Caveat Emptor

Let the buyer beware. This is something that I’ve held true ever since I heard it as a youngster. Basically, if you are going to buy something, it’s up to you to make sure you are not getting screwed. You need to do the research, do the legwork, and then buy a product for a price that you are happy with.

My friend Chris Byrne and I disagree on this recent experience of his. Feel free to jump over and read it quick. But for those that don’t have the time, the short story is that Circuit City had a camera for a price online. You could buy it for that price and have it delivered, or you could pick it up at some select stores. The problem was, it wasn’t available for pickup at stores close to him. So he didn’t buy it at the time.

Out of curiosity he stopped by one of the stores, and they had it in stock for $30 less than the online price. Doing some sluething, he figured out that stores he COULD pick it up at had higher prices than the online price, and places he couldn’t pick it up had a lower price. It seems that it was programmed into the system specifically to not let you get the lower price at those stores.

Chris has a major problem with that. I, on the other hand, don’t.

I had an exchange with colleague Jon Rolling (sic) about this and he did not have the same problem with this that I did. He felt that it is incumbent on the consumer to perform due diligence and find what the best deal is and live with the results. I totally agree with this, which is why I chose to shop on-line. I was able to find what I considered to be the best deal and then make my purchase. I would not have had any reason to suspect pricing games on the part of Circuit City. Until I made some phone calls.

Here’s my first problem. Chris states that it’s up to the consumer to find the best deal, that’s why he chose to shop on-line. In this case the best deal wasn’t on-line but rather in-store. So to me, shopping online doesn’t necessarily give you the best deals. Next, he states that he was able to find what he considered to be the best deal and then make his purchase. Great, he found a price he was happy with and was willing to pay for a product. If he was shopping online, he must have checked all of the other online retailers too. So the price must have been very good. Then when he got to a store he found it $30 dollars cheaper. Instead of being happy at the prospect of saving an additional $30, he felt betrayed.

Well here’s the problem I have with that. Businesses are there to make money for their shareholders. Market price fluctuates via supply and demand so prices store-to-store and city-to-city can fluctuate dramatically. The internet has removed those barriers, so it makes it increasingly hard for businesses to make money. I guarantee you that all online retailers will have wierd price fluctuations, quirks, and downright trickery to get you to pay as much as possible for a product. That doesn’t necessarily make it right, but Circuit City is not alone in this.

The point I’m trying to make is that even though the in-store price was $30 cheaper, his online price was still lower than most out there and something he was willing to pay. So he was still getting a good deal. I don’t think it’s up to Circuit City or any retailer to raise a flag and say, HEY, IT’s CHEAPER OVER HERE.

It’s up to US to find that out. And besides, Circuit City and Best Buy and most major retailers have their 30 day price guarantee. So it’s up to you to look around during those 30 days and see if you can find a better deal. Most times you can, it’s just up to you to do it. The retailer has no responsibility to you to make sure you pay the lowest price. Because if every retailer did, they would all go out of business.

Because what Circuit City, and possibly other retailers, is doing is letting the human trait of trusting a known vendor, to extract profit unfairly from the consumers. Again this is plain wrong.

First of all, I trust NO vendor, to do so is foolish. There are some I have better experiences with than others, but there’s no trust of Best Buy or Circuit City or Comp USA. They are businesses trying to make profit. It’s up to them to get the highest profit margins possible. It’s up to ME to find the lowest prices.

And I don’t really get how this is “profitting unfairly” from the consumers. Once again, he found what he thought was the best deal online and was willing to pay that price. He could buy it at that price. AND if he drove to the store and looked for himself, he could have gotten an even better deal. No one was stopping him from doing either thing. They were just preventing in-store pickup at the cheaper stores. A little dodgy, sure. Plain wrong? No.

Once again this store has an obligation to shareholders first. If you paid $30 more online to get it (or even $80 more to buy it at one of the other area stores) then more profit goes to the shareholders. It allows the business to continue. There’s nothing inherently unethical about that.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you’ll realize that I’m VERY heavy on personal responsibility. I take that to heart in pretty much everything. So, for me, it’s up to the consumer to buy the product at the price they are willing to pay. It’s up to the consumer to explore all avenues for great deals, and it’s up to the consumer to look for even better deals for the 30 days after purchase. If you do the necessary legwork, you’ll get the best deals you are comfortable with. It’s not up to any business to make that easy for me.

I can post all of this because I respect Chris and I know he respects me, and we can agree to disagree. The one thing I like, are people that are strong-willed enough to have an opinion. Chris definitely fits that description 🙂

Anyway, let us both know what you think in our comments. I do know I’m probably in the minority on this one. I’m okay with that.

**DISCLAIMER** In a previous life, I was a salesperson at Circuit City. But, be aware that I do not blindly defend them. I haven’t even shopped there in years because Best Buy has kicked their butt in my opinion. Anyway, just thought you should know. Heh.