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Target to match prices of online rivals year-round

NEW YORK — Target Corp. is pledging to match prices of select online rivals year-round, a move that underscores how physical and online retailing are being meshed together.

Matching online prices is rare, but expected to become more common as shoppers move increasingly online. Target, the nation’s second-largest discounter behind Walmart Stores Inc., said it will match prices customers find on identical products at top online retailers, all the time. The list includes Amazon.com as well as the websites of Walmart, Best Buy, and Toys “R” Us.

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Target’s move follows a similar holiday price match that began Nov. 1 and ended Dec. 16. Target is also making permanent its holiday offer of matching prices of items found at its stores with those on its website. And for the first time it will include products that are out of stock on Target.com.

The Minneapolis-based retailer has been hurt by stiffer competition from online rivals and stores like Walmart that have hammered its low prices. It’s also the latest step from brick-and-mortar stores to combat ‘‘showrooming’’ — a growing trend for customers to browse stores to check out products, and then go online to buy the same products for less.

Mark Schindele, Target’s senior vice president of merchandising operations, noted the discounter monitors prices of 30,000 items, and thousands more online, to make sure it’s competitive. But Target says it had to do more to give shoppers more confidence.

Many major stores have offered price matching guarantees for local competitors’ brick-and-mortar stores, but it wasn’t until this past holiday season that the focus was on matching online prices. Such policies can be difficult in practice, because online prices tend to be lower and fluctuate often.

Joel Bines, managing director of the retail practice at AlixPartners, praised recent moves by retailers to have an online policy.

‘‘Retailers have finally gotten the message,’’ he said. ‘‘You can’t put an impediment between consumers and consumption.’’ But he said that the policies can backfire. Stores have to make it easier for shoppers to get the price match. And he noted the move could also turn out to be ‘‘profit draining’’ as more people are encouraged to shop the Web to get the lowest price.

‘‘This has been a seamless experience,’’ Schindele said. ‘‘There have been a lot of positives.’’

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