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Consumers accuse Best Buy, other Texas retailers of price-gouging in Harvey’s wake

  • William Van-Lear Black
  • August 31, 2017
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A photo taken at a Best Buy in Houston after Hurricane Harvey shows 12-packs of Smart Water listed for $29.98 and 24-packs of Dasani water advertised at $42.96. The photo went viral on social media, causing many to accuse the company of price-gouging in the wake of the storm.

A Best Buy spokeswoman told CNBC the exorbitant pricing resulted from a “big mistake” made by a few employees at one store.

https://twitter.com/kenklippenstein/status/902571298521399296

The company issued a statement Wednesday explaining that because it does not sell water by the case, its computer systems contain no pricing information for cases of water. When employees at the store in question failed to find prices for cases, they multiplied the price of individual bottles by the number of bottles in a case and arrived at the numbers listed above.

The statement says the explanation is not an excuse and expresses remorse for the occurrence.

“We feel terrible about this because, as a company we are focused on helping, not hurting people affected by this terrible event,” the statement says. “We are all deeply sorry that we gave anyone even the momentary impression that we were trying to take advantage of the situation.”

Best Buy is just one of a number of Houston-area retailers consumers have accused of using the storm to pad the bottom line, The Washington Post reports. The state attorney general’s office has received 684 complaints from consumers, most of which allege price-gouging.

“Anytime catastrophic storms hit Texas, we witness the courage of our first responders and the generosity of neighbors coming together to help their fellow Texas,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement, per the Post. “Unfortunately, in the wake of the damage from storms and flooding, we also see bad actors taking advantage of victims and their circumstances.”

Some businesses have charged as much as $8.50 for a single bottle of water, and up to $99 for a case, the Post says.

An investigation by KXAN, an NBC affiliate based in Austin, revealed that a Best Western hotel in Robstown was charging almost triple its ordinary nightly rate. A crew working undercover for the station paid $289.99 ($321.89 with tax) for a room that typically costs $119 per night.

Best Western spokeswoman Kelly Dalton said in a statement that the nationwide hotel chain had reimbursed the overcharged customers and intends to cut ties with the Robstown location.

One woman says she paid more than $60 for two cases of beer at a RaceWay gas station in Corpus Christi. RaceWay says the overcharge resulted from a clerical error, and that the owner, who is an “independent Raceway contract operator,” according to a statement by RaceWay, gave the customer a full refund when the mistake came to light.

Still, the company says: “We take these allegations seriously and are investigating them with the operator.”

Texas law enforcement takes price-gouging seriously as well. The offense carries a fine of $20,000 per incident. If victims are over the age of 65, the penalty is $250,000 per incident.

Price-gouging, Paxton says, is something “you can’t do in Texas.”

A few gas stations have reportedly been charging upwards of $3.50 per gallon for gas, Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told the Post. One store, she said, charged $20/gallon. The average gas price in Houston is $2.21, according to gaspricewatch.com.

Sunday, the Post reported that Harvey had forced the shutdown of a quarter of the oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, and disabled ten percent (two million barrels per day worth) of the country’s refining capacity. The shutdowns will drive up the gas prices in and around Houston.

Paxton’s office is investigating whether the $20/gallon price was an act of price-gouging or a necessary response to the refinery shutdowns.

Featured Image via Flickr/brownpau

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I'm Will Black. Pleased to meet you. In case you haven't noticed, there’s a lot happening on this 8,000-mile-wide sphere we’re all stuck on together. There’s plenty going on in each 22.5 inch wide sphere that rests upon a human being’s shoulders, too. I’ve heard every broken record that plays in my own personal 22.5’’ sphere. Writing, for me, is an opportunity to smooth over the ticks and pops on those records, and an effort to understand and lend expression to the myriad phenomena going on in everybody else’s little sphere. If I do that work properly, our ride through space on this big blue sphere should be a little more worthwhile, or at least a little more tolerable.

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