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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Purchasing PCs and Components | Vendor and Order Problems and Solutions | Common Vendor and Order Problems ]

Bait and Switch

One of the oldest pages in the "book of unethical vendor practices" is the one titled bait and switch. It has been around probably as long as vendors have been, and is still, sadly, alive and well. It works solely because customers don't realize that they are having it pulled on them, which is why I want to discuss it.

Here's how bait and switch works. A company advertises a desirable lower-end item for sale at a very attractive price. This is the "bait"; it encourages you to go into the store, or call the company, or visit their web site. When you get there and say you want to buy the item, the company tries to persuade you to buy not that item but instead another one that costs more. That's the "switch". They use the attractiveness of the inexpensive item to "hook" you, then try to sell a more expensive, more profitable item once they have your attention.

Detecting bait and switch is difficult, because there is a fuzzy line between a salesperson who is trying to bait and switch you, and one that is merely trying to be helpful. You have to use your judgment and your assessment of the company's behavior to determine if you are being treated fairly. Certainly, you can't assume that every time a salesperson shows you to a better item that you are being "baited and switched". This "gray area" is part of why bait and switch is so often successful.

If you go to a store and a salesperson suggests you consider a more expensive item than the one you intended to purchase, you have to decide based on their presentation how reasonable they are being. If you ask the salesperson "what's available" for a particular product, and the salesperson shows you a variety of models at different prices and without applying pressure lets you decide what you want, I consider that reasonable service. But if they are pressuring you, or if they have nothing good to say about the item their own store advertised, you are probably being "switched".

A fair salesperson should take his or her cue from the behavior of the customer. If you go into the store asking for the salesperson's help, or you call on the phone asking for advice, then you should expect to be shown a number of items, including ones possibly more expensive than those the company advertises. The more you tell the salesperson, the more you are trusting them to steer your purchase. Where you should suspect trouble is if you have your mind made up, you don't ask the salesperson to show you a range of models, and they still try to do so anyway while disparaging the item you want to buy.

Another common ploy is for the item advertised to be "no longer available" or "temporarily out of stock". The test for honesty here is simple: will they give you a "rain check" to let you get the item at the advertised price when it comes back into stock? Alternately, will they sell you a comparable or slightly-better item for the same price? Better stores will do one or the other; stores playing games will not.

Dealing with bait and switch is simple: if you feel you are not being treated respectfully, shop somewhere else. And be sure to tell the manager of the store that you will not be shopping there again in the future, and why--maybe they will change their sales policies. (Some people consider the best way to deal with bait and switch to be to intentionally buy the less expensive item that the company didn't want you to buy! Of course, even that is still a sale for a firm you may not want a relationship with.)

Next: Overcharging For Items Or Shipping and Handling

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