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Best Buy Confirms Existence of Alternate Web Site That Withholds Cheaper Prices

Posted on Monday, March 5th, 2007 1:17 PM

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The Hartford Courant has an article from "Consumer Watchdog" George Gombossy that carries a confirmation from Best Buy that it has an internal web site that does not have the same prices as what is advertised on the publicly available bestbuy.com web site:

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.

Click the Read link below to read the entire article.

[via Engadget]

This story is a reminder that we need to be savvy shoppers and not assume that the merchant has our best interest at heart. Those days went into history when the last friendly neighborhood store closed because the big box retailers moved in on the outskirts of town...

The only one looking out for your best interest is you. To get the best price on something, the more information you have, the better.

For example, I helped someone buy a 50" projection television a few weeks ago. I had been tracking prices on this particular model for about two months, so that when a good price came along, they could jump on it. It was very interesting to watch the price fluctuations and the ever-adjusting "deals" offered by the big box retailers.

The TV is a Samsung HL-S5086W DLP projection TV. List price is $1499.99. Two weeks before Christmas, I started tracking the prices I could find, and local big box retailers had it for $1300 (the in-store prices matched their web site, by the way). The best online price I could find, including shipping, was $1160 at Amazon.com and $1146 at J&R's. I like the idea of buying an item like this locally, but the online prices were a good indication how low the prices could possibly go.

The prices fluctuated between $1350 and $1499 over the course of the next couple of months. Then, when a local specialty retailer had this particular unit on clearance for $1250, I knew that it was a good deal. Add to that the good fortune of a concurrent VIP sale, the additional 10% discount made it an irresistable deal. I had to restrain myself from taking advantage of it myself as well!

Now that the purchase has been made, I've been keeping an eye on the prices in case there is a chance for a price-match within the 30-day window offered by the specialty retailer. Considering the great price, I'm not holding my breath.

This is where the Hartford Courant Best Buy story meets up with this anecdote. Yesterday's Best Buy circular in the Sunday edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows that TV for $1499.99 - $100 instant savings, for a total of $1399.99. The BestBuy.com web site shows the same TV for $1349.99.

Considering this TV can be shipped for free from an online order, or I could pick up the set at two different stores in the Milwaukee area, I consider this to be the price I should be able to get in-store. However, when I called one of the stores that the web site said had the TV, they confirmed they had it in-stock, and it was $1399.99. Why the $50 difference?

This is only one example of a price difference that I happened to notice at about the same time that the Hartford Courant story came to my attention, but it would be an interesting exercise to perform this check with other items in the sale flyer and online. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to discover that this goes on at other stores as well.

While one could chalk up such differences to incompetence at some level for not keeping the web site and the stores in sync, this consumer watchdog story places the situation in a much more negative light. Unlike the guy that ran that local neighborhood store, most big box retailers have no incentive to do what's right by you. I don't think there's an entry for "customer fairness" on any of their balance sheets.

If you have a specialty retailer for home theater goods nearby, give that store a chance to provide you with the additional value of their knowledge and support. That value should justify a slightly higher price (I'm willing to pay a little extra, but not a large amount), and in many cases, those retailers will match locally advertised prices.

Buyer beware!

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