Sears, Best Buy, Wal-Mart And Others Fined For Not Warning Consumers About Analog Obsolescence

The FCC handed out a whole basketful of fines to electronics retailers today: $1.1 million for Sears and Kmart; $992,000 for Wal-Mart; $712,000 for Circuit City; and amounts between $168,000-384,000 for Target, Best Buy, CompUSA, and Fry’s Electronics. What made Christmas come so early? They were all failing to warn consumers that analog-only TVs and tuners will stop working on their own when the digital switchover comes next year.

Best Buy told the Chicago Tribune that they were “extremely disappointed” by the fine because they’d made a good faith effort to pull all analog-only tuners off the sales floor last October. As for some of the other companies, “Wal-Mart did not immediately comment, while a message to Sears was not returned.” That’s probably because Sears’ phone has been disconnected for failure to pay its bill.

“Sears, Wal-Mart, others fined for analog TV labeling” [Chicago Tribune] (Thanks to Tim!)
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. strife1012 says:

    Where’s Amazon’s Fine? or eBay’s Fine?

    At least Circuit City has Pamphlets for consumers.

  2. humphrmi says:

    So, Best Buy was disappointed because they got fined for breaking the law despite a “good faith effort,” eh?

    “Gee, officer, I’m disappointed you’re arresting me. I made a good faith effort NOT to kill him.”

    Yeah, I know, it’s more extreme. But it’s a lame excuse.

  3. “Sears, Best Buy, And Wal-Mart Fined For Not Warning Consumers About Analog TVs”? Hmmm….

    The top three fines went to Sears, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, respectively. Best Buy is lumped with a bunch of other retailers.

    I’m not sure I want to ask about the justification for booting Circuit City to give Best Buy second billing.

    Seriously, there’s no bias here. None at all.

  4. Wait, so putting next to the info tag of every analog TV “CONSUMER ALERT-THIS TV ONLY INCLUDES AN ANALOG TUNER AND WILL REQUIRE A TUNER BOX AFTER FEB. 29, 2009 PLEASE SEE AN ASSOCIATE FOR MORE DETAILS” along with the same warning being on every box of analog only TVs is not warning the customers?

  5. BalknChain says:

    This is also on the news at least once a week not to mention Comcast’s endless commercial parade about the switch.

  6. @ceilingfanboy: No, a violation occured when that warning wasn’t present. Each violation was worth $8,000. A lot of them are VCR/DVD players (whoops!). Here’s the full forfeiture list, for the numerically curious:

    DTV Labeling NALs $3,928,000
    Sears, Roebuck, K-Mart $1,096,000
    Wal-Mart Stores/Sam’s West $992,000
    Circuit City Stores $712,000
    Fry’s Electronics $384,000
    Target Corporation $296,000
    Best Buy Co. Inc. $280,000
    CompUSA, Inc. $168,000

    DTV Tuner Actions $1,624,000
    Syntax-Brillian $1,266.100
    Precor Inc. $357,900

    DTV V-Chip NALs $1,075,000
    Polaroid Corporation $775,000
    Proview Technology, Inc. $300,000

    At least the FTC is taking the transition seriously.

    FCC Adopts DTV Enforcement Orders Totaling Over $6 Million (PDF) [FTC]

  7. farker says:

    I had read on Engadget a while back that Best Buy was pulling all its analog sets in an effort to avoid being fined.

    While BB is notoriously terrible with its treatment of customers, I’m curious as to what else the government expected them to do?

    [www.engadget.com]

  8. ChuckECheese says:

    Last year I kept hearing that analog TVs weren’t supposed to be sold after (I think it was) March of 2007, except current stock. A friend and I were each shopping for new TVs then, and we saw that WM, Sam’s Club, Target, BB, Fry’s and other retailers continued to sell and stock analog TVs at least through Christmas last year. The tags usually didn’t tell you what tuner the TV had–if you were lucky, it would say something silly like “DTV Ready!” One TV I looked at in Target didn’t tell you on the tag, the TV, or on the box what the tuner was. It seemed deliberate.

  9. karmaghost says:

    I’m not a big fan of Best Buy, but if they really did pull non-digital sets from their shelves (which appeared to be the case last time I was in there) then why did they get fined? It’s not their job to inform consumers about products they don’t sell.

  10. teh says:

    @strife1012: I don’t know about ebay, but Amazon has been pretty good about putting a warning below the description of offending products.

  11. cde says:

    Amazon and ebay didn’t get hit because…. Those are private resales of tvs, not retailers selling new ones.

  12. Darkwish says:

    @strife1012: Why would eBay get a fine? They don’t sell TVs. It’s the people that sell on eBay that do. If they want to fine each individual seller listing a TV, that’s up to them.

  13. bsalamon says:

    bought a TV at target 6 months ago, and they had no analog TVs

  14. shiznannigan says:

    I understand that there are laws (?) in place here, but does anybody NOT know about the digital switch? The PSAs talking about this get more airtime than the shows around here. One of the local stations runs a warning ticker about it every hour (complete with beeping), even if it covers up another warning ticker about tornado warnings.

    And the changeover is still ten months away!!!

  15. @Michael Belisle: At least all the Wal-Marts around here had a sign on everything. DVD recorders, VCRs, DVRs, TVs… anything that would have needed it.

  16. TruPhan says:

    They still make analog TVs?

  17. MBZ321 says:

    @TruPhan:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Kmart still has sets on their shelves with manual knobs and free rabbit ears in the box.

  18. Blinker says:

    This really is a stupid law to begin with. It should be the consumer’s job to do research before buying a product if they are smart. Also you would have to be an idiot to not see several of the thousands of commercials played daily on TV and the radio to NOT know about the analog cutoff.

  19. ChuckECheese says:

    My friend’s and my experience shopping for new TVs last year was very different that what many are reporting. My friend, nearly 60 years old, didn’t understand what the switch to DTV was all about. It’s quite complicated. There’s analog and digital and QAM tuners, tuner boxes and cable boxes and figuring out what’s built-in and what’s not. There are also screen-aspect ratios, and 720p vs 1080p vs 1080i, LCD vs plasma. Oh–and then there are the cables. There weren’t any digital tuner boxes available @ retail last year (only online). Complicating things even more, Dallas, where my friend lives, has some sort of subscription over-the-air digital TV service with its own set-top box, called USDTV.

    All last summer & fall and into Xmas, stores were selling analog-only TVs, getting them in new, and they weren’t labeling them as being analog. Usually they had no specs available, or they were dishonestly labeled “DTV Ready,” which meant, yeah, you can have DTV if you plug a tuner box into the TV, a TV that did not have a digital tuner. At a Best Buy location in the Midwest last July, all their LCD TVs under 32″ were analog-only. When I asked a sales person why they were selling these past the deadline, he said they were “current stock.” When I mentioned I hadn’t seen 2 models just a week before, he walked away. The deadline to start selling digitally-tuned TVs was March 1 of 2007, according to this Engadget article. [www.engadget.com]

    In Dallas, Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club were still selling analog-only TVs through the holiday shopping season. The display TVs were routinely unlabeled; and in some cases, the boxes also lacked tuner specs. There were lots of shenanigans going on with these TVs all last year, so I welcome our fine-y FCC overlords.

  20. ChuckECheese says:

    @Blinker: The reason why consumer protection laws exist is because retailers and service providers are known to lie, cheat and steal–that is, to make deliberate attempts at deceiving people. It is not to compensate for what you think is a deplorable lack of applied intelligence on the part of consumers. I suggest for the next 15 years, until you’re 35 or 40 or so, you stay away from consumer-protection blogs, and stick with Ron Paul fanblogs and chewing the libertarian cud. How’s that gold standard coming along anyway? My mortgage is fail! Gold is shiny!

  21. cuiusquemodi says:

    @karmaghost: When has the government ever let reason get in the way of regulations?

  22. scoopjones says:

    Speaking of that, where are these converter boxes they’ve been talking about? The government’s advertised coupons for them, but I have yet to see one available. We have five on-air digital stations in my town already. Are they forcing everyone to buy a new TV? I guess that’s what the Bush economic incentive money is really for – buying a new digital TV while you live out of a cardboard box.

  23. Josh says:

    I just went to walmart the other day and it had a little timer by the TV’s that counted down the days until a digital converter box would be needed. I think this should be considered warning… Don’t you think?

  24. Baron Von Crogs says:

    Uh? In bestbuy I see a promo running all the time talking about “The Switch to Digital”.

  25. Extended-Warranty says:

    The public as a whole does not understand the DTV change. I believe that is the fault of the government. They should be sending out pamphlets or some other ways to give the people clean info. Best Buy has made the most progress in this movement and their fine doesn’t make much sense to me.

  26. madanthony says:

    The whole thing seems silly to me, given how few people actually use over-the-air antennas.

    But the one that really strikes me as stupid is that they fined Precor – the company that makes ellipticals for gyms – because one of their ellipticals had an integrated TV with a TV that didn’t have a digital tuner. Nevermind that a gym would hook it up to cable, and that it’s not normally sold directly to consumers.

  27. eelmonger says:

    @strife1012: These fines are probably based on individual violations, rather than a blanket one. That is, at Kmarts that were inspected, lots of individual TVs or other analog devices were found unmarked and each one had a small fine associated with it that led to the huge total. Best Buy had fewer individual fines so they get charged less. They may have tried to remove all the analog TVs from their stores, but you know there’s got to be a few sitting around without signs.

  28. bigdtbone says:

    Salesman: I see your looking at TV’s, any questions I can answer for you?

    ChuckECheese: Get away opressive pushy salesman!! You should know as an old person I don’t need help, I can find the cheapest thing that will sort-of do what I need all by myself. And I certainly would not accept your advice even if it were handed to me by John McCain himself!!

    Salesman: Umm, ok but that analog tv wont work after next year.

    ChuckECheese: I said die! Before I sick my AARP friends on you!

    ***CUT TO 18 MONTHS LATER***

    ChuckECheese: Dear Consumerist/FCC,

    Those facists at my local Electronics Retailer didn’t tell me that the reason the grossly underpriced TV I bought, was grossly underpriced because it’s obsolete. Anything I buy from the clearance shelf should last me at least 20 years, just like my reel-to-reel and quadrophonic system. I think you should write an article/fine them.

    K, THX

  29. blueboxer says:

    @karmaghost: The problem is that although stores were told by higher-ups to stop selling analog TVs, I’m sure there were some screwups somewhere… That, or as someone else mentioned there might have been labels missing.

  30. blueboxer says:

    @eelmonger: Exactly.

  31. odhen says:

    @ceilingfanboy:

    Hell, my local Walmart had them on everything. Even home theatre systems. If it even sat next to a TV they had a warning on it.

  32. karmaghost says:

    @blueboxer: Quite likely I guess, especially when you consider the whole Wal-Mart Nazi T-shirt debacle.

    I’m wondering, though, if some of the allegations are based on reports from consumers; doesn’t the FCC get “tips” and complaints from citizens? You will find non-HD and non-EDTV CRT TVs (phew) in Best Buy, but they are actually digital. Maybe “digital” to some people means LCD/Plasma.

  33. CPC24 says:

    @scoopjones: I saw a huge stack of converter boxes when I was in Best Buy last week. There must have been at least two dozen.

  34. ChuckECheese says:

    @Extended-Warranty: You are correct. Many of the people on this thread don’t get it either. According to FCC rules, no analog-only TVs should have been sold since 1 March of LAST YEAR. The TVs I saw for sale last summer/fall/winter weren’t accidents or leftovers–they were shelves full of unmarked analog TVs (most of them LCDs, some plasma, some CRT) in boxes that did not identify them as analog TVs. These were deliberate attempts at tricking people into buying analog TVs.

    The new TV technologies are complicated, very different than what went before. If you have spent the past 50 years watching a TV with an antenna or maybe a cable box, this is a whole new world. If only Ronald Reagan were still around to explain it–then we’d get it–lulz.

    @bigdtbone: Um, well, I’m not as old as my friend. And my post shows I’m pretty hip to the groove with DTV. I wanted a 30″ or smaller TV, yes, but not necessarily a cheap one. Last year you couldn’t find a small LCD TV with a digital tuner. The first one I saw was in July, at Fry’s, a 19″ Samsung, for about $400. It’s a great little TV. BTW, I did narc to the feds on their DTV website when I found that all the retailers in my city were still selling analog-only TVs 3 months after the deadline. The peculiar thing about your post is that you’re saying the opposite of what I did–I was the one who wanted a DTV, and the salespeople were trying to sell me analog TVs, while claiming they were “digital ready,” (after I bought a digital receiver box.)

  35. idip says:

    @ChuckECheese:

    “Many of the people on this thread don’t get it either. According to FCC rules, no analog-only TVs should have been sold since 1 March of LAST YEAR.”

    ChuckECheese, This statement is not correct.

    The FCC only said TV’s being imported into the US or shipped via interstate commerce from that date on were required to have a digital tuner. Otherwise, they were required to disclose they were analog-only TVs.

    Here is the quote from the FCC website: “As of March 1, 2007, all television receivers shipped in interstate commerce or imported into the United States must contain a digital tuner. In addition, effective May 25, 2007, the Commission required sellers of television receiving equipment that does not include a digital tuner to disclose at the point-of-sale that such devices include only an analog tuner, and therefore will require a digital-to-analog converter box to receive over-the-air broadcast television after the transition date.”

    This means any and all analog TV’s that may still be in warehouses or distribution centers, theoretically, could still be sold within that warehouses home state well past the March 1st deadline. It’s likely retailers will continue to sell those TV’s (probably for a while) in those states until their stock runs out as they may not be able to transport them to stores located outside of that state.

    As far as you complaining about sales people who say your TV is “Digial ReadY” well, i’m sure there is some technical truth to that.

    The FCC has an opinion on it: “If your television set is labeled as a “Digital Monitor” or “HDTV Monitor,” or as “Digital Ready” or “HDTV Ready,” this does not mean it actually contains a digital tuner. Thus, you still will likely need a separate set-top box which contains a tuner in order to view programs in the new digital TV transmission standard (which includes HDTV formats) on such a set. “

    Also to claims that stores may not be informing consumers, we all know MANY consumers don’t READ at all. If you don’t want to take my word for it, go to an Electronics store and just watch people. Yes, watch the customers and see how many of them ask the sales people questions that can be answered just by reading the box of a product. You’ll be surprised to see how many times the employee just looks at the box. These people aren’t technology experts, and you can’t expect Best Buy to hire anyone like that for $7.00 an hour.

    FCC also says: “If your television set is labeled as “analog” or “NTSC,” but is NOT labeled as containing a digital tuner, it contains an analog tuner only.”

    I see that “NTSC” all the time, and it wasn’t until this post that I was informed it was an analog signal. I always thought it was the North American standard for media like NTSC, PAL, and SECAM, that you would see on DVD’s which tell you if you can play a foreign DVD on your American DVD player.

    So I would have never known that TV that says “NTSC” at Best Buy or anywhere else would have meant “Analog” I would have just assumed it meant North American.

    While yes, retailers are required to have text posted next to their TVs, American consumers need to take some responsibility as well. They need to educate themselves of the coming format, especially when it’s getting so much media attention.

  36. idip says:

    @idip:

    Reply to my own comment, here is the link to the FCC webpage I got those quotes from.

    [www.fcc.gov]

  37. @TruPhan: No, but I’m sure there is a backlog of them the stores would just love to not have to send to the junkyard.

  38. kJeff says:

    does anyone know any sort of figure showing how many people as of right now would be SOL if the digital switch happened?

    Having known about this for a long time, I get the feeling it’s a very low number and that we’re making such a huge deal over something that will affect a tiny fraction of a percentage of the population.

  39. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    @idip:
    NTSC means the National Television System Committee which released the TV standard in 1940 & then the color standard in 1953. That’s to be abandoned next year in the US & in 2011 in Canada & 2022 in Mexico.
    And that’s probably why we’re seeing so many analog TVs for sale. They aren’t coming from warehouses in the US, they’re coming from ships & supposedly going to Canada & Mexico.
    Bullshit! They’re coming here.

    As for the FCC fining CompUSA, that’s a good one, it’s out of business!

    Which is indicative of the FCCs incompetence in this entire switchover.

  40. bigdtbone says:

    @ChuckECheese: Sorry Chuck, I was actually replying to this comment:

    “The reason why consumer protection laws exist is because retailers and service providers are known to lie, cheat and steal–that is, to make deliberate attempts at deceiving people. It is not to compensate for what you think is a deplorable lack of applied intelligence on the part of consumers. I suggest for the next 15 years, until you’re 35 or 40 or so, you stay away from consumer-protection blogs, and stick with Ron Paul fanblogs and chewing the libertarian cud. How’s that gold standard coming along anyway? My mortgage is fail! Gold is shiny!”

    I should have pointed that out before, makes the (bad) satire I little more obvious. Didn’t mean to offend.

  41. B says:

    I find this to be quite surprising. I can’t really believe that Best Buy or other retailers would miss a chance to upsell consumers on more expensive hardware.

  42. Munsoned says:

    One more point: yes, many people know about the switch now, but again, the actions that caused these fines were done months ago before the recent DTV media campaign began. I would not be so quick to blame the consumer on this one…

  43. vladthepaler says:

    So the Feds pass a stupid law that breaks everyone’s electronics, and then fines private business for not being the barers of bad news? That’s insane. The Federal government, not Best Buy or Sears etc, is breaking all these teevees and VCRs; it should be their job to tell the people whose votes keep them in office how they’re being screwed.

  44. TickedOff says:

    Though I’m not a big fan of the digital conversion. However, these companies certainly know what’s coming. Further they’ve been explicitly told to tell their customers that the products will simply stop working at some point in the future so they certainly should be do that, especially if it’s a law (or equivalently, an FCC regulation). If “Best Effort” were the legal standard I’d be using that next time I got pulled over by a traffic cop!

    On the other hand the need for going digital is dubious at best and the value of the new signals is questionable. This is mostly a hand-out for the telecom industry wanting valuable VHF spectrum for their products and not about helping consumers. That’s why the introduction has gone *so well* and been delayed nearly a decade – the value proposition for consumers never existed and they had ram it do peoples throats by fiat.

    BTW I’m not planning to upgrade. I’ll simply stop watching if it becomes a problem. It’s not like I’d be missing anything! I’m an Alpha Geek and engineer!

  45. Jeepman says:

    @ChuckECheese – Damn right about them pesky old folks. They don’t know nothin’, can’t read to find out nothin’ and are a big ole’ pain in the ass. We should do away with them – think “Soylent Green.” Your ancient, decrepit, slightly “Alzheimered” old friend of 60 is soooo lucky to have someone like you around to guide him/her through their declining years and all the confusing technology like QAM, and HD and 1080I. Wow, will you come live with me and explain all that techie stuff to me too??? Would ya’? Huh? Would ya?

  46. bigdtbone says:

    @pjcurry: Do we really have to recycle them back into the food supply? Cause, you know, old people are chewy…

  47. ChuckECheese says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: Amen! I don’t know why I’ve had such a hard time getting this point across. I was shopping for a TV last year after the cutoff. New, analog-only TVs were coming in regularly, replacing TVs that had been sold/discontinued, and this went on through the holidays 2007. These TVs were sold at prices comparable to what one should pay for a new DTV–these weren’t discounted televisions.

    They were unlabeled, as in, the shelf labels didn’t tell you what kinda tuners they had, and in many cases, it wasn’t even printed on the box, making it impossible, without opening a box and reading the manual, to find out what the tuner specs were. This was deliberately misleading. Telling somebody that a new LCD or plasma TV is “digital ready” because you can hook some digital rabbit ears and a box up to it is equally misleading. Last summer/fall when I shopped, stores weren’t providing much in the way of consumer education. I never saw any pamphlets, but I did read the FCC’s website on the topic. These retailers were simply trying to move 2nd-rate TVs at 1st-rate prices.

    Which takes me to @idip: Last year, I don’t remember reading such mealy-mouthed commerce clauses on the FCC’s site, although that info is there now. Other information sources, such as magazines and Engadget, also didn’t say, “analog TVs can still be sold if they weren’t shipped across state lines.” At the time I was shopping, the news and a page on the FCC site said only “no more analog-only TVs to be sold after 1 Mar 07 unless they are current store stock.”

    The FCC also provided a link to report retailers that were selling analog and/or unlabeled TVs, which, after many a frustrating shopping trip, I used. And besides, the fact the FCC fined these retailers proves my point, not yours. Clearly the retailers were trying to get away with something they weren’t allowed to. Wal-Mart, Sam’s and many other retailers practice “just-in-time” inventory; they don’t have warehouses full of old stock. Wal-Mart stores have tiny warehouses compared to the size of the store, requiring a constant supply chain moving stock daily from China to your shopping basket.

    @pjcurry: I mentioned this guy is my friend, and he didn’t understand what was going on. He thought he could just walk into a store and buy a TV, and it would work. I worked for years as a gerontologist; I don’t have negative opinions about seniors, and it’s understood that older people, and the French, take longer to catch on to new technologies.

  48. bigdtbone says:

    @ChuckECheese: Ok, I think we just found our disconnect.

    “They were unlabeled, as in, the shelf labels didn’t tell you what kinda tuners they had, and in many cases, it wasn’t even printed on the box, making it impossible, without opening a box and reading the manual, to find out what the tuner specs were.”

    They are unlabeled because they had NO TUNER AT ALL. Many TV’s sold over the last 3 years had no tuner, because only 10% of television media consumers needed them. Most people have cable/satellite. TV companies and retailers were NOT selling them at the same prices (in fact most comparable units were $100-150 less than there ATSC bearing counterparts.) Also, they are not second rate TV’s (At least When you compare a Sony Bravia (No Tuner) to an Olevia (ATSC Tuner On-board) it is pretty clear to anyone WITH EYES which is the nicer picture.) Many top brands and builds elected not to include DTV tuners in order to have a more desirable price structure.

    Not everyone needs/wants snow tires. And just because a Porsche doesn’t come stock with them, it’s still a 1st rate car.

  49. ChuckECheese says:

    @bigdtbone: Some of the mystery TVs were indeed tunerless and labeled “monitor;” however, the majority I saw had NTSC tuners only. I remember seeing some less expensive tunerless monitors for sale various places. ATSC tuners are not that expensive. You can order a box online for $50 or less, so I don’t know why adding a tuner would add much to the price of a TV, especially when you’re probably going to drop at least $1000 on it.

    The problem I had shopping was that I wanted a smaller LCD TV (under 30″). Most of last year, there were absolutely no TVs of this size that had built-in ATSC tuners, even after the deadline. And most anybody who wants a compact TV doesn’t want to make space for a tuner box. I wanted my little TV to have a tuner inside.

  50. wellfleet says:

    @farker: We haven’t sold analog TVs in 6 months and had little signs on every TV, and stickers on every TV, even the LG refrigerator with a television got one in my store, plus a broadcast loop of a warning played on all our TVs, plus posters, plus constant emails from corporate to talk to customers about this, plus a weekend training about the transition. I don’t know how we could have made it clearer.

  51. Jeepman says:

    @ChuckECheese – You have a very strange definition of “friend.” I’m glad I don’t have any “friends” like you.

  52. ForeverYoung2008 says:

    Yo, Chuck! I think you gave your age away with phrases like

    “I’m pretty hip to the groove”
    and
    “I did narc to the feds”

    :-)