By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2007-03-09 Print this article Print

The scenario consistently painted by employees, former employees and customers is one where an employee shows the customer the wrong site. But in many—although not all—of the cases, the employee is not aware at the time that its the wrong site, as they havent been trained on it. Without training, isnt an employee likely to think that a link labeled "BestBuy.com" is going to bring up the public Web site, especially if it brings up something that looks identical to that Web site? Indeed, without training, its hard to imagine the untrained store associate could have reasonably concluded anything else.
Without that knowledge, that associate would have had no criminal intent to defraud and is therefore very hard to legally punish. The supervisor (or manager a few levels up) who didnt train that employee properly is the next link. Why did that manager not adequately train that employee? Was it forgetfulness? Was it inadvertent? Or was it some sort of a deliberate plan to defraud?
Assuming the worst—namely that the manager did have the criminal intent to defraud—what bad actions did that manager actually commit? He or she merely failed to properly brief an employee. The worst that could be said would be that the manager chose to not have the employee briefed in the hope that the employee would jump to the conclusion that the internal site was in fact BestBuy.com and would unknowingly—but convincingly—trick the customer into backing off their price-match request. If a fraud has been committed, its been set up to cleverly split mens rea (criminal intent) from actus reus (the guilty act), sources said, making prosecution much more difficult. The stories told by the employees, former employees and customers, however, are so similar and come from so many diverse locations that its either a series of remarkable coincidences or something more sinister. One salesperson, who stopped working at Best Buy late last summer and was interviewed March 8, said the confusion was quite deliberate. "Managers and other employees would often encourage us to use the higher price on the internal Web site. It was common knowledge to most people working there that there were two versions of BestBuy.com. I was one of the only salespeople to consistently find a computer connected to the real Internet and price match using that," he said. "A few employees actually encouraged others to show customers the intrastore Web site and use that price. All the computers readily accessible on the sales floor were equipped with the intrastore site only and external Web access locked," the former employee continued. "Once there was a computer in the center of the store that had access to the outside Internet and, one day, it was mysteriously removed. Now I realize it was probably because it had access to the real BestBuy.com." Next Page: Management needs to be held responsible.

Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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