Fry's Electronics Price Matches 99 Cent Only Store!

While I was browsing the isles of several major electronic retailers such as Circuit City, Fry’s Electronics and Microcenter I noticed that they sold the same Belkin USB Cable that I’ve purchased for $.99 at the 99 cents only store.

99Cent Only store Belkin Lighted USB2.1 cable

This made me think… will these major retailers price match this item? With prices ranging from $14 to $29 depending on the store, this would be one heck of a price match and would truly test their price match policies. Which retailers honored the price match and what do I think of the major electronics chains in the Houston area? Read on…

Circuit City

First up on my list was Circuit City. The ‘City’ has their price match policy on a big sign behind the customer service desk as you enter the store. Stating they will price match any local competitor and seeing the same cable their only a week earlier I was confident in my challenge. I headed straight back to the aisle with the overpriced USB cables and found what I was looking for – kind of… It appeared they were all out of the cables except for the green colored ones. Coincidently the green ones were the only ones that the 99 cent only store did not carry – they had plenty of clear, blue and red cables. Knowing that Circuit City doesn’t have to match the price if the competing retailer doesn’t have the item in stock I immediately started calling other 99 cent store locations. To my disappointment all seven stores that I calld had every color but green!

I didn’t want to give up, I knew they had clear cables the week before so the UPC number on my receipt would be in their system. Maybe I would get a stupid customer service rep that wouldn’t notice the one digit difference in the UPC symbol. I grabbed the green USB cable from the shelf which was priced at $19.99 and headed to the customer service desk. Even with no line and a slow day the woman behind the counter still seemed unable to acknowledge me as she scuffled some papers with her back turned. A polite “Excuse me” (no really, I was polite :) managed her attention as she asked what she could do for me. I showed her the receipt from the 99 cent only store and the product I had. She instantly said she couldn’t match the 99 cent only store. I stood speechless for a second then pointed to the sign which stood 3 feet immediately behind her and read to her “We will match the price of any local retailer and beat it by 10% .” She looked a bit angry at this point and grabbed the receipt from the desk as she started punching in some numbers into the computer. At this point I realized she was punching in the UPS numbers on the receipt – maybe she wouldn’t realize they were different numbers than the one I had there!

About a minute later she said that there was no way she could do it since it was $19.99 the computer refused to let her discount it to 99 cents. Again I expressed that their price policy was clearly stated behind her and apparently they don’t live up to it. She then walked back and grabbed the phone – apparently to get a senior manager – and Mere seconds later a suited manager walked up and asked how he could help. I explained the situation and he looked a bit perplexed – perhaps he thought I was joking. He said they couldn’t be the same product so I told him I could bring them in – I had just bought a few and needed another but didn’t want to spend the gas to go all the way back to that 99 cent store.

I went to the car and brought all five in hoping that the camouflage of the other cables would hide the fact I didn’t have a green one. The manager examined the package briefly and compared the UPC number to the one on my receipt again avoiding to look at the UPC symbol on the green cable form their store! The manager looked a bit perplexed that this could be possible then started fumbling around in the computer when he told the customer service rep to call the 99 cent store to make sure they had some. It was at this time that I broke out my Palm pilot with the picture above showing how many they had on the shelf but he said they still had to call. To my dismay the customer rep carried the GREEN cable with her when she called. The manager continued to fumble around on the computer and came to the same conclusion the customer service rep did. He told me he didn’t think he could do it – not because he wouldn’t but because their computer wouldn’t let them discount it that much! Seconds later the customer service rep came back and stated that they didn’t have the green ones in stock just the white and red ones. The manager asked if there were any on the shelf and I had to admit that they were sold out of the other colors but had them last week. He then said he couldn’t price match it unless I could prove they had the green ones in stock!

In one sense I was defeated and wondered if it would be worth testing the other stores. I then realized that had it not been for their computer not allowing them to lower the price to 99 cents there is a good chance the customer service rep would have sold it to me at that price before the manager even became involved. Off to another Circuit City location I would go – perhaps they would have them in stock in other colors.

To my dismay all three Circuit City stores I visited were out of all colors except green. Perhaps they took them out of inventory because someone had already tried this on them? I concluded that if I would have had matching product I probably could have received my price match but it would have taken quite a bit of protesting, persistence and quite likely involvement with the regional or district manager to resolve.

MicroCenter

Next on my list was MicroCenter . For those who are not familiar with MicroCenter, it is the largest ‘computer only’ retail store in the Houston area. They have great specials that cycle on a bi-monthly basis making it my second favorite place to shop for discount ‘loss leader’ computer items. I had just been into MicroCenter a day before so I knew they had to have the product still in stock. It was priced at $14.99 when I last saw it.

Upon arriving in the store I looked around the returns area for a price match policy. After finding none I found my way to the customer service department where I could also find no posted policy. I decided to find the product and then hit up a salesperson. The cable was easy to find but the salespeople were not. It was about thirty minutes to closing and nobody seemed interested in helping. I literally tried to chase two salespeople down who were on the other side of the store and just when I would get into non shouting distance they would be taken by another customer. About five minutes later I was able to flag down a salesperson who was hiding down the isle with the CD cases doing some shelf management. I probably walked right past him while chasing the other salespeople down the adjacent isles. I showed him the white Belkin USB cable and my receipt from the 99 cent store and asked if they price match. He immediately said that they don’t price match most products. I asked which products they price matched and he stated that it was just the ones the manager wanted to and that there is no way he would price match that. I asked where I could find the manager and he said to go to customer service so I did. I asked the lady there about price matching and she stated the same thing the salesperson did.

After fighting with Cicuit City I decided that it probably wasn’t worth the effort here. MicroCenter didn’t have a posted policy so there really wasn’t much leverage to make them do so. They did have the lowest retail price for the cable however.

Fry’s Electronics

Fry's Electronics Belkin USB2.1 Lighted Cable

Next on my list was Fry’s Electronics. Fry’s is the newest of the retailers to the Hostuon area and now has three locations. I’m a frequent visitor to Fry’s and pretty much know their system inside and out. Fry’s is much like the other retailers – you are lucky to find anyone there who really knows their stuff and unless you are buying high priced products salespeople can be hard to come by. Fry’s offers fairly retail pricing but their newspaper advertised prices are unbeatable, even below wholesale at times. I am probably Fry’s worst customer because 95% of everything I buy from them is a ‘loss leader’ item from the newspaper. While their advertised prices are great it is hard to get them to budge on anything else. Frys’ price match policy isn’t written down anywhere in the store as far as I could tell but several salespeople told me they would price any local retail store…

I walked up to the ‘customer service’ desk and asked who would be the best person to speak with about price matching a product. He told me to get into the returns line and talk to any of the people there who would help. Fortunately the return line was only 1 person long and my wait was a mere thirty seconds.

The customer service specialist, Mr. Black greeted me with a smile and asked what he could do for me. I showed him the receipt from the 99 cent only store and said I didn’t want to have to make the 5 mile trip back to that store to buy another cable – I was one short (I didn’t want to be a prick and say I needed 20 cables…didn’t want to be banned from Fry’s either!). At first Mr. Black was hesitant expressing that they are probably not the same cable. I asked him if he wanted me to bring some in to show him since I had them in the car. He expressed interest in the notion and said he would get a manager while I returned with the product. At this point it seemed like he was just as interested as me on whether they would price match the item and mentioned that it seems like they would have not choice but to honor their policy.

Upon re-entering the store with my cables I noticed a small huddle around the desk that I being helped at. It appeared a manager and a few other customer service reps had gathered around – they probably expressed interested when they realized that they sold the same cable for $29.99! The manager asked how many I wanted and I told him only one more. He asked Mr. Black to give the 99 cent store a call to make sure they had them in stock. Was he actually going to do it? Mr. Black returned with the news that they had hundreds in stock and the UPC symbols matched the receipt. About 5 minute later the manager came back with a green quote sheet which had the 29.00 discount! A few minutes later I was in line and quite surprised. Fry’s, who doesn’t even publish their price match policy, and can sometimes be a real hassle on returns gave me the least hassle in this case!

During the time that I was waiting for Mr. Black to verify the price I stated to the manager that the product markup from wholesale must be outstanding. He responded that although cables are high profit items they will surely be loosing a bit on this transaction. He also said he would have to talk to his regional manager so they could contact the vendor about the situation! I sure hope Belkin doesn’t stop selling their overstock to 99 cent only store because of me! *
Conclusion*

While this example is a bit insane – it is quite clear to me that Belkin sells their overstock to the 99 cent store franchise for heavily discounted price – cables are still the biggest rip off in consumer electronics today. This price match challenge was done to see how the retailers would react when someone challenged their ‘bread and butter’ products. The retailers make more profit on the accessories, cables, power conditioners, surge protectors, than they do on the main product they sell. This has lead to the fact that cable prices don’t agree with the supply vs. demand model. I remember when nobody used s-video, you could buy an s-video cable for $3.00. Then s-video became standard on all most televisions and suddenly the price of the same 6 foot s-video cables rose to $10+! Then came component video. Before most consumer devices had this connection the cables could be found quite cheap. I recall paying $15 at a local retailer for a 25 foot component video cable. Now the same store sells the exact cable for $39.99 and they are probably selling ten times the amount! The same thing is happening with HDMI / DVI and other new connection cables. It seems that the marketplace take it upon themselves to find a way to make these cables high profit. The early adopters of the technology know better but once the technology becomes mainstream they start taking advantage of consumers – pushing them to $100 cables because ‘they work better’ with no real proof (just marketing hype and other mystery science) that cable brand A is better than cable brand B. Furthermore, most employees at the retail chains don’t know much about what they sell in the first place. When they do get trained on products it is by the product manufacturer. The misleading information given to them by the sales rep, who is trained by a marketing department, is then passed onto the consumer.

You can still buy reasonably priced good quality cables of all types but you usually have to do so through the internet. Most people who buy a new television or stereo want to go home and connect it up right away, they don’t want to wait a few days for cables to come in the mail. The retailers take advantage of this. The solution: Don’t buy from the retailers. Use them to demo the products then go online and find a trustworthly online e-tailer to purchase the product from. You’ll not only save money on the actual product, you’ll likely save money on taxes your cables will arrive with your main product so no impulse to buy those expense cables offered at the retailer.

Article Info

  • Author: Brian
  • Posted on: Tuesday August 15, 2006
  • Under: Tech-Advice