MINNEAPOLIS — Target changed its app Wednesday night after a KARE 11 investigation found certain prices on the app switched when customers entered the parking lot of Target stores.
An updated version of the retailer’s app now clearly says either “online” or “in-store” next to the price of every product on the app.
"We appreciate the feedback we recently received on our approach to pricing within the Target app," said a Target spokesperson in an emailed statement to KARE 11. "We’ve made a number of changes within our app to make it easier to understand pricing and our price match policy."
Our two-month investigation began with a concern from a viewer who bought an electric razor for $99.99 in a Target store but found the same product switched on the app to $69.99 once she returned to her car.
To test this further, we selected 10 products on the Target app at random, ranging from toys to bottled water to vacuum cleaners. When we entered the store, four of the 10 products jumped up in price on the app.
An Apple Watch band went up $2, a Shark vacuum went up $40, a Graco child car seat jumped $72 and a Dyson vacuum shot up $148 on the app while inside the store.
Our list of 10 items was a total of $262 cheaper in the back of the parking lot on the app with no indication that the prices had changed.
Target maintained its app reflected “in-store prices while in store and online prices while on the go.”
University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management marketing professor George John believes there's a little more going on than that.
“The most reasonable explanation is that you just revealed your commitment to buying the product, you're in the store, or in the parking lot,” said John. “If you are further away, you haven't quite committed, so I'm going to give you a juicier deal. That's why the price went up when you got closer to the store.”
How does Target know when you are near the store?
When you download the Target app, it asks you if it can access your location. Enabling this allows you to see stores near you, and when you are inside a store it will show you where to go for specific items and deals. This function also appears to trigger price changes as you approach the store.
After the original story aired, comments poured in.
Jared Horn said on Facebook, “Target needs to fix this immediately. Perception is reality.”
Some viewers shared similar experiences and confusion with the Target app.
“This just happened to me this week!” said Alicia Filipi Gagner on Facebook. “I refused to pay more in store when I knew it was cheaper online. So I left, ordered the item for pickup, and got it 30 mins later for 15% cheaper and I didn’t even have to get out of the car.”
Target said its updated app will still change certain prices when a customer walks into a store, even if they are now clearly labeled.
One way to always see online prices—regardless of your geolocation—is by turning off the app’s access to your location.
On the iPhone: In the app, click on your name icon in the bottom right of the screen and scroll down to “app settings.” Click “Location” and switch it to “Never.”
On the Android: Go to apps on your phone and scroll down to Target. Click that and go to permissions and turn off location.
KARE 11 performed the same app tests at Macy’s, Best Buy and Walmart.
All of these retailers’ apps ask permission to know your location, but our results show none of them alter prices on the app when you walk inside the store.
In a statement, a Best Buy spokesperson said, “We actually have price parity between BestBuy.com and stores, except in a very small number of promotions over the course of the year. If there is a difference, we match BestBuy.com prices on in-store purchases and in-store prices on BestBuy.com purchases as part of our Price Match Guarantee.”
Best Buy’s app goes into “store mode” when you enter the store, offering certain features around the inventory, but the spokesperson said the app does not switch prices by geolocation.
We did not receive comments from Macy’s or Walmart.