By Kelli B. Grant and Sarah Whitten
Consumers’ misuse of Wal-Mart’s price match program isn’t limited to the PlayStation 4. But shoppers may find it’s no longer so easy to replicate the feat.
After Wal-Mart announced Nov. 13 that it would price match select online retailers, including Amazon.com, several customers used the program to buy $400 PlayStation 4 consoles for under $100 using fake Amazon listings. Twitter and Reddit users posted pictures of receipts documenting PS4 prices as cheap as $90.
“Sounds like Wal-Mart needs to trust, but verify,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of advocacy site ConsumerWorld.org.
CNBC.com spotted more evidence of the fraud on Twitter Wednesday, including more pictures of receipts for $90 PS4s and others for a $100 Xbox One console and games.
But several users also tweeted (unverified) pictures indicating stores are starting to pay attention. One showed an in-store sign stating that Amazon.com PS4 ad matches will no longer be accepted “due to fraud.” Another user’s picture showed updated match requirements, including listings sold and fulfilled by Amazon and verification for any “huge” price differences.
Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But in an unfortunately timed announcement, the retailer said Wednesday that starting Nov. 21, it will match or beat select Black Friday offers from competitors—including one on the PlayStation 4. (It did not detail which retailer, or price, it would be matching.)
As CNBC.com reported earlier, any Amazon member with a registered selling account can create a product sale listing. Perpetuating the fraud requires only a screen capture of the listing to be shown at checkout to request the price match. Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about that capability.
Wal-Mart is no stranger to price match scams. Last year, residents in Michigan and Pennsylvania were arrested after they abused the retailer’s price match and coupon policies. They used high-value coupons on lower-cost items, netting cash “overages” under the policy.
Usually, it’s not so easy to claim a price match. “It is generally a hassle because usually either the store clerk or the cashier is not authorized to approve the price match,” said Dworsky. “You have to call over the store manager or a supervisor.”
That’s one reason it’s rare to see shoppers making fraudulent matches, said Brent Shelton, a spokesman for deal forum FatWallet.com. “It takes a little work,” he said. “You have to know what you’re doing.”
More common, he said, is taking advantage of temporary retailer loopholes, like a pricing error or vague policy wording.
It’s only in the past year or so that stores have even begun accepting online prices for price matching offers, but it’s usually a select list of retailers rather than a blanket online match. (In 2013, Target announced it would expand its policy to include Amazon.com, Walmart.com and others.) “The concern is, prices have a tendency to be cheaper online,” added Dworsky.