WalMart is phasing out price matching while Amazon no longer has pre-order price guarantees. What does this mean for anime and manga shoppers?

Amazon and Walmart

If you follow deal sites and shopping news, you may have heard a lot about Amazon and Walmart recently. The two superstores both made headlines when they ended certain price protection policies. Are these announcements big deals? Should you care?

Amazon

Years ago, Amazon has something called a “post-order price guarantee”. If an item you ordered dropped within 30 days, you could contact them for a refund. Well, they eventually removed any mention of the guarantee from their site. However, it was unofficially (and, in some cases, officially) acknowledged that Amazon would provide post-order refunds within 7 days. So if you ordered something, and within a week the price was lowered, you could contact them for a refund of the difference.

At the beginning of May, people started reporting they were being rejected by Amazon’s customer service agents, claiming that only televisions were eligible for refunds. Amazon released a statement saying that this has been their policy for years, and any adjustments were done on a “just once” (a.k.a. “keep the customer happy”) basis.

Walmart

Meanwhile, Walmart may be going through an even-more severe shakeup. Starting June 9th, approximately 500 stores will cease price matching (also called “ad matching”). Instead, the chain says that prices will be lowered throughout the store. The Savings Catcher program will also continue. Savings Catcher allows customers to get a refund in the form of a Walmart gift card for certain products found in a competitor’s ad for a lower price.

Reactions

It can be hard sometimes to judge people’s reactions on the Internet. Are people really outraged, or is it just the loudest complaints being echoed? Here are the types of reactions I’ve seen across the Internet:

Amazon

“It’s people who waste Amazon’s time over a couple dollars that ruin it for everyone.”
“You were happy with the price when you ordered it. Suck it up.”
“It’s stupid. People are going to be doing a lot more returns now and cost Amazon more money.”
“You don’t pay more when the price goes up, so why should you pay less when the price goes down?”
“They have the best prices anyway, so no big deal.”
“It’s because of those new automatic refund apps.”
“It’s people’s fault if their stupid enough not to use a credit card with price protection.”

Walmart

“Yay! No more getting stuck behind people with carts full of stuff to price match!”
“What’s the point of shopping at Walmart now? I’ll go to the store with the sale or price match elsewhere.”
“Employees are not very consistent on the rules. I always have trouble anyways, so it doesn’t change anything for me.”
“The Savings Catcher already gets me a lot of money back.”
“Savings Catcher is useless since it doesn’t find matches for meat and produce.”
“It’s all because of the scammers who use fake ads.”

A Big Deal?

Some of you probably don’t care. Some of you may not price match at Walmart anyway, or you never thought it was worth your time to phone Amazon over a few dollars. Maybe you believe buying something is essentially a binding contract, so whether the price goes up or down, the sale is final. People are making mountains out of molehills, and only a few customers — many of them scammers or just plain annoying — will be affected.

I disagree.

Just before the news broke about Amazon, I ordered a smartwatch. I thought it was a good price, but I didn’t know if I really needed it. As I was browsing at the reviews, I noticed the price suddenly dropped by $15. This was only minutes after I placed my order. As I went to place a new order (and cancel the old one), the watch went out-of-stock. I emailed customer service, and the next morning I was greeted by the “we don’t offer post-order adjustments” email that has suddenly become popular. I ended up cancelling the watch at Amazon. Why should I pay more on an item that hasn’t even entered the shipping phase yet? That I should be financially punished for clicking buy on an item a few minutes before someone else?

The same thing happened to me recently at Walmart. I placed an order for an expansion for the game Tokaido. It seems to have gone out-of-print, and Walmart was the only store to still have it in stock. Well, three days later, the price dropped by over $4. I called and got my $4 back. Yes, it was already at the best price, but, to borrow a popular catchphrase, why pay more?

Anyone who shops at Amazon knows their prices fluctuate constantly. Take a look at this chart from the past month for the game Final Fantasy Explorers from Camel Camel Camel:

Price Drop Chart

Even though its current price is higher than it’s all-time low from about a week ago, it’s still the best price around. But with all these fluctuations, who’s to say it won’t drop another few dollars in a few days? A certain figure I want is cheaper from third-party sellers, but it’s still fulfilled by Amazon. If it’s $.50, $1, $2 cheaper, why would I pay Amazon when the same warehouse is going to send me my item anyway? It’s not like I’m protected if the price is lowered anyway.

Meanwhile, Walmart is my main store for grocery shopping, and it’s because of price matching. Walmart is half the distance for me than the next big chain store. So far, my store (or the next-closest Walmart) isn’t on the list to end price matching, but I suspect Walmart’s ultimate goal is to get rid of it at all stores; they’re just testing in case of extreme backlash. Without their ad match guarantee, Walmart really only has their claim of “everyday low prices”. Will they lower to prices on groceries to match in advance? Who knows. They don’t have digital coupons or even a weekly ad. Their Savings Catcher program doesn’t include produce or compares prices to smaller chains, so that feature doesn’t help many families.

This week, Meijer in my area is offering raspberries for $.77. You know how much they are at my local Walmart? $3.48. I have to travel twice the distance, but that’s a huge difference. I’m sure business analysts debate whether it’s better that Walmart sells me raspberries for over 75% off and hope I’ll add other items or me giving my money to their competitors and perhaps spending extra money there, but the lack of price matching definitely blunts Walmart’s appeal.

So What Does This Have to Do With Anime and Manga?

Take these examples for instance:

A) You want a certain anime Blu-ray. You buy from Amazon. Six days later, you notice the price has dropped by $10. You can either suck it up or pay to return the copy already shipped to you.

B) You want a certain anime Blu-ray. You buy from BestBuy.com. Six days later, you notice the price has dropped by $10. You can either contact BestBuy.com or go to your local Best Buy and get a refund of the difference. Or you can place a new order and just return to your local Best Buy to avoid return shipping.

C) You want a certain anime Blu-ray. You buy from Walmart and price match it to Amazon. Six days later, you notice the price on Amazon has dropped by $10. You go back and do a return/rebuy and get a refund of the difference.

“Well, how often does that happen!” you may claim. It just depends. One-Punch Man Volume 6 suddenly rose from $6.86 to $9.88 at the beginning of June before dropping back to $6.86. I’ve seen stories of high-priced cameras dropping $100 or more the very next day. Prices do change. If you buy from Best Buy, for example, you have 15 days to check for price drops (up to 30 and 45 days for Elite members). Amazon? 0.

It’s also pretty silly from a business perspective. Even if Amazon changed the policy to give you credit instead of money back, that’s money for users to spend. But it definitely doesn’t cost $100 to refuse delivery on an item, and Amazon is potentially stuck paying return shipping and selling it as a used item. If Amazon is going to charge restocking fees (which some customer service agents have claimed, according to some users), others worry that unhappy buyers will purposely damage a product to avoid surcharges. Easily returning to stores is a big reason buyers turn to the big box stores to match Amazon’s prices. For those who only shop online anyway, Jet gives you 30 days to return an item, and return shipping is free.

How about this:

You want a certain anime Blu-ray. You are a young fan still in school. You receive a $50 gift card to Walmart for your birthday. It costs $70 there, but it’s only $40 at Amazon.

In this case, if your store is ending price matching, you can either pay the difference out of your own pocket or try to sell/trade your gift card for Amazon credit. If you or someone in your household doesn’t have Prime, you also need to find money to buy something else for free shipping ($49).

If Walmart ends price matching, then you can bet other stores will be reconsidering their policies. Why should Best Buy or Target match prices if Walmart isn’t going to? These two stores also have lower free shipping thresholds, so you could get that Blu-ray shipped for free (or use Walmart’s pickup option if eligible.) If the stores end price matching, then you could be stuck either paying Amazon’s lower price and having to order more than you really want for free shipping or paying the higher price but getting free shipping at other stores. Sure, there are many other stores that sell anime and manga, but those stores may not always be an option.

Final Thoughts

For some of you, you may not find either change a big deal. You found an item you want, you paid, and you’re not going to bother with comparison shopping before or after your purchase. For me, for each dollar saved, that means another dollar to spend on another title. More titles sold = more money for companies = more money for new series.

So, what do you think of these changes at Amazon and Walmart? Will either change affect your buying habits?