(The names of all Best Buy employees have been omitted in the interest of preserving their privacy)
Best Buy was selling copies of the new video game, Amazing Spider-Man. And while such an event might not normally be headline news, in this case it was, because the official release date for that title is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26th. In other words, if the widespread chatter on the web was to be believed, Best Buy had violated their distribution agreement with publisher Activision. An act which could carry the hefty penalty of having severe fines leveled against the retailer.
Being a gamer myself, and more than a little interested in scoring a legitimate pre-release copy of Amazing Spider-Man, I headed down to my local Best Buy to see what the fuss was all about. The store I went to was the Goodyear location in Phoenix, AZ, store #485.
To my surprise, as soon as I entered the game section of the store, I was greeted by a bright, colorful placard on display that cheerily announced, “Amazing Spider-Man Available Now!” It was roughly 10 inches or so tall, encased in plastic and affixed to the shelves where games were on display.
I thought to myself, “Wow, these guys are being kind of bold and obvious about this. Why aren’t they getting into trouble for selling copies early?”
But as I continued to look around, I realized that no copies of Amazing Spider-Man were actually on the shelves. I looked and looked, but it seemed as though they were sold out. So I took the next logical step and flagged down a friendly employee, asking if any copies might be left in the back.
This definitely got my hopes up, but once again, I wondered how Best Buy could be so brazen in its disregard for the official street date, which at this point, was still three full days away.
Unfortunately, I quickly got my answer when a different employee (presumably senior) took the place of the first and firmly informed me that copies were not to be released until Tuesday, the 26th.
I countered by pointing out the obvious placard on display, which clearly promised, “Amazing Spider-Man Available Now!” And stated that if any copies were on-site in the store, they were obligated to sell one to me, for this very reason. After all, anything less would be false advertising, regardless of what sort of trouble they might get into with their distribution partners.
The employee in question assured me, more than once, that no copies were in the store, and that in fact, such copies would not arrive until the very day of the official release, namely Tuesday, June 26th. He told me that the placard in question was put up by mistake, and that the mistake would be rectified.
Upon arriving at the second Best Buy location in my little trip, I headed directly for the games section and found, to my utter surprise, the exact same colorful placard on display announcing, “Amazing Spider-Man Available Now!”
So if this advertisement being on display really was a mistake, then it was a mistake being perpetrated by more than one store. And that, my friends, smells a lot more like a corporate policy than a blunder.
Sadly, once again, no copies of Amazing Spider-Man were present on the shelves. Just the garish promise of them being available, and being available “Now”, no less.
I flagged down a friendly employee, yet again, and asked the simple question of whether or not more copies were to be had in the back. And this fellow firmly informed me, without preamble, that Amazing Spider-Man the game would not be released in their store until Tuesday, the 26th.
I nodded, kept my peace and walked about twenty feet away. I then proceeded to watch the game aisle in question to see if they actually followed through with their promise of taking the false advertisement down. Yet, after waiting more than twenty minutes, I was never greeted by the sight of an employee doing what had been promised. The sign was not taken down, and no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry to correct the situation.
At this point, the whole thing had become a matter of principle for me, and was far more about a retailer making false promises to hopeful customers, than about the actual acquisition of the game.
It was quickly becoming clear to me that Best Buy had likely been selling copies of the game at one point, as widely reported online, but had been forced to quickly back-peddle and pull copies off the shelves for fear of reprisal. The advertisement placards at more than one location indicated as much, and their staunch refusal to admit having copies on-site also pointed in that direction, as copies of new games are often delivered days, or even weeks in advance of their official street dates.
He didn’t go so far as to admit that copies had been sold in the days preceding, yet the very fact that they only had six copies on hand, for a big title game about to be released, was very suspicious. Stores of their size normally have dozens of copies in stock for the day of release, sometimes more if the demand is perceived as unusually high. So it’s fairly obvious to me that those six lonely copies were probably left-overs of a much larger shipment.
While I didn’t end my morning trip with a copy of Amazing Spider-Man in hand, or any sort of compensation for my trouble (all they offered was to hold a reserve copy for me), I did come away with the fodder for a decent story, and the firm resolve to find somewhere else to make my purchases. Not only did two separate employees very clearly and blatantly lie to me, informing me that no copies were in-store, and that none would arrive until Tuesday, but I also saw their complete disregard for the severity of posting advertisements of a false nature.
So while I applaud the manager whom eventually took the matter seriously, and removed the placard in question, I have to wonder what sort of standards Best Buy enforces, for the first several employees to have taken the matter so lightly, and for them to have been so readily willing to lie to a customer.
Best Buy, you get a big thumbs down on this one.