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

One current Best Buy employee told a very similar tale. "I have been with Best Buy for about 10 months now and not one person has mentioned to me that there are two completely different prices on the actual Web and our kiosks. I have even personally encountered this problem with a customer who came in wanting to buy a MP3 player but said it was a different price online. I … showed him to the kiosk and the price came up the same as in the store. The customer said he knew for sure it was about $20 cheaper online and said hed go home and order it. I told him I was sorry for the confusion and he left. About 30 minutes later, he returned with a printout showing the price and also an online receipt for a store pick-up. Being curious, I asked to look at the printout and it had nothing saying it was online only. No one in my 10 months had ever said to me that the kiosk price reflected the in-store price." That employee said he surveyed other employees and said none of them had been told the sites were different. "So we then talked to the product processing leader and she said she did know about it, and she said that it is like that to keep customers from price matching," the employee said. "I hate to see higher-ups placing blame on sales floor associates when its our higher-ups withholding information. Management needs to be held responsible and not the 18- to 30-year-old kids, like myself, who are just doing what we were told."
In some cases, its Best Buys customers who pushed Best Buy employees and their managers to speak candidly about the situation. After one consumer suspected that the "public Web site" he was shown to refute a claimed price match was something else, he asked to speak to a senior manager and was introduced to the stores operations manager.
The operations manager "first tried to tell me that the site in-store was the real Web site, but it had a 24-hour cache so pricing could be a day stale," the customer said. "I then told her I spoke with [a customer service representative] who told me straight out that there is an intranet site within the store, but all employees are trained not to show it to the public. She chuckled and responded, Oh, shes not supposed to tell you that. I then pointed to the employee who misled me the day before—and who was sitting 20 yards to my left—and asked [the operations manager], Has this employee even been trained to the intrastore site and that it is different than the internet? She responded, No. Then she said, I aint gonna lie about that. She then admitted that no employee below herself has knowledge of the intranet." (Note: Some people outside Best Buy corporate have referred to the internal site—which Best Buy corporate calls simply a "kiosk"—as an intranet site. The site was designed for employees to show to consumers visiting the stores, so whether its a true intranet—intended only for a closed group of employees, distributors, suppliers and other business partners—is unclear.) One former employee who did agree to be identified echoed the theme that employees were simply not told that the BestBuy.com on the in-store system was not in fact the public Web site. Micah Hymer spent three years working at the Best Buy in Fort Worth, Texas, and left the store last year. "Employees were never trained to use that site and it was never mentioned to anyone that there were even multiple sites with different prices," Hymer said. "Supervisors and sales managers would occasionally mention using the Web site in a sinister-type way to boost sales. The employee—instead of price-matching with the online pric—could walk over more gullible customers and log into the internal BestBuy.com to show the technology-illiterate customer that prices were indeed $199.99. Most customers after seeing this would think they had read the price wrong from their home or think it was a limited-time special they had missed." Hymer stressed that this was not a formal effort and was certainly a stealth one. "This tactic was never taught by Best Buy management and was only ever discussed by desperate sales managers or supervisors looking to increase revenue on a slow day. Thats why most regular employees probably arent even aware of its existence, as any manager aware of this trick probably would not teach it to anyone but the better salesmen because they dont want to attract negative attention from district management." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

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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