The Connecticut attorney general's office sued Best Buy in May, charging the electronics heavyweight with using deceptive in-store websites to trick customers into paying higher prices than available on the company's actual site.
"We thought Best Buy had addressed this," Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal told me the other day. "That's what they said to us. Apparently that's not the case."
Last week, Simi Valley resident Leigh Murphy, 53, went online in search of a new DVD player. He finally settled on a Toshiba model that he found on Bestbuy.com, marked down from $79.99 to $71.99.
He decided to stop by the store and buy it there instead.
"I just assumed the same price would be available," Murphy said. "That's why I didn't order it online."
He found the DVD player at the store without difficulty, but it was selling for the full $79.99 price. Murphy asked a salesman about the discrepancy. He said he'd found it online for less.
The salesman guided Murphy to one of Best Buy's in-store kiosks, which displayed a page virtually identical to the website Murphy had seen at home. He called up the Toshiba device and, lo and behold, no more markdown. It was going for the full list price.
Murphy, an engineer, wasn't sure what to make of this. So he returned home and went back online. Once again he visited Bestbuy.com, and once again the DVD player came up at the reduced price of $71.99.
So Murphy purchased the player online and then returned to the store to pick it up. But the experience left him wondering.
"It seems like they have one website online and a fake website that's available only in the store," Murphy said.
That's also what Blumenthal in Connecticut concluded after receiving numerous complaints from local residents. He called Best Buy's in-store kiosks "an Internet bait-and-switch" that allowed the store to charge higher prices once it got online shoppers through the door.
"Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed," Blumenthal said. "Best Buy treated its customers like suckers."
Jerry Farrell Jr., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, said in a statement that the in-store kiosks appear to be "an intentional effort to mislead."
The state's lawsuit is proceeding.
Sue Busch, a Best Buy spokeswoman, acknowledged that customers may encounter different prices on the company's website than may be available in the store -- and at the store's kiosk.
"Bestbuy.com is the national price," she said. "Individual store prices may vary from market to market."
Busch said the in-store kiosks closely resemble Best Buy's website "for the sake of efficiency and to ensure that customers who were familiar with the national website could easily navigate the in-store kiosk to find what they were seeking."
She said the kiosks were never intended "for price-match purposes," but admitted that "a small percentage of customers did not receive a price match when they should have due to errors in policy execution."