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New tools track price drops for a cut of your refund

Susan Johnston Taylor

Many retailers and credit card issuers offer price protection – a guarantee that if a product’s price drops in a specified time period after purchase, the difference will be refunded to the customer. But who has time to track price fluctuations and navigate complicated retailer and credit card policies?

Enter the bots. A new class of web and smartphone tools use bots to automatically scan for price drops and get consumers their refunds in exchange for a cut of that refund. All the apps are free to use; you pay only if they save you money.

Since my husband and I recently moved to a new city and bought our first house, we have been doing a lot of shopping for furniture and housewares. All those purchases in recent weeks provided a perfect opportunity to take these tools for a test drive.

Here’s what I learned using the four price-protection apps:

1. Paribus – Paribus (iOS, Android and web) has been around the longest. I’ve been using it for more than a year, and so far I’ve saved just 50 cents (when a CD I purchased as a Christmas gift on Amazon dropped in price). But I’m glad to know that I haven’t missed out on price guarantee opportunities and that if the price does drop, I don’t have to lift a finger to get my refund. Here’s how Paribus works: Sync the email account you use for online shopping, and Paribus scans your email for receipts, then adds those items to your Paribus account. If the price of an item you’ve purchased drops, Paribus sends an email on your behalf to the retailer asking for a refund of the difference. Paribus takes 25 percent of any refund and you get the rest. You can lower the percentage that Paribus pockets by recommending the service to friends.

2. Earny – Like Paribus, Earny (iOS and Android) scans your email for receipts from online retailers and automatically seeks a refund if the price drops. Also like Paribus, Earny gets 25 percent of any refund. The founders of Earny, which launched in 2016, hope to branch out into car insurance, hotels and airfares, which is where I think consumers (and Earny) can expect even bigger refunds.

3. Slice – While Slice (iOS and Android) has a price drop feature, its primary focus is on helping consumers keep track of their online orders, arrival dates, return deadlines and such. Following our move and home purchase, I had online deliveries of furniture and housewares arriving almost every day (sometimes multiple items per day), so it would have been easy for a missing package to slip my notice. Slice kept me on top of what was arriving when, but sometimes the app mistakes email receipts for online deliveries (for instance, a gas station or iTunes receipt that doesn’t require delivery of an item), and that means I have to scroll through entries that aren’t relevant. Slice’s price drop feature also is less useful, because it’s designed to help window-shoppers identify a deal. As far as I can tell, Slice is not really designed to notify consumers of price drops on items they’ve already purchased.

4. Pricerazzi – Pricerazzi (iOS and Android) scouts for refunds based on paper receipts you scan and upload, and it uses the retailer’s price match policy (price-matching against other retailers). Pricerazzi doesn’t contact the retailer to get a refund, but will send you instructions on how to get a refund after you pay 15 percent of the refund amount. An advantage: Pricerazzi can process in-store transactions instead of just receipts for online purchases, but you have to remember to scan your receipt, something I haven’t always done. On the plus side, Pricerazzi takes only 15 percent of your refund, and since the cut is smaller, the reward is potentially higher if you file the refund forms yourself.

Amazon recently ended its policy of price protection, which for Amazon addicts limits the utility of tools like Earny or Paribus unless you’re purchasing with a credit card that offers its own price protection. But browser extension Honey, which plugs in coupon codes at checkout and automatically apply the code that saves you the most money, just added a handy new feature that compares prices on Amazon.com and displays cheaper options before you buy.

Bottom line: To get the most savings, you could use these price protection services  in concert (but if two apps went after the same refund, I imagine it wouldn’t be pretty for the user). It’s also a pain to juggle multiple apps that do similar things. Your best bet? Find the one price protection app you like the best and stick with that.

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