% 15% 15% 8% 87%
All Discover Cards 10% 37% 15% 13% 9% 84%
USAA American Express 10% 24% 20% 14% 10% 78%
USAA MasterCard 10% 24% 20% 14% 10% 78%
All Barclaycard Cards 10% 24% 20% 15% 9% 78%
All Citi Cards 10% 27% 10% 15% 10% 72%
Wells Fargo Cash Back 10% 26% 10% 15% 10% 71%
Wells Fargo Home Rebate 10% 26% 10% 15% 10% 71%
Wells Fargo Visa 10% 26% 10% 15% 10% 71%
Wells Fargo Rewards 10% 24% 10% 15% 10% 69%
Capital One QuicksilverOne 10% 24% 10% 14% 10% 68%
Capital One Platinum 10% 24% 10% 14% 10% 68%
USAA Visa 10% 24% 10% 14% 10% 68%
Bank of America Better Balance Rewards 10% 24% 10% 15% 4% 63%

The following cards do not offer price protection:

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Ask The Experts

We took an even deeper look at the practice of price matching, turning to a panel of experts in the fields of retail and consumer studies for insights on issues ranging from the value of price matching for retailers to whether or not price monitoring is worthwhile to the consumer. You can check out the experts we consulted, the questions we asked them, and their responses below.

  1. To what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?
  2. Does leveraging a price protection policy (one that enables you to monitor and act on price changes after you buy) tend to be worth a consumer’s effort (e.g. price monitoring) when all is said and done?
  3. How do price match guarantees impact consumer habits?
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Ian Alam

Associate Professor of Marketing, State University of New York at GeneseoTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

There are two types of price match:
  1. A store will match the prices of their competitors.
  2. A store will match their own price if the price drops within a week or 10 days.
Both of the above price match guarantees are here to stay. The reasons is internet and digital marketing. The retailers such as Amazon, Zappos and now Alibaba.com have changed the retailing landscape drastically. The brick and mortar stores were not offering price match for online retailers but now they have changed the policy. In particular, Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart stores will now match prices from some online competitors – including Amazon – and from their own websites. That’s a big change.

In the past, most retailers excluded their own web prices from their price match policies – something that infuriated customers who couldn’t understand why. Walmart has become the leader in price matching. It will now match prices from 30 online sites – including Best Buy, Kohl’s, Sears, Target and Toys "R" Us – as well as prices on its own website.

Customers are shopping with “bytes” and they are looking at shopping bots to compare the best prices. They are playing wait and see game, i.e., when the price will drop? If a retailer wants their business it must offer price match guarantee. The customers will be at ease placing the order knowing if the price drops they will not be disadvantaged. Due to internet and shopping bots such as shopping.com, kayak.com, etc., the customers have become much more powerful and smart.

The price match guarantee will allow the customers to complete their purchase now rather than wait for a later date. It is extremely important that a retailer starts the price match guarantee. Typically the duration is 7 days, but I believe 14 days could be a better option. The implicit message sent to shoppers is that the store is looking out for them.
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Monika Kukar-Kinney

Professor of Marketing and F. Carlyle Tiller Chair in Business in the Robins School of Business at University of RichmondTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

A price-matching guarantee serves as a pre-purchase signal of low prices to less price sensitive consumers, so they may stop searching for a lower price elsewhere. However, the more price sensitive consumers typically do not really on it as a price signal to the same degree and are likely to do their own legwork to determine the lowest price available. Thus, price-matching guarantees are especially effective in attracting purchases of less price sensitive consumers. Moreover, the wider the scope of the policy (the more competitors, the more products it covers), the more beneficial consumers’ response and the more likely the customer will return to the store.

Interestingly, the less price sensitive consumers rely on these policies to a large degree as signals for low prices and often do not check for lower prices after the purchase.

The more price sensitive consumers, on the other hand, use such policies differently - primarily to protect them in case they find a lower price after the purchase. They may actively monitor competitive prices after the purchase, and should they find a lower price, they will come to see the refund for the price difference.

What about purchase protection plans that act as insurance against theft or accidental damage?

Purchase protections plans work in a different way. They do not protect the consumer against the retailer’s own action (lowering the price after a consumer has purchased) or competitive actions, but rather against perceived “uncontrollable” events on the consumer side. As such, they primarily appeal to the more risk-averse consumers. They do represent an effective strategy for the retailers, especially on the high ticket items. The retailers can offer such programs as opt-in and they allow them to effectively discriminate between the more and less risk-averse consumer segments.

Does leveraging a price protection policy (one that enables you to monitor and act on price changes after you buy) tend to be worth a consumer’s effort (e.g. price monitoring) when all is said and done?

This depends on the consumer. As mentioned above, price sensitive consumers place higher importance (than not price sensitive consumers) on finding the lowest price and are willing to spend the time and effort to make sure that they are getting it. It is not just the price savings that they are after, but also the feelings of being a smart shopper and experiencing pleasure and /or price at knowing that they had received a good deal. This psychological satisfaction is perhaps even more important to them than potentially saving a few dollars by taking advantage of the price- matching policy.

How do price match guarantees and purchase protection plans impact consumer habits?

Price-matching guarantees impact consumers by attracting them to the store and causing them to terminate their price search ahead of the purchase, as they signal low price levels. Rarely do they stimulate additional price search after the purchase, even though it does happen for the more price conscious consumers and when the retailer does not only offer to match, but rather to beat any lower price. This additional benefit represents extra savings, so may encourage the price sensitive consumers to actively search after purchase in order to be able to take advantage of it.

Protection plans provide consumers with a peace of mind guarantee in case of unforeseen events that the consumer cannot control.
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Wilfred Amaldoss

Thomas A. Finch Jr. Professor in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke UniversityTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

When competing retailers offer price matching guarantees, the effective price that a consumer pays is the lowest price of all the retailers in the market. Now if retailers do not have the same cost structure, those retailers with a higher cost structure will lose margins and profits, and over time will not have the resources to invest in the business. However, the retailer with the lowest cost structure can gain sales if it chooses to compete on price. It can also use price matching guarantee to help prevent other retailers from cutting their prices aggressively.

Does leveraging a price protection policy (one that enables you to monitor and act on price changes after you buy) tend to be worth a consumer’s effort (e.g. price monitoring) when all is said and done?

To avail the benefits of a price protection policy, consumers typically need to monitor market prices and provide the retailer with supporting evidence about any price discrepancy. When purchasing a product, consumers assume that they could effortlessly monitor prices and are hence lured by price protection policies. In reality, however, a very small fraction of consumers ( say 15-30%) do actually invest the time and energy to monitor prices and avail the benefits of price protection.

How do price match guarantees impact consumer habits?

If implemented well, these guarantees may help consumers to focus more attention on the benefits of the products (rather than the price). It would also increase store loyalty.
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Roger Beahm

Full Professor of Practice in Marketing at the Wake Forest University School of BusinessTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

A price-match guarantee is quite effective for retailers because it is a way they can add credibility to a claim of low pricing. In retail, as in other areas of marketing, most people make claims. Unless these claims are both (1) meaningful, and (2) believable, they often don’t generate much response. A claim of “lowest price” is substantive, and can attract attention and interest. It can also turn into an increased customer base and higher sales volume.

The price-match guarantee therefore adds an important “reason why” people can believe the claim. It says, “If you don’t believe it, just try it.” And the use of that credibility device – i.e., a demonstration – can be the “tipping point” that moves customers from “interested” to “persuaded.”

Does leveraging a price protection policy (one that enables you to monitor and act on price changes after you buy) tend to be worth a consumer’s effort (e.g. price monitoring) when all is said and done?

The answer to this depends on three things: (a) the price you paid for the item you bought, (b) the amount of money to be gained by exercising the policy, and (c) how much you value your time – not just exercising a claim, but even thinking about it. Since there are time limits associated with these price-protection policies, you don’t want to become too preoccupied in monitoring. But for bigger ticket items (and again, the exact value of this will vary from customer to customer), monitoring prices the first few weeks after a major purchase makes sense if the item was purchased through a means that has a price-protection policy associated with it.

How do price match guarantees impact consumer habits?

Price-match guarantees are really credibility devices that make claims believable. Consumers are more likely to be persuaded by a retailer that offers a price-match guarantee than one who simply claims the “lowest price.” That persuasion typically turns into higher store traffic and increased sales at the cash register.
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P.K. Kannan

Ralph J. Tyser Professor Of Marketing Science in the Robert H. Smith School Of Business at University Of MarylandTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

A price match guarantee is generally a better strategy than across the board price cuts to match competitors' prices. Price cuts may lead to price wars and erosion in profits while price match guarantees ensures that price-conscious customers self-select themselves to take advantage of the price match. As this percentage is generally lower than giving a price match to all customers, this strategy enables retailers to compete for those deal prone customers instead of destroying margins on all customers and products.

The overall effectiveness also depends on a few factors, such as your own assortment of products and how they compare with competitors'. If the overlap is high, more customers can benefit through their self-selection to avail themselves of the discount opportunity. But if overlap is not high, it might end up being a little more than a marketing gimmick.

Does leveraging a price protection policy (one that enables you to monitor and act on price changes after you buy) tend to be worth a consumer’s effort (e.g. price monitoring) when all is said and done?

It depends on how price-sensitive the customer is. Generally when retailers provide such protections they expect the more deal-prone customers to check prices, and if they find better prices then to take advantage of the price protection. In doing so they might keep the prices a bit higher for all customers as compared to competition, and if that is the case price monitoring might help customers. Alternatively retailers may use price protection as a signal to indicate that they have low prices and may set fairly low prices, in which case price monitoring may not pay off much. In general, since this varies from retailer to retailer, it is something that customers have to find out empirically by monitoring and testing whether it pays off.

How do price match guarantees impact consumer habits?

Price match guarantees act as a signal of low prices and so the customers might search less for better prices after they visit the retailer and it may help retailers to "close the deal".
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Ravi Dhar

George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing & Director of the Center for Customer Insights at Yale School of ManagementTo what extent is a price match guarantee an effective strategy for a retailer?

Price matching strategies can actually lead to higher prices for very different reasons. From the viewpoint of economics, price-matching guarantees can reduce price competition as they reduce competitors from trying to gain share by lowering price. Psychologically, price matching creates a "peace of mind" that minimizes the feeling of paying too much that often delays purchase. Because many shoppers don't search as much before after having purchased a product, many of these retailers may or may not offer the lowest price. It also works best in categories where people often postpone choice thinking they will look for a better price when they are less busy.

Methodology

The data used in this report is based on public disclosures regarding the price protection policies of the 10 largest issuers of consumer credit cards in the United States. Co-branded, student and business credit cards were not evaluated. Only online offers were evaluated. In situations where policies were incomplete or unclear, we contacted the issuer directly, requested verification, and proceeded to update the report as needed.

Each individual card was scored according to the following criteria:

1. Sign Up – Worth 10% Total

  • If there is no sign-up requirement = 10%
  • If product registration is required but price reduction is tracked automatically by the company = 10%
  • If there is a onetime sign-up requirement = 5%
  • If there is an annual sign up requirement = 2%
  • If each product needs to be registered and price reduction needs to be tracked manually by the consumer = 0%

2. Coverage – Worth 45% Total
A. Coverage & Exclusions – Worth 20%

  • For each Major category of items excluded from coverage, we subtracted 6%
  • For each minor category of items excluded from coverage, we subtracted 2%
  • Issuers are deducted a maximum of 20% points, even if their exclusions add up to more issuers only lose 20% points

B. Coverage Limit Per Item – Worth 15%

  • $500+ = 15%
  • $400 – $499 = 12%
  • $300 – $399 = 9%
  • $200 – $299 = 6%
  • $100 – $199 = 3%
  • Less than $100 = 0%

C. Annual Coverage Limit – Worth 10%

  • $2,000+ = 10%
  • $1,500 – $1,999 = 8%
  • $1,000- $1,499 = 6%
  • Less than $1,000 = 0%

3. Price Protection Period – Worth 20% Total

  • 120+ days = 20%
  • 90 – 119 days = 15%
  • 60 – 89 days = 10%
  • 30 – 59 days = 5%
  • Less than 30 days = 0%

4. Claims – Worth 15% Total
A. Annual Claims Limit – Worth 5%

  • 5+ claims = 5%
  • 4 claims = 4%
  • 3 claims = 3%
  • 2 claims = 2%
  • 1 claim = 0%

B. Claims – Worth 5%

  • If filing a claim requires only 1) a product receipt, 2) a credit card statement and 3) either a dated ad OR a statement from a store documenting the details of the lower price = 5%
  • If filing a claim requires a 1) product receipt, 2) a credit card statement, 3) a dated ad and 4) a statement from the store documenting the details of the lower price = 2.5%
  • If filing a claim requires a 1) product receipt, 2) a credit card statement, 3) a dated ad, 4) a statement from the store documenting the details of the lower price, and 5) any additional documentation = 0%

C. Claims Limit On Items Purchased As A Set – Worth 5%

  • 5+ items = 5%
  • 4 items = 4%
  • 3 items = 3%
  • 2 items = 2%
  • 1 item = 0%

5. Transparency Score – Worth 10%
A. How easily can one find the info? – Worth 3%

  • Information is prominent on issuer website = 3%
  • Information is not prominent on issuer website; or it is prominent, but users need to log in to see the full disclosure = 1.5%
  • Information cannot be easily found on website = 0%

B. How easy it is to read the info? – Worth 1%

  • Information is presented in normal-size font = 1%
  • Information is in small-size font = 0%

C. How complete are the policies provided? – Worth 4%

  • Full policy provided = 4%
  • A couple of key points missing from policy = 3%
  • Part of policy provided = 2%
  • Benefits briefly described = 0.5%
  • No key details provided = 0%

D. How open and transparent are card issuers about the policies? – Worth 2%

  • Transparent about policies = 2%
  • Not transparent about policies = 0%

Scores are determined based on our opinion of how each price protection policy compares to a theoretical ideal policy. An ideal policy is one based on common sense for which a consumer knows all of the most important information without having to delve into the fine print.

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