Target Advertises Cheap In-Store Hard Drive Online, 'Varies' Price At Stores

Silly Jeremy, thinking he can use an online Target ad for an in-store only price to gauge the actual price of an item at his neighborhood Target.

When Jeremy saw an external hard drive he wanted was $59.99 in-store only, he overlooked the tiny print that said “Prices, promotions, styles and availability may vary by store and online.” And then he got into some trouble that caused him to write this letter to Target customer service:

I went in the Target store located in Charlottesville, Virginia to purchase a Seagate 250GB external hard drive. According to my research on the website before I arrived, the in-store price was $59.99. However, when I arrived to purchase it, the price had gone up to $84.99. I had the electronics clerk take a look to verify pricing. He checked the website and it continued to state that the cost was $59.99. The clerk then requested the store manager ‘David’ to come to the front. David verified that the website indicated a cost of $59.99, but he pointed out that the fine print said that ‘prices may vary‘. Unfortunately, the website didn’t indicate the range of prices that I may have to pay, much less indicate that the price may be up to 40% more than advertised.

I contacted guest relations and spoke with Kelly. She was very polite and helpful. She called the store in question and informed me that the in-store price was indeed $59.99 and that a mistake had been made. As I needed the item quickly, I had to use another retailer. Not only did I end up having to shop Best Buy, I wasted time going into the
Target store just to find out that I could get it for almost $20 less at Wal-Mart.

As I don’t like to give Wal-Mart my money and I simply dislike Best Buy’s sales tactics, I was very pleased to have a Target store open in my area. However, needing this item on short notice and doing the proper research to determine price, location and availability, I was under the impression that Target would be able to provide me this unit at the price indicated at the store indicated. I learned that I was mistaken.

Kelly informed me that to know what a price was at a particular store, I would have to call them to find out. I find this method of determining store pricing very unfortunate, especially in 2009. I neither have the time nor inclination to make phone calls to stores and be put on hold until someone can determine what a unit’s price is. The entire point of a web presence is information, preferably accurate information.

Prior to the Target store opening in my area, I had to shop Wal-Mart or Best Buy. For all their other, serious issues, they at least had accurate information on their website. I could determine online what the actual cost was as well as availability.

I would request that I’m contacted when this oversight is corrected so that my family can start shopping Target again.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Despite the total ubiquity of these “web price may vary” policies at retailers, we get a lot of angry emails like this one. Customers want to use the website to research prices and availability at a given store, but stores have yet to develop a way for consumers to reliably do so. The dance will likely never end.

(Photo: pdxmac)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.