Blue note at Costco: bait-and-switch coupons
Let me start this post by noting that generally, I am a highly satisfied member of Costco. I've written about it on this blog a few times. But my experience of the last week and a half at our local Costco warehouse has caused a downgrade in my opinion of the place -- from a 9 to an 8.
The problem is a coupon book that arrived at the house shortly after Christmas. It included tickets for all sorts of great deals from Jan. 8 to Jan. 28:
Two items in the book caught my eye. One was $8 off on diapers and baby wipes -- our littlest one is just about out of dipes, but we still need a supply. The other was $15 off on a 160GB external hard drive. One of my New Year's resolutions is to get all of our digital photographs in good order, and a USB add-on drive is a key part of the plan.
I went out to Costco three times during the three-week special deal period to try to buy these items. Not only were the hard drive and the baby wipes not in stock, but there wasn't even a place anywhere in the store that looked as though they had ever been in stock. On the 19th -- my second try -- I was assured that shipments of both were supposed to arrive on the 25th. They weren't certain what time on the 25th, but some time that day.
I showed up first thing in the morning on the 26th, and neither item was anywhere to be found. A young man in the electronics department told me that some of the hard drives had arrived on the 25th, but they were all pulled for customers who had rain checks. When I then went to the member services desk to inquire, however, I was told that no rain check could be issued to me. (Of course, no one said anything to me about rain checks the first two times I asked after these items, either.)
The gal behind the desk gave me her best helpless peon act, mumbling something about it being a manufacturer's issue, as if the lack of adequate supply in the warehouse was somehow the manufacturer's fault. Of course, it wasn't a manufacturer's coupon I was holding in my hand -- it was a Costco coupon. But that did not appear to register with her as a fact of any significance. She also asked whether I had driven around to the other Costco warehouses in the area to seek out the bargains there. Of course not, and I wasn't about to.
Of course, there were plenty of other hard drives and baby wipes on the floor, ready for purchase. But there were no deals to be had on them, and the coupons wouldn't work.
The hard drive coupon says that that item is also available on costco.com. But by the time I got home on the 26th, at least, it wasn't. No sign of it there.
So there you have it, my first bad Costco incident in memory. Obviously, they lured people into the store and onto their website with coupons that they knew they'd never be able to fulfill. The staff gave conflicting advice -- or no advice at all -- about the availability of rain checks. And they tried to pass the blame off on the manufacturers of the goods, when from all appearances the extreme shortages were all Costco's doing.
Bait-and-switch coupons, even if legal, are bad business practice. The $23 in savings that I didn't get, despite three trips out there to get them, pale in comparison to the hit to customer goodwill that this kind of thing causes. The next time a Costco coupon book shows up, I'll be taking its claims with a large grain of salt.