About a month ago George Gombassy from The Hartford Courant, had an article about Best Buy and about a teacher who was trying to buy a laptop from Best Buy, because of a price he saw on their website. When he got to Best Buy store, he was told the sale was "off", and the representative had the proof right there on his computer screen in the store.
The difference in price was enough to make that customer go to another store in search of another deal. While at the other store, the teacher decided to look at BestBuy.com and see if the sale was really done, low and behold, it wasn't. This time the teacher went over to another Best Buy store, he experienced the same thing, however, this time the teacher was smart - he actually went out to BestBuy.com himself and pulled up the sale. Eventually he got the laptop at the advertised price on BestBuy.com - but why the difference between what the salespeople see "in store" and what is out on their public website?
It seems, that BestBuy.com isn't the only "website" the company has. BestBuy.com has a duplicate site, but it's an intranet - meaning only accessible to the Best Buy stores. The site looks exactly like BestBuy.com, but there's a difference. Prices on this site, information about sales on this site and so forth are apparently different. But here's the thing, it's not always more expensive, in one case of investigating Gombassy reported the price on BestBuy.com was more than what the intranet was showing.
Now, you might think, so what? Well the FTC and many State Attorney Generals feel that practices like this are "deceptive" and tend to prosecute for them. Gombassy reported yesterday that Connecticut's State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal ordered an investigation into BestBuy.com and the intranet at the Best Buy stores.
Blumenthal said Wednesday that Best Buy has also confirmed to his office the existence of the intranet site, but has so far failed to give clear answers about its purpose and use.
"Their responses seem to raise as many questions as they answer," Blumenthal said in an interview. "Their answers are less than crystal clear."
Regardless of the outcome with the Connecticut State Attorney General, this is a lesson to be learned. Consumers are growing more and more tech savvy every day, and deceptive practices really can harm your reputation online, along with getting you into hot water with the state or the FTC. If you have some kind of "game" going on, don't be surprised if its a potential customer that "outs" you and not your competition.
There's a discussion about Best Buy's Secret Website going on in the blogosphere, but what caught my eye and found relevant about this story was that the state government is now involved. From a "Search & Regulated Industry" look at things - it's important to note, if it seems to be a "deceptive marketing practice" and you're a huge retailer, you will probably be getting a phone call from your state capital or the FTC.