Office Depot Accused of Deceiving Customers

Another big box electronics store is facing accusations of lying to customers to try to reel in business. Office Depot "encouraged" its associates to deceive potential purchasers about pricing, an investigation by Laptop Magazine asserts.

This isn't the first instance of a brick-and-mortar chain coming under fire for questionable tactics. With CompUSA's partial closure and Circuit City's recent demise, it begs the question: Why don't these places start shaping up before they all earn headstones in the electronics graveyard?

Office Depot Allegations

The latest allegations, sourced to several current and former Office Depot employees, claim the company has widely told its workers to do things such as adding optional service plans onto clearance items without telling customers. One source says associates would accomplish this by altering pricetags in Photoshop to make the base price look a hundred dollars higher, thereby giving the store the credit for selling the add-on without the customer even knowing.

"My boss says, ‘You have to do whatever it takes to get this price in it,'" an employee identified as Alex tells Laptop. "I go to Photoshop, do it -- he comes in and says, ‘That's beautiful. I love it. Do it to all the other ones.'"

Even without the Photoshop trick, the associate claims it has been a common practice to increase "clearance item" prices so that extended warranties are quietly included in the costs. Laptop's investigation suggests the practice has extended across at least five states.

If it's all true, this is pretty disheartening -- but it shouldn't necessarily come as a total surprise.

Familiar Feelings

It was only two years ago that Best Buy found itself on the receiving end of an attorney general's lawsuit. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the store maintained a separate internal version of its Web site that was "virtually identical" to BestBuy.com -- except that its prices were all higher. That would mean a customer trying to get a price match from what they found online would suddenly see a different price when an employee pulled up the page inside the store.

"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," Blumenthal said at the time. "Best Buy used [the] in-store kiosks to conceal lower online prices and renege on its price match guarantee."

While Best Buy denied any wrongdoing at the time, about seven months later -- in December of 2007 -- a fresh set of customers came forward with the same accusations. An L.A. Times reporter even confirmed the differing prices on the sites for himself.

I wish the issues ended there. But, while other instances may not have been quite so extreme, the banner-name chains have seen more than their shares of complaints about shoddy customer service and unfair pushing of overpriced and unnecessary add-ons.

A 2007 PC World investigation

by Senior Writer Tom Spring found both Circuit City and Best Buy relentlessly tried to talk customers into buying store-made recovery discs with new laptops. Employees at three out of five Best Buys Spring visited went as far as to tell him he couldn't make the discs on his own and needed to pay the $30 if he wanted to have them.

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