Illegal Business Practices or “Forgetfullness?”

Picture this: you go web shopping and find a stereo system you want to buy which is currently on sale for $400.  The retailer’s ad indicates that prices are good in the store or on the web.  So, because you don’t want to wait for shipping, you go to the store to buy it.

When you get there, the system is marked at $600.  You figure the cost will be reduced at the register, but it isn’t.  So you point out that the system is on sale and ask for the sales price.  In front of you, the store employee loads up the company web site and the system is not on sale.  But you saw the ad!   The employee helpfully points out that you may have loaded an old page from cache instead of the current page.

You are disappointed.  You really want this system.  You debate whether to buy it for the higher price and wonder how you made a mistake like that.

But wait!  What if you didn’t make a mistake like that?  What if the company has TWO web pages — virtually identical in appearance — one of which is loaded by you, the consumer, and one of which is accessed only from within the store, with different content?

Sounds outlandish, doesn’t it?  Surely no one would stoop that low!

Welcome to Best Buy.

Under pressure from state investigators, Best Buy is now confirming my reporting that its stores have a secret intranet site that has been used to block some consumers from getting cheaper prices advertised on BestBuy.com.

Company spokesman Justin Barber, who in early February denied the existence of the internal website that could be accessed only by employees, says his company is “cooperating fully” with the state attorney general’s investigation.

Barber insists that the company never intended to mislead customers.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ordered the investigation into Best Buy’s practices on Feb. 9 after my column disclosed the website and showed how employees at two Connecticut stores used it to deny customers a $150 discount on a computer advertised on BestBuy.com.

Blumenthal said Wednesday that Best Buy has also confirmed to his office the existence of the intranet site, but has so far failed to give clear answers about its purpose and use.

Based on what his office has learned, Blumenthal said, it appears the consumer has the burden of informing Best Buy sales people of the cheaper price listed on its Internet site, which he said “is troubling.”

What is more troubling to me, and to some Best Buy customers, is that even when one informs a salesperson of the Internet price, customers have been shown the intranet site, which looks identical to the Internet site, but does not always show the lowest price.

“Our intention is to provide the best price to our customers which is why we have a price-match policy in place,” the company said in a written statement to me. “As prices and offers may vary between retail and online, our stores will certainly match BestBuy.com pricing as long as it qualifies under the terms and conditions of the price match policy.”

“As a company, everything we do revolves around our customers’ needs and desires. It is never our intent to mislead them as their loyalty is incredibly important to us,” the statement said.

Then they threw in this interesting line: “Although we have an intra-store web site in place to support store operations (including products and pricing), we are reminding our employees how to access the external BestBuy.com web site to ensure customers are receiving the best possible product price.”

That last sentence seems to indicate that Best Buy, which is supposed to be staffed by tech-savvy employees, is putting the blame on memory lapses: that employees have somehow forgotten how to access BestBuy.com from the store.

Attorneys general in New Jersey and Ohio have accused Best Buy of deceptive sales practices, repackaging used merchandise and selling it as new, and failing to pay rebates and refunds. It paid $135,000 in New Jersey three years ago to settle that state’s suit, which was based on hundreds of consumer complaints. The Ohio case is ongoing.

As if you didn’t already know it, there’s proof that Best Buy is evil.

Connecticut News from The Hartford Courant ::: State, Regions, & Towns On courant.com  |  Kate blogs at The Original Musings.

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