Thursday, May 24, 2007

Best Buy Charged with Deceiving Customers Through Electronic Bait-and-Switch

Retail chain Best Buy has used in-store computer kiosks to deceive consumers about product prices and to overcharge them, according to a Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act suit announced on Mary 24 by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Since 2005, the retailer has pledged to match any online prices offered by either a competitor or its own web site.

At the same time, Best Buy has operated an internal web site accessible only at kiosks in its stores. The kiosks feature a site that is virtually identical to the company’s Internet site. Customers at the stores could access the internal site at kiosks by clicking on a tab labeled “”

According to the Connecticut Attorney General, salespersons at Best Buy stores falsely told consumers that the kiosks would connect them to the company’s Internet web site—

When the internal site displayed an in-store price higher than that featured on the company Internet site, the salespersons allegedly suggested that (1) consumers previously misread lower prices online or (2) the lower online price had expired, the lawsuit charged.

Two Sets of Prices

“Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal—a bait-and-switch scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices,” Blumenthal said. “The company commonly kept two sets of prices—one on its Internet site and an often-higher set on its in-store, look-alike, available on kiosks.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel Best Buy to fix its allegedly deceptive kiosks, eliminate confusion, and fulfill its price match policy. In addition, it requests civil penalties and restitution for consumers.

In reaction to Connecticut’s investigation, Best Buy in March added banners in its stores, reading “This Kiosk Reflects Local Store Pricing.” These “minor changes” are inadequate and incomplete, Blumenthal said.

Text of the news release appears at the Connecticut Attorney General’s web site.

Best Buy's Response

In a new release posted on its web site, Best Buy "adamantly" denied the Connecticut Attorney General's characterization of its in-store kiosks.

"We offered the in-store kiosks to provide our customers with another avenue for obtaining information about products and allow them the benefit of knowing exactly what was available at the store that the customer was presently in," a May 24 release said.

"We used the same web site platform for these in-store kiosks as we did for our national web site--we did this to ensure that customers familiar with the national web site could easily navigate the in-store kiosk."

"Unfortunately, for all the benefits that the kiosks provided to most of our customers, there was a small percentage who did not receive the best price when they should have," the release continued. "Once this issue was brought to our attention, we provided immediate training for our employees to help ensure that all customers received the best price. We are in the process of making changes to eliminate future confusion."

The release concluded with a statemnet that "we intend to vigorously defend ourselves."

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