"Not Sold Online" Means "Come Pay More For It In The Store"

Reader F. put some Consumerist-savvy to work and got Walmart to honor the price shown on their website. You see, when something is out of stock on — the item’s description says “Not Sold Online,” rather than “Out of Stock.” Not being psychic, F. took this to mean that the item was not sold online, and would be available at the listed price at the store…

Normally I avoid Walmart like the plague, but having just moved I am skint (broke, out of money, impoverished). My computer monitor was broken (cracked, actually) sometime in the process of moving residences, and I needed a replacement ASAP. So I was price comparing online, and the Dell SE198WFP seemed like a nice enough deal.

Walmart advertises the SE198WFP for $188.72 on their website, and the site also says it’s in stock at my local store. **The website also specifically says “Not Sold Online.”**

Well, we get to the Walmart in Okemos, Michigan and find the monitor. It is tagged as $198.00, $10 more than the price as listed online. I grab the girl at the electronics counter (as she sighs because I am interrupting her text messaging), and inform her I need a monitor. At this point I am assuming this is a non-issue, and they will happily give me the web advertised price. Not so.

As she is unlocking the monitor from its electronic alarm, I mention the price discrepancy. She now has a sour look on her face and says she can’t sell it to me for that price. But I read The Consumerist every single day. I felt bad enough shopping at Walmart to begin with, I wasn’t going to let them get away with this.

I point out that advertising one price to lure customers into the store and then trying to charge another higher price is tantamount to false advertising. She says there is nothing she can do (lies!), and I need to talk to a manager. I ask for a manager.

Well, she walks away and ostensibly calls a manager with the issue. We wait for around five minutes, and the girl comes back. I get some more information, but the manager never appears.

She proceeds to tell me that when a product is sold out online, the website says “Not Sold Online,” but they can’t “comp” themselves. She then informs me she dealt with this same issue earlier in the day; someone wanted to buy a computer advertised online for $50 less than the store had it listed for. She continued with this talk of not being able to “comp” themselves, and how even though the website says “not sold online,” lists a price, and informs you of your local stores stock status, that the price isn’t actually valid.

I wasn’t having it. I asked point blank, “so you are unwavering on the issue?” She says yes.

My response is simple. I tell her that it was unacceptable for a corporately controlled chain to lure customers into their stores with no intent to honor prices advertised by that very same corporation. Furthermore I tell her to do so is illegal in the state of Michigan (it is). I go on to say that if they were insistent, I was left with a specific course of action. I would file with the state AG office, file with the BBB (even though it does nothing), call exec.. cu… tive… I am cut off mid-sentence. That’s all she needed to hear.

In a huff, she unlocks the monitor, takes it to the counter, and rings me up at the web advertised price without so much as a call to her manager. Apparently they can “comp” themselves.

What concerns me is not a measly $10. What concerns me is that, as she evidenced, this happens often. How many customers are going to brick and mortar stores to pick up items advertised online, only to find prices markedly higher than advertised? And how many of those customers cave in, not being aggressive about their rights as a consumer?

-F Scott

We hear about this sort of thing often. Some general advice: Some stores have mouse-print on their websites that specifically excuse themselves from having to price match their own websites. If you’re going to try to get them to price match, make sure to bring a printout of the website with you, as some retailers have a habit of trying to skirt the issue by tricking you into thinking that the “sale ended while you were in the car.”

As far as goes, “not sold online” is a very misleading way to say “out of stock.” You were correct to demand the “not sold online” price. We’re so proud!