May 24, 2007 -- The Connecticut Attorney General is taking electronics super retailer Best Buy to task for a system he says is a "bait-and-switch scheme" that deceives customers.
According to a lawsuit announced today, customers were lured into Best Buy stores by prices quoted on the company's Web site, only to find the items at higher prices once they got to the store thanks to a lookalike Web site available only in the store.
The issue came to light after a columnist for The Hartford Courant wrote about a man who found a laptop on BestBuy.com advertised for $729.99.
When the man went to the store to look for the computer, an employee checked a Web kiosk that appeared to be the company Web site, only to find the same computer for $879.99.
"Best Buy used in-store kiosks to conceal lower online prices and renege on its price match guarantee," said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a press release. "Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed. Best Buy treated its customers like suckers, not patrons to be prized."
Blumenthal's office served a complaint May 18 for the lawsuit, which hopes to get refunds for consumers, civil penalties a ban on the bait-and-switch practice and other remedies. The company has a month to respond before the suit is filed in state court.
A company spokesperson acknowledges the existence of the site, but denies that it was a ploy to overcharge customers.
"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," said Susan Busch, a spokeswoman for Best Buy in an e-mailed statement.
"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 company says Blumenthal is mischaracterizing the in-store kiosk and that it will vigorously defend itself in court.