How to Work Target’s Instant Substitute in 5 Steps

If you’ve ever shopped Target, you might have encountered one of their lovely “Instant Substitute” signs. An instant substitute is when a sale item is out of stock and in addition to offering a rain check, Target will also suggest a similar product you might be interested in buying.


How are substitutes picked?
  • Each store has employees whose job it is to go through out of stock sale items.
  • When they set up a rain check on the price gun, it asks them if they also want to set up a substitution.
  • Stores get graded on how many substitutions they give relative to the rain checks. The more subs, the higher ranking!


What are the rules of substitution?
  • It must be regular priced. No items that are already on sale or clearance.
  • It must be in the same aisle as the rain check item.
  • When an item is picked, it’s put on discount according to the price gun’s suggestion.


This is where things can get funny..the item HAS to be in same aisle as the rain check item AND not be on sale, hence the following might happen…



But, this post is how to rock the instant substitute! When it works, it works well!
Last week this was the sale:



Anytime I can get $5 t-shirts, I’m stocking up!
The deal:
Boys’ Cherokee tees $6
Sale price: $5
Savings: 16%


They were running low on the smaller sizes and in many other colors in all sizes.
So then, I saw this…


hmm…and see the price I circled..regularly $7, as opposed to the sale item that was originally $6…so higher value.


The original sale items were solid color t-shirts and some stripes…meh..OK…



The ones that were substituted had zombies, trucks, and basketballs..OH MY!
The deal:
Circo logo tees $7
Sale price: $5.83
Savings: 16% (same as original product)


Have you ever shopped Target’s instant substitute?


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  1. I don't think I have ever noticed this before! I will definitely keep an eye out now! We run into this problem ALL the time!

    • If an advertised item is out of stock, ask a sales person for a raincheck and if they can substitute, if it doesn't have one already. They are usually happy to do it!

  2. Thanks so much for this great information! I'll definitely be on the lookout for these signs next time I'm in store :)

  3. I've often wondered why the instant substitute wasn't always a good replacement (like the twin for king example you used). Thanks for clarifying!

  4. I've never heard of this! Thanks for posting about it; I'm def. going to keep my eyes open for it!!

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