The bait and switch is a fraudulent sales tactic that is punishable by US law as false advertising. Though the law forbids this practice, it is commonly used, and people can find examples of it in virtually any advertising circular for major department stores, electronics and computer stores, and automobile retailers. The purpose of the tactic is to get customers to visit a store or business by advertising very low prices. Once the customer is in the store, the salespeople attempt to offer the customer different items at higher prices.
This sales technique begins with the bait, an advertisement for a product at what seems like an extremely low price. Sometimes these products, such as a mattress, are of very low quality, while at other times, the price may apply to one specific style or model of an item. In general, the bait is stocked in very low numbers. In some cases, only one or two are available at the low price.
Once the customer has walked into the retail establishment, the tactic moves to the switch. The salesperson will inform the customer that the store has sold out of the advertised item and offer a similar item at a higher price. Alternately, the salesperson may push hard to be certain the customer understands that the lower-priced product is of inferior quality, and try to sell a better quality product at a higher price. A store may also use bait and switch to bring in customers to buy one lower priced item, but raise prices of unrelated items that customers are also likely pick up at the time.
To avoid prosecution for these tactics, advertisements frequently place in small print that the store does not allow rain checks or that the item is limited to the quantity in the store. Reading the fine print of an advertisement can often alert customers that the advertisement is clearly employing a bait and switch tactic. In auto sales, a customer will often see a new car priced below high blue book. The customer should be aware the price refers not to all cars of this type in the auto retailer’s inventory, but usually to one car, which is quickly sold.
With resolve, a customer may ignore salespeople and purchase the low-priced item, but the quality of the item should be carefully evaluated before deciding on a purchase. Shoppers may also want to avoid purchasing other items from a retail store where the prices seem higher than usual. It may be less expensive to purchase needed items from a store that does not practice bait and switch techniques.
When a true bait and switch scam exists, the store can be sued for fraud, but such lawsuits are rarely successfully resolved without a great deal of time and documentation. What customers can do to reduce such sales is to report this activity to the Better Business Bureau in the US. Reports can be made over the Internet, and can usually be completed within a few minutes. The Better Business Bureau keeps records on companies with significant customer complaints, so evaluating a report on a retailer can help a shopper decide whether he or she wants to plow through the questionable tactics of a store, or give his or her business to more deserving retailers.