Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bait & Switch at Best Buy?

Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General of Connecticut, has announced a lawsuit against Best Buy, stating, "Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal — a bait-and-switch-plus scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices."

The Startribune article states,

"Blumenthal opened an investigation into the Richfield, Minn.-based retailer in March. About 20 customers complained to his office after a columnist for The Hartford Courant reported the experience of one Connecticut man who found a laptop computer advertised for $729.99 on BestBuy.com, then went to a Best Buy store where an employee who seemed to check the same Web site told him the price was actually $879.99."

I didn't think much of this at the time, though I suspected it was an honest mistake on behalf of the salesman. I worked at Best Buy for over four years and understand how mistakes like this can be made. But I have now experienced a similar kind of bait & switch firsthand.

May 15th the new Wilco album was released. I saw that it was advertised as $11.99 on the Best Buy website. I mentioned this to my wife, who went to the store to purchase it for me. When she arrived, she was confused because the very same CD cost $13.99. She asked customer service about it--including a manager. They insisted that the price was correct.

She called me after she bought it, telling me about the discrepancy. I was confused myself, and double-checked the website. Sure enough, the CD was still $11.99. I bought it on-line and opted for in-store pickup. In the meantime my wife ran some more errands. When she got back to Best Buy she returned the CD that she'd paid $13.99 for and picked up the one I'd purchased on-line for $11.99.

She discussed this with the same manager and customer service personnel. They said that they would have honored the web pricing had she stated the price she saw on-line, though she hadn't because she didn't do it confidently, having not seen it herself. They did not understand her frustration and the confusion this raised. They did nothing to make her a happy customer.

I got my CD, paid the lower price, and am now listening to it in my car--to and from work. But it was a hassle that could have easily been avoided. I doubt that Best Buy has any malicious intent on having different prices in their on-line store than in-store. It might be a wise business decision to advertise different prices on-line than the in-store prices--but it seems like a bad public relations decision. Now they'll be paying their lawyers to defend the practice.

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