Costco Bait and Switch?


First post for 2009 and it’s a gripe about Costco, one of my favorite stores. *sigh*

On December 30th Jack and I received a coupon booklet for many household and electronic items for Costco. The coupons were valid from January 5, 2009 through January 25th, 2009. One item that caught my eye was a $50.00 off coupon for a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 digital camera.

We’ve been looking into purchasing a new camera for some time now. We purchased our Kodak EasyShare several years ago and while it was a great camera at the time, it’s very out-dated by today’s standards and our needs have outgrown what this little camera can do. Nowadays cameras that cost 1/3 of the price we paid for our Kodak EasyShare are much more feature-packed and produce exponentially better quality photos. Despite this we have put off getting a new camera because ours still worked fine and it wasn’t at the top of our priorities.

Then our camera broke mysteriously after the kids borrowed it over Christmas break. It still takes pictures, but the battery compartment would not hold the batteries in anymore and it kept losing the date and settings. Jack crafted a tiny little pin to fix it and that works pretty good, but we still need to be careful with it. Still, it was a sign for us that it was time to retire this dinosaur of a camera and seriously look into getting a new one. Especially when the darn thing cannot even capture Kevin or Melissa during their choir concerts. It’s just not powerful enough to capture stage performances and/or sport shots. I’m finding more and more that I am not getting pictures of the kids and their milestones, events, etc. that I want. It’s so slow we couldn’t even capture the girls playing soccer unless we got really lucky (back when they played soccer).

After seeing the coupon for the Panasonic camera for Costco, I immediately got online to look up the average cost of this camera and read some reviews. Amazon has it listed for $324 and has glowing reviews and Google Product Search showed it ranges anywhere from $261 – $400.

I took a closer look at the Costco coupon and noticed it had a little blurb that the camera was also online at costco.com — so naturally I looked it up there. But my search showed it was out of stock and/or unavailable and the price was $299.99. The price sounded about right and with a $50.00 coupon even better. I figured it was unavailable online because the coupon effective date hadn’t arrived yet. So I waited.

UPDATE: Costco has removed the price from the web page now. See the screen shot below for what it looked like before they edited it.

Today I went back to costco.com and saw the same “Out of Stock” page and the price was still $299.99. I called our local Costco and asked if they had any in stock at the warehouse. They had 35. So on my lunch break I drove to Costco where I found this:

costcocameraad

Take note of the price above the camera. See the ad? And where it says “Also available at costco.com”? I whipped out my iPhone and looked it up online to see if I missed something but there’s nothing. No disclaimer saying the $299.99 price was with a coupon or rebate, or that prices may vary. Just $299.99 and out of stock. Here’s a screen shot I took of the website:

Camera on Costco.com

I found a salesperson to ask why costco.com had the camera for $299.99 while in-store it was $349.99. He explained to me that costco.com and the costco warehouses were separate entities and that while sometimes costco.com was cheaper, after shipping and handling it usually worked out the same. I showed him the web page on my iPhone and pointed to where it said “Shipping and Handling included”. He stared at the page a minute, then said he was on my side and would go get a manager for me since he can’t override the price.

To make a long story short, two managers later, three (the salesman + managers) telling me the Costco Brick & Mortar and online stores were “separate entities”, as if I should have known that somehow, an hour of my time (I should have been in an out of there in 10 minutes), them making me stand around an wait while they ran off to make 3 different phone calls, I got the camera for $299.99 – $50 coupon = $249.99.

The situation was almost bait and switch and I was kinda ticked. I would not have drove down to the warehouse had I known it was going to be $50 more. We don’t exactly have it in our budget to get this camera so close to Christmas and the only reason we decided to go for it was the price they advertised online, the coupon on top of that, and room on our credit card. 😉

The “separate entity” thing really irked me because average consumers would have no way of knowing that the online store and the warehouses were “separate”. Especially in this situation since both the coupon and the store ad give off the impression they are one in the same. I also told them I’ve never heard of a major store or chain that sells products online and via their brick and mortar locations not honoring the deals they have online *unless* the online deal specifically states “Online sales only”. (Which their site does not state either.)

After years of shopping at Costco, it was my first negative experience there (not counting the jerk shoppers we encounter sometimes, especially on busy days) and to me it’s a pretty big one. At least in the end they did the right thing.

One thought on “Costco Bait and Switch?

  1. I wanted the Vizio 55″ LCD Tv. It was advertised for $899.99 and FREE S&H if ordered online. I joined Costco for this. The NEXT day the price was up to $989.99 and 99.99 for S&H. a $200 increase overnight.
    I’ll talk to someone about it but dont have high hopes.
    Merry Christmas !
    Steve

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