Best Buy used in-store computer kiosks to deceive consumers about product prices and overcharge them, according to a lawsuit filed by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) Commissioner Jerry Farrell.
Best Buy operates an internal site accessible only at kiosks in its stores. The site is virtually identical to BestBuy.com, the company's web site, except for listing in-store instead of online prices.
Consumers access information at the in-store kiosk by clicking on a tab labeled "BestBuy.com," even though they are not connecting to the Internet site.
Since 2005, the company's stores have pledged to match any lower online price, including from their own Internet site. Many Best Buy salespeople falsely told consumers searching for or seeking to confirm lower online prices that the kiosk connected them to BestBuy.com, the lawsuit charges.
When the site displayed the higher in-store price, salespeople allegedly suggested that consumers, who thought they were viewing BestBuy.com, previously misread the lower online price or the online price had expired.
"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.
"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 in-store site was an Internet look-alike, commonly with higher prices, which were charged to consumers," he said. "Best Buy broke its promise to give the best price -- an Internet version of bait-and-switch - a technological bait-and-switch-plus.
"It is extremely unfortunate that this company misled consumers as to what the 'best buy' actually was," said Farrell. "Putting into their stores a kiosk that led shoppers to believe they were getting the online price when that was far from certain, seems to have been an intentional effort to mislead. I hope that this lawsuit, filed under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, puts retailers on notice that purposeful efforts to mislead consumers will be met by equally purposeful and vigorous enforcement of the law."
In reaction to Connecticut's investigation, Best Buy in March added a banner to its in-store site reading "This Kiosk Reflects Local Store Pricing," but Blumenthal and Farrell said the kiosks remain deceptive.
The kiosk's appearance remains virtually identical to BestBuy.com; customers still access information by clicking a tab marked "BestBuy.com."
"The store's minor changes to its kiosks -- made in response to my investigation - are inadequate and incomplete," Blumenthal said. "The in-store kiosks are still mislabeled 'BestBuy.com,' falsely leading consumers to believe they are connecting to the Best Buy Internet web site."