Conn. accuses Best Buy of overcharging

/ Source: The Associated Press

Connecticut’s attorney general announced a lawsuit Thursday against Best Buy Co. Inc., accusing the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer of deceiving customers with in-store computer kiosks and overcharging them.

The lawsuit accuses Best Buy of denying deals found at the company’s Web site. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said store employees charged customers higher prices found on a lookalike internal Web site.

“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 complaint was dated May 18 to be served on the company, which must respond by June 13. The lawsuit, which seeks refunds for consumers, civil penalties, court costs, a ban on the practice and other remedies, would then be filed in Hartford Superior Court.

The company strongly denied Blumenthal’s allegations and said the in-store kiosks provided customers with another way to get information about products and let them know what was available at that particular store.

“We used the same Web site platform for these in-store kiosks as we did for our national Web site,” Best Buy spokeswoman Susan Busch said in a statement. “We did this to ensure that customers familiar with the national Web site could easily navigate the in-store kiosk.”

She said a small percentage of customers did not receive the best prices from kiosks when they should have.

“Once this issue was brought to our attention, we provided immediate training for our employees to help ensure that all customers received the best price,” Busch said. “We are in the process of making changes to eliminate future confusion.”

Blumenthal opened an investigation into the Richfield, Minn.-based retailer in March. About 20 customers complained to his office after a columnist for The Hartford Courant reported the experience of one Connecticut man who found a laptop computer advertised for $729.99 on, then went to a Best Buy store where an employee who seemed to check the same Web site told him the price was actually $879.99.

“There may be people who are entirely unaware they may have been overcharged,” Blumenthal said.

Previously, the company confirmed that store employees have access to an internal Web site that looks nearly identical to the public site, but the company’s policy is always to offer customers the lowest quoted price unless it’s specifically identified as a deal available only to online shoppers.

Jerry Farrell Jr., Connecticut’s consumer protection commissioner, said the lawsuit should be a warning to companies to be more transparent in their business practices.

“There certainly was an element of deception here,” Farrell said. “There certainly was an element of creating consumer confusion here.”

Busch, Best Buy’s spokeswoman, said the company intends to vigorously defend itself in court.

“The future of our company depends on our ability to build trusted relationships with our customers,” Busch said.