Outraged Customers Claim Deceptive Trading At BestBuy.com

For some weeks now, a feud between Best Buy and its customers has been waged over a pricing issue with VisionTekis GeForce4 Ti4600 graphics card. According to gaming site Hypothermia, this dispute involving more than two thousand customers is not being handled in a consistent manner between stores. It came to a head recently with the arrest of Georgia resident Abraham Cherian, a customer who entered a Best Buy store to request a raincheck and left with the Dekalb County police.

On February 6th, VisionTek had announced the new card at the recommended retail price of $399, encouraging its US customers to pre-order through them or to visit other retailers, including Best Buy. It was understandable, then, that when Best Buyis Web site advertised the VisionTek Ti4600 at the "Special Pre-Order Price of $129.00", it was all over the Web. According to online reports, calls made to the BestBuy.com sales center confirmed the validity of this price. Within a matter of hours, thousands of orders were made through the site, only to be told later that the pricing was a imistakei and the orders were cancelled.

Although pricing errors are common and retailers make their best efforts to correct mistakes such as these, the ierrorsi seem alarmingly widespread around the entire Best Buy operation - that includes printed in-store shelf stickers showing the cost of the card as $179, which Best Buy now also claims to be incorrect. Just a few days after the cancellation notices for online orders had been sent, many customers received a back order notice showing that the order was still active at the original price, promising to ship soon. In another e-mail, $30 coupons were also offered to the affected customers. At the gaming site Hypothermia, Steve Lynch and others began working with many of the affected customers to ensure that they are treated fairly.

By March, several of the affected customers claimed to have received a raincheck after all - yet others said they had not. Inquiries made by Lynch to a Better Business Bureau representative garnered the response that nobody would receive their orders and that they had all been cancelled, despite increasing evidence to the contrary. Lynch began to post scanned images of customersi receipts on the Hypothermia site, and many customers seeking to make good on their original orders at the $129 online price or the $179 in-store deal took copies of these receipts with them to the store as evidence of their claimis validity. This tactic brought even more mixed results: while many customers left with their orders filled, others say they were met with a range of explanations ranging from the plausible ("We donit price-match after 30 days") to the patently false ("Best Buy and BestBuy.com are not part of the same entity"). Meanwhile, online complaints lodged by many customers have resulted in nothing more than a form letter.

Last Friday, however, things took a turn for the ugly. Abraham Cherian went into the Best Buy store in Tucker, Georgia, with copies of receipts. Upon asking for a raincheck, Cherian was asked to wait while the storeis general manager called the police, intending to press charges of criminal trespass and fraud. The Hypothermia site provides this quote from Cherianis arrest record:

Upon my arrival, I spoke with complainant Rod Hill (General Manager) who stated that unknown indian male came in the store with a website generated receipt to purchase a $399 item for the price of $129.99. Mr. Hill advised that the computer generated receipt was false because BestBuy.com receipt for the GeForce4 Ti 4600 is on the internet for price of $399, and has been never listed for $129.99. Mr. Hill also stated that 5 other people have come in with these same receipts for 129.99 and it has been placed in BestBuy system as a red flag.

It is troubling enough that Cherian was arrested in the first place. What is more disturbing, however, is that from the five people who had presented such a receipt, at least one raincheck appears to have been granted for a customer at that very same store. It is now clear that not only does the policy about this particular issue vary from store to store, but from customer to customer as well.

Several statesi Attorney Generalsi offices are now pursuing the matter, and reports of successfully getting a rainchecked price on the VisionTek Ti4600 are as recent as the 22nd of April. The charges against Mr. Cherian were dropped.