RECORD STORE TALES Part 225: Bait & Switch
One Wednesday afternoon in 1997, I was working alone. A gentleman in his mid-20’s walked into my store. He browsed the hip-hop section and I asked him if he needed any help finding anything. He said no, and was pleasant enough. About 10 minutes later, he approached the counter to make a purchase.
I knew immediately there was a problem. In his hands was a used copy of Puff Daddy’s brand new smash hit album, No Way Out. It had one of our Bargain Bin stickers on it, priced at $5.99. However the album was a fairly new release, and any used copies we had were always priced at $11.99. I’d never put one of them in my Bargain Bin, ever at this point. You just didn’t throw a new release into a sale bin. As Puffy said, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”
I couldn’t rule out staff error, so I double checked. Each price tag had a stock number on it. That stock number told me the location of the actual CD; the discs were all kept safely behind the counter.
Sure enough, I referred to the stock number which led me to a completely different CD, one that was common for our Bargain Bin. It wasn’t staff error. This meant that somebody switched the Puff Daddy price tag with another CD, from our Bargain Bin.
I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
“OK, I have a problem here,” I began, as gently as I could. After all, I had no way of knowing for sure that this guy switched the tags himself. It was probable that he would, very few people would switch a price tag and leave it. I could even see where the tag was peeled off and re-applied. “This CD isn’t actually $5.99. It’s supposed to say $11.99. It looks to me like someone switched the price tags. I’m not saying it was you…I’m sorry about this…but I can’t sell you this disc for $5.99. $5.99 is less than we actually paid for it.”
He shrugged. “That’s not my problem. You have to honor the price tag.”
“This price tag,” I countered, “links back to a CD by Hole. I can sell you that CD for $5.99, but not Puff Daddy. This is a brand new release, we never put new releases out in our Bargain Bin.”
Then he got fancy. “Are you familiar with the Bait & Switch law?”
I was. From Wikipedia:
First, customers are “baited” by merchants’ advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items (“switching”).
“This isn’t a Bait & Switch,” I argued. “Somebody else switched the price tag. Like I said, this tag right here links back to Hole, not Puffy. I can sell you Hole for $5.99, for Puffy, you’d pay $11.99. Again, I’m not saying you switched it. But somebody did. I’m sorry about that but I can’t lose money on this CD because somebody switched a price tag on me.”
“Legally, you are obligated to let me have that CD for $5.99. You’re in violation of Bait & Switch laws. Do you want me to get the cops involved?”
I knew he wouldn’t do that. “You can do that if you want, but what’s to stop me from going over to Walmart, taking a price tag from a $2 bag of chips, and putting it on a CD myself? Would Walmart have to sell me that CD for $2?”
Cool as a cucumber, he just shrugged.
It was at that moment that my boss walked in.
“What seems to be the problem here?” he asked.
I explained the whole situation, how somebody switched the price tag, and how he wanted Puffy for $5.99. I explained how I was 100% certain of the situation, and how the stock code on the price tag led me to a $5.99 Hole CD.
One issue that I had with my boss was that he didn’t always stick up for store managers in situations like this. I could never predict if he would stick up for us or cave. So what did he do? He apologized profusely and he rang in the CD for $7.99 or something like that. The customer was happy as could be, so polite.
He strolled out knowing he’d won. I wonder who he scammed next?
I walked over to the Puff Daddy section to see if I could find evidence of the missing but correct price tag. Sure enough, what did I find? A Hole CD, with a poorly applied $11.99 price tag on it, in the hip-hop section not far from Puffy. And what did that $11.99 tag’s stock code lead me to? The spot that the Puffy disc occupied.
An $8 scam was hardly going to break the bank, but I felt about two feet tall, because I knew I was right. I never let anybody else scam me in that way again. But that’s another story…