NEW YORK Best Buy (BBY) said Friday that it has authorized its store staffers to match online prices of competitors in some cases, as it ramps up for the all-important holiday season.
Best Buy and others already offer price-matching guarantees for local competitors' brick-and-mortar stores. But stores don't usually match online prices, since those tend to be lower.
Competition between online merchants and discount stores is expected to be fierce during the crucial holiday period - when a retailer can make up to 40 percent of annual sales.
Best Buy's online price matching program isn't absolute. Spokeswoman Amy von Walter said that it applies to appliances and electronics and will be given on an "if asked" basis at the discretion of Best Buy staffers on the sales floor. That's the same way that the price matching guarantee works for local competitors' brick-and-mortar store prices.
The offer takes effect immediately and is valid through Nov. 17. It also will be in effect between Nov. 27 and Dec. 24.
Best Buy also plans to offer free shipping to customers seeking items that are out of stock in store.
Analysts said the moves are an improvement in terms of customer service, but Best Buy still has an uphill battle to compete with online retailers.
"I think it's a positive first step, but I don't think it's enough," said Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy. He said consumers have gotten so used to the convenience of buying products on Amazon.com Inc., that it will be a difficult habit to break.
"People like Amazon's convenience, it's not just about the pricing," he said.
Shares fell 17 cents to $17.67 in afternoon trading. Its shares are near the lower end of their 52-week range of $16.25 set in mid-August and $28.53 early last December.