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Target to price-match online rivals permanently

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NEW YORK -- Target Corp. said Tuesday that its pledge to match prices of select online rivals this past holiday season is now a year-round promise.

The second largest discounter behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the U.S. said it will match prices that customers find on identical products at top online retailers, all the time.

The online list includes Amazon.com as well as the websites of Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us.

Target's holiday price-match program with online retailers began Nov. 1 and ended Dec. 16. Target is also making permanent its holiday offer of matching prices of items found at its stores with those on its website.

And for the first time it will include products that are out of stock on Target.com .

The moves follow a disappointing holiday shopping season for the Minneapolis-based retailer, hurt by stiffer competition from online rivals and stores such as Wal-Mart that have hammered its low prices.

It's also the latest step from brick-and-mortar stores to combat "showrooming" -- a growing trend for customers to browse their stores to check out products, and then go online to buy the same products for less elsewhere.

Mark Schindele, Target senior vice-president of merchandising operations, noted the discounter monitors prices of 30,000 items, and thousands more online, to make sure it's competitive.

But Target says it had to do more to give shoppers more confidence. "We believe that our prices are competitive year-round," Schindele said. "We also know that our guests shop in many ways."

It wasn't immediately clear if Target will offer the same policy to Canadian consumers when it opens its doors for the first time in Canada in March. The expansion, the first for the retail giant outside of the U.S., will see between 125 to 135 locations spring up at former Zellers stores, including four in Winnipeg.

Target is spending about $10 million per store in upgrades, and at some locations will be tripling the existing square-footage space.

The move by the U.S. discount giant is being called one of the most hotly-anticipated expansions into Canada since Wal-Mart opened its doors north of the border two decades ago. It has other Canadian retailers scrambling to figure out how to compete with another major player in an already-competitive market for consumer dollars.

A spokeswoman said Tuesday it's too soon to tell whether the Canadian subsidiary will adopt the price-matching policy.

In the U.S., many major stores already offer price-matching guarantees for local competitors' brick-and-mortar stores, but it wasn't until this past holiday season the focus was on matching online prices. That can be difficult, since online prices tend to be lower and fluctuate often.

Joel Bines, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners, praised recent moves.

"Retailers have finally gotten the message," he said. "You can't put an impediment between consumers and consumption." But he said that the policies can backfire, noting the move could turn out to be "profit-draining" as more people are encouraged to shop the web to get the lowest price.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 B8

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