Best Buy apol­o­gizes for $43 bot­tled wa­ter in Houston

Re­tailer calls in­ci­dent ‘big mis­take,’ faces so­cial me­dia back­lash

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Charisse Jones

A case of bot­tled wa­ter priced at nearly $43 at a Best Buy store out­side storm-rav­aged Houston was a “big mis­take,” ac­cord­ing to the re­tailer, with the in­ci­dent spark­ing a so­cial me­dia back­lash and shin­ing a spot­light on price goug­ing in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey.

A photo of two cases of bot­tled wa­ter, one sell­ing for $42.96 and the other for $29.98, at a Best Buy in the Houston sub­urb of Cy- press, was posted Tuesday on Twit­ter by a jour­nal­ist, un­leash­ing a se­ries of an­gry Twit­ter re­sponses. The photo shows the higher-priced pack­age ap­pears to be for 24 bot­tles while the less ex­pen­sive pack has 12 bot­tles.

Best Buy spokesman Jef­frey Shel­man apol­o­gized in a state­ment for what he said was an er­ror made by a lo­cal em­ployee who added up the cost of each in­di­vid­ual bot­tle of wa­ter to come up with the price for the en­tire case.

“This was a big mis­take on the part of a few em­ploy­ees at one store on Fri­day,” Shel­man said. “We’re sorry and it won’t hap­pen again.”

He added, “not as an ex­cuse but as an ex­pla­na­tion,” the big­box elec­tron­ics seller doesn’t usu­ally sell pack­ages of bot­tled wa­ter. By con­trast, Wal­mart, on its web- site, lists 24 packs of Poland Spring bot­tled wa­ter for $20.63.

Even if it was done in er­ror, Best Buy’s ex­or­bi­tantly priced bot­tled wa­ter was, at least for a few hours, touted as one of the more glar­ing ex­am­ples of the price goug­ing in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, which has dis­placed thou­sands of Tex­ans and left many in search of shel­ter, dry cloth­ing and fuel.

The of­fice of the Texas State At­tor­ney Gen­eral said that as of Wed­nes­day morn­ing, it had re­ceived 684 com­plaints about ex­ces­sive pric­ing. They in­cluded a con­ve­nience store in Houston sell­ing gaso­line for $20 a gal­lon.

Such acts can lead to a $20,000 fine or penalty of up to $250,000 if the vic­tim is at least 65 years old. The state at­tor­ney gen­eral has so far no­ti­fied nine al­leged of­fend­ers that they have vi­o­lated the law and fines they could face if they don’t stop the goug­ing.

“Price goug­ing is not only rep­re­hen­si­ble, it’s il­le­gal,” Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott said Wed­nes­day.


“It won’t hap­pen again,” Best Buy of­fi­cials said about sell­ing over­priced bot­tled wa­ter.

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