Price, set, match: Target's new weapon to beat 'key online retailers'

It looks like Target is going to try to beat Amazon at its own game.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

The easy marriage of bargain basement prices with an incredibly easy-to-use mobile app has made Amazon an ideal outlet for holiday shopping.

At least for some people.

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    Many people are becoming familiar with the following process: A person strolls into a brick-and-mortar store, eventually finding an item that sparks desire in one's heart but there's not enough to spare in one's wallet.

    An easy remedy would be to flip out one's smartphone, open the Amazon Price Check app, and scan the barcode for an instant price comparison. More often than not, Amazon has the lower price.

    Of course, Amazon isn't alone in this field. For instance, eBay's RedLaser barcode and QR code scanner does the same thing except that it offers results from a whole myriad of shops, both online and in the real world.

    But given that Amazon only displays search results for, well, Amazon, it's an easy target for opponents.

    Nevertheless, for anyone on a tight budget (which is arguably most consumers these days), it's easy to see the appeal in this option, which has become known as "showrooming."

    A recent study from mobile marketing firm Vibessuggests that the showrooming trend has gone fully mainstream in just one year. Based on a survey of 1,000 smartphone owners, researchers found that there has been a 156 percent jump with consumers who purchased a product from a competitor while in a retail store.

    But there are a number of reasons that showrooming has drawn ire from consumers and other retailers alike. For one, many critics have argued that this practice harms the business vitality of small and local businesses -- a resistance movement that Amazon must be familiar with by now.

    But even other big box retailers aren't terribly pleased with how showrooming is effectively becoming monopolized.

    Target, one of biggest discount retailers in country, looks like it is maneuvering to beat Amazon at its own game while also drawing upon some tried-and-true sales strategies from pre-digital days.

    Without specifically naming Amazon but rather referring to "key online retailers," Target's technical architect consultant Ari Olson explained in a blog post this week that the Minneapolis-headquartered chain "needed to create a tool that would let Target store teams easily verify and check online prices."

    Essentially, Target employees will be showrooming themselves on behalf of customers, promising a price match guarantee on "qualifying items."

    Not only could these customers be getting an instant discount, but they'll also be able to take home their purchases home instantly too -- another way to beat Amazon, which is still somewhat held back from providing instant gratification, to the punch.

    According to Olson, Target developed a custom iPad app neatly named "Price Match," with Olson stressing how astounding it was that this app was produced within a matter of weeks. Ready for the onslaught of shoppers on Black Friday next week, Target has shipped out 2,500 iPads to its stores nationwide with the Price Match app pre-installed.

    The last official count of Target stores left the grand total at 1,778 brick-and-mortar locations scattered across the United States alone, meaning chances are shoppers will be able to find an employee somewhere on the store floor with these resources.

    Best Buy, which has had a tougher time catching up in response to e-commerce trends, is also experimenting with something similar.

    CEO Hubert Joly referred to "floor space optimization initiatives" during the electronics seller's third quarter earnings call on Tuesday, which include equipping store employees with "new tablet-based tools that allow them to access online resources to aid customers wherever they may be on the retail sales floor."

    However, the details here are fuzzier -- a stark contrast to Target, which is not only using its new app as a resource for employees but also as an advertising mechanism to get more shoppers in stores.

    But only time, consisting of a shorter holiday shopping window, will tell how fruitful these tactics can be.

    Image via Target

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