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Best Buy Web Site Pricing Probed

Best Buy is under investigation by Connecticut's attorney general after consumers complained they were denied deals found at the electronic retailer's Web site by store employees who pulled up a lookalike site that listed higher prices on some merchandise.

"The key question is whether consumers were advertised one price, and then denied that price when they got to the store," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday.

Blumenthal said his office received at least 20 complaints after a columnist for The Hartford Courant reported the experience of one Connecticut man who found a laptop computer advertised for $729.99 on BestBuy.com, then went to a Best Buy store where an employee who seemed to check the same Web site told him the price was actually $879.99.

Dawn Bryant, spokeswoman for the Richfield-headquartered retailer, confirmed that store employees have access to an internal Web site that looks nearly identical to the public BestBuy.com site. But she said company policy is to always offer customers the lowest quoted price, unless it's specifically identified as a deal available only to online shoppers.

"It's unfortunate, some of the situations being described," Bryant said. "What we've learned very quickly is we have not been clear enough in communicating to our employees the policy, and how to execute it in our stores."

"There is not and never has been an intent to mislead our customers, period," Bryant said.

Bryant said discrepancies between prices on BestBuy.com and the internal Web site can be attributed to market factors at individual stores. "The prices at BestBuy.com are national prices," she said.

The similarity in appearance between BestBuy.com and the internal Web site "made sense at the time," Bryant said. "Is it time to revisit it? Very likely."

Blumenthal said if his office uncovers any intentional wrongdoing, penalties could include fines or restitution to customers, among other options. Bryant said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

Bryant said Connecticut is the only state that has contacted Best Buy about the Web site issue. But she said consumers from around the country began contacting the company with similar stories after the case there drew publicity. She said addressing those concerns would be part of the company's overall response.

Best Buy Co. is the nation's largest retailer of consumer electronics.

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