After a KARE 11 investigation and because of your feedback, changes are coming to the Target app. Watch the below video or if you're on the app, click here.
When you use store apps like Target’s, you expect that’s where you will find the best deals. After all, you're giving them access to your shopping habits and history, even your location.
But what if you weren't actually getting the lowest prices on those apps?
In a two-month investigation, that began with a concern from a viewer, KARE 11 found Target’s app changes its prices on certain items depending on if you are inside or outside of the store.
For instance, Target’s app price for a particular Samsung 55-inch Smart TV was $499.99, but when we pulled into the parking lot of the Minnetonka store that price suddenly increased to $599.99 on the app.
To test this further, we selected 10 products on the Target app at random, ranging from toys to bottled water to vacuum cleaners. We found that 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.
Even if you scan the bar codes of the products on the shelves, which Target suggests customers do to see Cartwheel coupon offers on the app, the app gives no indication that certain prices were far cheaper at Target.com.
In an emailed statement from Target, the company said "The Target app shows in-store pricing while in store, and online pricing while on the go. If a guest finds any item for a lower price across any of the ways they can shop Target, we'll price match it."
University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Marketing Professor George John believes there's a little more going on than that.
“That particular experiment reveals so many interesting facts about our retail environment,” said John. “Somebody at Target programmed in an algorithm which says someone who is 50 feet within the store is willing to pay more. 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. 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 inside 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. What Target does not clearly tell customers is it appears this function also triggers price changes as you approach the store.
Miranda Artz, an avid Target shopper, first noticed this while buying an electric shaver last spring.
“It was $99.99 in the store,” said Artz. “So I bought it.”
But when she walked out to her car, she noticed the product on her Target app now read $69.99.
She got out of the car and went back inside the store.
“By the time I had got to the front of the line with customer service, the app had gone back to $99.99,” said Artz.
She went back to her car again, and the price on the app switched again. This time she took a screenshot on her phone, showed it to customer service and received the discounted price.
She says the same thing happened a few weeks later when the price of a tent she saw on the app went up $40 dollars when she walked into the store.
“I think it's a little deceptive,” said Artz.
Customers can still go to Target.com inside the store to see online pricing but buyer beware... a Google search might not get you to the price you’re looking for.
For instance, a new Heyday brand iPhone case is listed at $19.99 in the store, and if you Google the same case and Target, the search results show the product listed for $14.99.
But when you click on that product expecting it to take you to Target.com, the Target app opens automatically showing, again, the in-store price of $19.99.
Artz said there was a time when Target’s app would alert you to a lower online price, if available, when you scanned a product in store. She said that seemed to change last spring.
Target would not confirm if it used to do this, nor would it confirm when its in-store vs. online price switches started taking effect on the app.
“You should meet the expectations of the customer. If the customer believes they are getting an in-store price, say it is the in-store price,” said John.
There is one quick and easy way to ensure your Target app does not switch any prices when you walk into the store. 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.” This switch will no longer permit the app to see your geolocation, and in this setting the app will always show the online prices of products, even if you are standing inside the store.
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.
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