A nearly $43 case of water on sale at a Best Buy outside storm-ravaged Houston was a "big mistake,'' according to the retailer, even as the incident sparked a social media backlash and shone a spotlight on price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
A photo of two cases of bottled water, selling for $42.96 and $29.98, at a Best Buy in the Houston suburb of Cypress Texas, was posted on Twitter Tuesday by a journalist, unleashing a series of angry Twitter responses.
One Houston resident sent me a pic of water he saw being sold for *$42* at a nearby Best Buy. They were kind enough to offer $29 bottles too pic.twitter.com/8dKz3sJJM1— ken klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) August 29, 2017
Best Buy spokesman Jeffrey Shelman apologized in a statement for what he said was an error made by a local employee who added up the cost of each individual bottle of water to come up with the price for the entire case.
"This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store on Friday,'' Shelman said. "We're sorry and it won't happen again.''
He added "not as an excuse but as an explanation,'' that the big box electronics seller doesn't usually sell packages of bottled water.
Even if it was done in error, Best Buy's exorbitantly priced bottled water was for at least a few hours touted as one of the more glaring examples of the price gouging cropping up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which has displaced thousands of Texans and left many desperate for shelter, dry clothing, and fuel.
The office of the Texas State Attorney General said that as of Wednesday morning, it had received 684 complaints about excessive pricing. They included a convenience store in Houston selling gas for $20 a gallon.
Such acts can lead to a $20,000 fine, or a penalty of up to $250,000 if the victim is at least 65 years old. The state attorney general has so far notified nine alleged offenders that they have violated the law, and what fines they could face if they don't stop the gouging.
"Price gouging is not only reprehensible, it's illegal.’’ Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Wednesday. “if you're a business, you could be put out of business.''
The Best Buy store in Cypress closed Friday because of the storm, and as of yesterday had not yet reopened.