SnipSnap wants to be the price-match ruler of rules

It says something really bad that a company can make a living interpreting retail price-match rules

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There's something very black-coal-in-your-stocking about having a price-match policy that is 90% exceptions and exemptions. Your lawyers may think it is protecting you, but the only practical impact is that it associates your brand far more with declining a price match than agreeing to one.

The impact? Shoppers are discouraged from even trying your price match, which means you are losing more sales to rivals than you need to. The whole point of price matching is to preserve revenue, possibly at a cost of very slightly reduced margin. If you don't want to price match, that's fine, but saying that you're matching and then exempting almost everything you sell is ludicrous.

But at least one company has figured out a way to make money from your evilness. SnipSnap, of converting paper coupons to digital coupons fame, rolled out a mobile app Wednesday (Dec. 16) that leverages a database of the price-match rules of 350 major retailers, including every Fortune 500 retailer, such as Target, Best Buy, Toys R Us, Home Depot and Walmart.

The way it works is a shopper uses the app to identify an item of interest and the database searches for any retailer for which this price match would be covered and then displays what the matching offer would be. It also displays other retailers selling that item for less. But the price-comparison part is so 1999. It's the encyclopedia of retail price-match exclusions that makes this SnipSnap move interesting.

"Most complaints center on how confusing and frustrating it can be to decipher the rules. Price matching may the best way to score a deal, but you need to scour pages of legalese, search dozens of websites, and print out or save webpages to have a shot," said SnipSnap CEO Ted Mann.

Mann cites the price-match policy at Sears as a good example of tortured prose: "If you find a lower online price on an identical brand and model number currently available from a local competitor’s retail store honoring its own online price and the item is currently available for sale and delivery in your area, Sears will match the price of the merchandise." For you Trekkies out there, it sounds like the retail price-match version of Fizzbin.

Some especially daunting price-match elements: Which local retailers does this chain consider a competitor, for price-match purposes? Is this one of the chains that matches its own online price, or is it not? Is this a store that excludes Amazon? Has that changed in the last week? How do they determine if the store still has inventory? Do they assume that the website's inventory checker is accurate?

The real intent behind these convoluted price-match arrangements seems to be to discourage shoppers from even trying, hopefully getting them to just accept your price and avoid the inevitable hassle.

Another nice potential use of the SnipSnap feature, which is called Scout, is to argue with store associates. With rules this complicated and frequently changed, what are the chances that all associates will precisely master all of the rules and execute them in a consistent manner? What if the employee is a holiday temp?

As opposed to citing a rival's mobile site as proof — which even the youngest and greenest store associate will know enough to suspect — this will allow consumers to cite an independent app that prides itself on mastery of retail price-match minutia. Shoppers may not win every argument, but if it even improves the odds slightly, it's worth a try.

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