Best Buy Officials Concede Dual-Site System Caused by ‘Human Error,’ ‘Employee Confusion’

As it tries to navigate the minefield that today’s multichannel retail strategies have become, Best Buy officials are conceding that “human error” and employee “confusion” were the reasons customers were shown a site displaying higher brick-and-mortar prices while incorrectly being told that the displayed site was showing online prices.

The confusion stems from two visually identical sites that Best Buy employees can show customers. The sites have only a handful of minor functionality differences, with the key difference being that the prices are sometimes different, said Chap Achen, director of order management for Best Buy.

This issue has come to haunt the $31 billion retail chain—which owns about 941 stores in the United States and Canada—after the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into the chain, trying to establish whether employees had deliberately conned customers with the almost-duplicate site.

Best Buy officials, while admitting “human error” among its workers, denies any evil intent and says the false statements apparently made by store employees were a result of confusion and inadequate employee training.

“This is more an issue of process than of deception,” Achen said, defining it more specifically as employees “not realizing” the sites’ differences. “The differences between the two can be improved upon. Our customers and, in this case, an employee were confused about the differences between [the two sites],” he said. “The kiosk is reflecting store pricing. We’re absolutely evaluating the option of making it more clear. We feel, if anything, this [Connecticut] investigation has exposed that we can take more concrete steps” to make the site differences more obvious.

The intrastore version is showcased in store kiosks using Internet Explorer and is intended to show customers information about products available in the store, along with their official prices. The problem stems from Best Buy’s price-matching policy, which promises to match the price of other retailers, and it explicitly includes

To read more about Connecticut’s investigation into Best Buy’s intrastore Web site, click here.

The problematic scenario happened when customers saw a low Web price and went into a Best Buy physical location to trigger the price match and get that low price. Employees would agree to match the price and would say they are calling up the Web site to verify the claim. Instead of calling up the Web site, though, employees would access the intrastore version of the site, which looked identical (other than its pricing) to the site, and then used that to “prove” the online pricing didn’t exist.

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