By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

Twenty years is a long time in the entertainment industry, and if you were watching television sometime between the Everly Brothers warbling “Crying in the Rain” (1962)  and John Mellencamp belting out “Hurts So Good” (1982), then you probably saw Gene Rayburn host a show called “The Match Game.”

There were several different versions during the 20 years the game show aired but it essentially worked like this: A contestant and a panel of B-list celebrities were given a question and secretly wrote down their answer. The contestant scored points based on how many celebs matched his or her answer. The more matches, the better the odds of winning the game.

These days in our retail world you may find yourself playing a “Match Game” of sorts. It’s when shoppers come into your store asking you to match a price from another merchandise supplier.

Despite some in-depth research that consisted of checking Wikipedia, Google and eating a cookie, I could not determine when price matching started. It probably was around the first half of the last century when gas stations started posting their prices (18 cents a gallon?). As we cruised through the 1950s and 1960s, and merchandise and the money to pay for it was widely available, price shopping and matching became more prevalent.

At first retailers only had to worry about the shop down the street. Next came those darned 800 number lines, then big-box stores, and now people can check prices on their iFruit phone while sitting in your showroom.

No matter the weather, you may be crying in the rain every time your shopper wants to take advantage of your local service, expertise, inventory and delivery — but pay the same price that’s posted on some cyber store. You can curse the online retailer, or you can use your selling skills to win the sale and salvage some margin.

Imagine you decide to buy one of those fancy mondo-tractor lawnmowers to keep your 100′ x 100′ hunk of heaven well-trimmed. You know the model you want and shop two places. Your first stop is Farm & Home Superstore where the price is $3,600. You tell the clerk that you want to visit one more store and she tells you no matter where you go, she will match any price.

Next stop is Seed & Feed Country Market. Right there at the front (barn) door is the same exact brand and model and it’s only $3,400!

What do you do? Flash your credit card at Seed & Feed or go back to the superstore and ask them to match price?

I’ve asked a similar question to over 500 retail store owners, managers, salespeople and my ever-lovin’ bride. And almost all tell me they would just buy it at Seed & Feed, because it saves time and it’s silly to drive back to another store just to get the same price.

But here’s the harder question: Under what circumstances would you go back to Farm & Home and ask them to match price?

After some deep reflection, here’s what people say would get them to go back:

•    Seed & Feed doesn’t have the lawnmower in stock, and it will take too long to get

•    The tractor at Seed & Feed is a floor sample

•    The tractor at Seed & Feed is damaged

•    Seed & Feed charges more for delivery

•    I didn’t like the credit terms at Seed & Feed

•    Seed & Feed charges extra for set up and assembly

•    I don’t trust that Seed & Feed will meet my needs

All good reasons! And while the product is the same, in each case something is different. Even if your shopper tells you they prefer to shop locally but want a better price, what that really means is they don’t trust the online retailer or box store to fulfill their needs as well as you can.

Grabbing back the sale from an online or chain-store competitor can be fun. Check out this easy-to-remember dialogue:

Shopper: I want to buy this $1,299 item from you, but I saw it elsewhere for $999.

Salesperson: Wow! $999 for this item. Are you sure it’s the same model?

Shopper (with printout of ad/webpage): Yes, here is the store and item.

Salesperson: That’s a heck of a deal. Why didn’t you buy it?

Shopper: They’re out of stock for a month (or any of the other reasons listed earlier).

In my old selling days, I would just smile and reply “Yep, our price is $999 when we can’t get it too!” But times have changed. Now we can reason with the customer and explain the differences in availability, service, product condition or cost of financing.

The fact is, you may not be able to retain your full selling price, but you also don’t have to cave in to losing all of your retail margin either. Explain that you are the local dealer, with an investment in inventory and service personnel. Let them know you can’t sell it for $999, but you could help them out at $1,199. No one likes to lose margin, but it hurts so good when you capture a sale from those other guys!

One final point of advice: get ahead of the match game. Do your research now before the shopper comes in. Understand the selling terms and fine print of the stores down the street, in the next state and anyone else who sells your products. Know where you beat them, and where you need to become more competitive. Sales and terms change often, so for best results repeat this research weekly.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding. You can reach him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.