Most of us can walk into any big box or warehouse store and buy a case of bottled water for less than $10. But one Best Buy store in hurricane-devastated Texas was caught charging between $30 to $43 just for cases of water, leading to claims of price-gouging. Amid the blowback for its egregiously overpriced water, Best Buy is apologizing and claims it was all a mistake.
A reader submitted a photo of the Best Buy display to a reporter at news site Grit Post, who shared it on Twitter and on the site. The image went viral, because even the least price-conscious shopper knows that $43 for a case of Dasani is several times what one should expect to pay.
Best Buy apologized for selling this item, telling Grit Post in an emailed statement: “This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store on Friday. As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We’re sorry and it won’t happen again.”
The company’s spokesman explained the pricing, noting that it was “not as an excuse, but as an explanation.”
It’s actually an understandable error: The chain doesn’t normally sell water by the case, but it does sell some bottled water in coolers near its checkouts. That meant that the retailer had no price set up in the system for when it’s selling cases of water, and employees simply multiplied the normal single-bottle price by 24.
Others Accused Of Gouging
Intentional price-gouging, however, is a problem during any natural disaster, and has been reported around the region affected by Hurricane Harvey. Some Wingstop customers in Corpus Christi (warning: auto-play video at that link) were charged a mysterious “catering tray” fee for their meals, which one cashier called a “convenience fee.” Customers who complained to the chain received refunds.
KXAN kicked off an investigation when the Best Western where their crew stayed charged $289 before taxes for a room that normally cost $120. The Attorney General investigated, and was able to get refunds for dozens of families who stayed at the hotel during the storm.
That location has already lost its Best Western franchise as a result of the hurricane-related price hikes.
“We are deeply offended and saddened by the actions taken by this hotel,” the chain’s public relations manager told KXAN in a statement. “As a result, we are immediately severing any affiliation with the hotel. This hotel’s actions are contrary to the values of Best Western. We do not tolerate this type of egregious and unethical behavior.”
What to do when you’re price-gouged
Price-gouging happens because customers really do have no other choice — so if you find yourself in this situation, document the price, whether it’s a doubled hotel room rate, $20 for a gallon of gas, or $5 for a liter of water. Then take that documentation to your state’s attorney general as well as to the retailer’s corporate office if it’s a chain.
“If you see [price-gouging] happening, take a photograph,” Texas Deputy Attorney General Jim Davis told KXAN-TV out of Austin in an interview. “Use your cell phone. That’s one of the things of this storm that’s different, is the social media effect and the information we get.”
While the AG’s office is searching social media for complaints of price-gouging, don’t assume that posting to Facebook is sufficient. Make sure to submit your complaint to the Attorney General’s office.
Ken Paxton, Texas AG and hero to people who found RadioShack gift cards in their sock drawer long after the retailer’s bankruptcy, has reminded people in Texas that the state fines merchants $20,000 for price-gouging, and the fine multiplies to $250,000 when the person overcharged is over 65.