The other day I posted about the new Kobalt Hypercoil LED worklight, which is available exclusively at Lowes. It’s a new flexible-neck LED flashlight/worklight with rechargeable li-ion battery and AA battery box.
I dropped a note to our Lowes/Kobalt PR contact to see if they could arrange for a test sample, but they’re at an event or tool show of some kind and wouldn’t be able to check on this until sometime next week. The Hypercoil LED worklight looks really neat, and I wanted to test it ASAP, so I went to order one online.
After a brief issue with my browser, the order went through. I opted for in-store pickup at my second closest Lowes location, which reportedly had 150+ units in stock.
A few minutes later I receive a come and get it email, so I print out the confirmation and hopped in the car. I was one minute down the road when I received a call from Lowes.
Sorry, we don’t have the item in stock. Since we cannot fulfill your order, we’re going to go ahead and cancel it.
The Lowes store associate was polite, apologetic, and prompt. I was disappointed, but appreciative that they called me when they did. Some stores (e.g. Sears) wait until you’re at the pickup kiosk for 10 minutes before they tell you they don’t have an item their website lists as being in stock.
Later that day I checked my order status, and instead of cancelled, it said processing. So I sent a quick email to Lowes customer service requesting confirmation of the cancellation.
This morning I received a call from Dawn, who was with Lowes customer care.
Dawn was polite and told me that she would be sending me an email with receipt confirmation of the order cancellation. She also informed me that the product has dropped in price and that, after looking up my zip code, shipping would be $5.99. (I will discuss this pricing difference in a little bit.)
If I ordered online and had the order shipped, I would be paying less than the $40 I ordered it for with in-store pickup the other day.
Dawn also said she would forward the matter to another team for investigation as to why I was able to order the product online for in-store pickup if it wasn’t available for fulfilment. If there was a problem with the website or ordering system, they want to fix it.
All 5 of the Lowes stores closest to me report to have 153 (±1) of these Kobalt Hypercoil LED worklights in stock. The store I ordered one from was unable to fulfil my pickup order, despite the online system showing that they have plenty in stock, suggesting that they and other stores have a display package of these in receiving with a “do not put on display until…” note or similar.
I believe that these stores have the Hypercoil in their back room, but cannot or have not put them on the sales floor yet. This makes sense and is perfectly understandable. After all, nobody has even heard of this product outside of Lowes and Kobalt except for me and now you guys.
Dawn called me back again after a couple of minutes, informing me that she spoke to the manager on duty at the location I placed my online in-store pickup order for, and he confirmed they have 150+ quantity in stock. They had received the shipment after I had placed my order that they couldn’t fulfill.
I told her that the Lowes.com website said this location had the item in stock before I placed the order for in-store pickup. She expressed concern that the manager might have said they had the item in stock without confirming they were physically in the store, and that she would call him back. If I see that the store has 150 units on my computer, that’s probably what their inventory system shows as well.
So I asked if I would be able to walk in and buy the item, or order for in-store pickup, and she’ll get back to me via email so that she doesn’t take up any more of my time. (Although, at no point did I feel bothered by the calls.)
I have experienced similar in-store purchasing and in-store pickup issues with Home Depot and Sears as well, where tools are in the computer system and listed as in-stock but not yet out on display, so it’s not just Lowes.
This customer service experience has really, really impressed me. Problems happen in retail all the time, and this issue could have been handled very differently. The store associate could have neglected to call and inform me that they couldn’t fulfill my order, and Dawn with the Lowes.com customer service team could have just sent a cancellation email and have been done with me.
In my opinion, Dawn went above and beyond to leave me with a positive customer service experience.
This all brings me to the “lower price” BS part.
I knew this would happen. The Kobalt Hypercoil LED worklight was priced at $40, or more accurately, $39.98. But, given Lowes’ holiday pricing history, I knew it would probably never sell at this price.
Quite frankly, I was surprised that the product was available for online purchase with shipping and in-store pickup options prior to the impending price drop.
I tried to purchase the product at its “full price,” because I wanted one in-hand for review as soon as possible. Lowes has a good price guarantee policy, so I was sure I would be refunded the price difference once the price dropped to its true price.
This lower price marketing language – it’s absolute nonsense. I tried to purchase the Hypercoil LED at its introductory price – or whatever we should call it – and was not able to. Maybe parcel shipping would have worked, maybe that order would have been cancelled too.
Retailers do this kind of thing all the time, with bogus list prices and whatnot, but that doesn’t make it right. Lowes always seems to do this with certain Kobalt tools – they list a product on their website, but you cannot buy it, and then they drop the price to what they intended to sell them for in the first place.
When you see a TV infomercial where they alway strike off one of the five payments, you know it’s BS. In this case, it’s not so obvious, and that to me makes the practice more deceptive.
I wouldn’t be so critical of Lowes’ unsavory marketing tactics if Kobalt wasn’t their exclusive house brand. I didn’t have the kindest of words about their “new” 20V Max cordless power tool marketing strategy either. But, truth be told, none of that will stop me from still trying to get my hands on one of these darned HyperCoil LED flashlights.
It seems strange to talk about Lowes’ exemplary customer service practices and BS deceptive marketing claims in the same post, but the whole customer service experience is how I am aware that these products weren’t realistically available prior to the “new lower price” and “save 25%” reductions.
I am sure that Lowes’ legal team gave the okay for them to advertise these tools online as being on sale at “new lower prices.” And when you see this and other new Kobalt holiday-timed products on display in stores, they will probably also have those eye-catching yellow tags saying the same. “WOW, new low price, was $39.98, now $29.98.”
If you ask me, it looks like Lowes might be in violation of FTC’s guidelines against deceptive pricing.
Section 233.1, part B:
A former price is not necessarily fictitious merely because no sales at the advertised price were made. The advertiser should be especially careful, however, in such a case, that the price is one at which the product was openly and actively offered for sale, for a reasonably substantial period of time, in the recent, regular course of his business, honestly and in good faith — and, of course, not for the purpose of establishing a fictitious higher price on which a deceptive comparison might be based. And the advertiser should scrupulously avoid any implication that a former price is a selling, not an asking price (for example, by use of such language as, “Formerly sold at $XXX”), unless substantial sales at that price were actually made.
From what I have observed, the new product – similar to other holiday-timed Kobalt products introduced in previous years – was not openly and actively offered for sale at their higher prices. Typically, the higher price pops up on the Lowes website before a product is actively available for sale, and only pops up again when the products are no longer available for purchase in-store or online. That is, you probably won’t see a $39.98 price tag on the Hypercoil LED product again until maybe February, long after it becomes hard to find online and in stores.
Update: I have heard back from Dawn at Lowes. I redacted the store locations and manager’s name.
I have contacted [your closest] store as well as the store [second closest to you] and have confirmed that the Kobalt Hypercoil Work Light Item #: 498288 | Model #: 63453 is not in-stock at this time. I am very sorry for the inaccurate information [the manager on duty] provided me this morning. I have reported this as a Lowes.com error and it will be reviewed.
It might seem like I’m being grumpy and over-critical, but how many times do sales convince all of us to buy products that we’re on the fence about? Discounts can be powerful motivators, but the illusion of a discount is deceptive, manipulative, and unfair.