Best Buy began notifying consumers this week of an update to its terms and conditions for membership in its My Best Buy program. If you purchase any Best Buy product, regardless of whether it is a large ticket item like a new TV or some trinket at the checkout counter, you will lose your right to sue Best Buy in court if you have ever signed up for their My Best Buy program.
How do you sign up? Simply giving Best Buy your name and email address and clicking I agree starts the relationship. Once you are in the program, Best Buy has you right where Corporate America wants consumers. Your right to file a lawsuit and hold Best Buy liable for false advertising, fraud, consumer protection violations or personal injuries is effectively extinguished once you sign up for the program and link any purchase with your Best Buy account.
Businesses of all types continue to aggressively, but quietly, insert arbitration clauses into almost every type of consumer transaction. Arbitration is often deceptively called “dispute resolution” by businesses. Consumers who unwittingly agree to the Best Buy sales person's suggestion that you sign up for My Best Buy will effectively waive their rights to hold Best Buy responsible for anything. Why, because arbitration favors businesses who are repeat customers of arbitration. There is no Judge or Jury in arbitration. Your claims are decided by an “arbitrator” and the arbitration organization that gets paid by the very businesses the consumer is making a claim against. Does this sound like a potential conflict? Imagine if Best Buy wrote checks for “dispute resolution” directly to Judges in Courts of Law? Businesses, not consumers like you, are the repeat customers who “pay” for services of the Arbitrators.
The rules in arbitration limit discovery -the evidence the consumer can obtain- to prove a case against a business. Why would a business not want the consumer to seek discovery—i.e.. ask questions and compel production of documents? Arbitration between willing participants like corporations against corporations, might work beautifully, but binding arbitration forced on consumers by virtue of fine print buried in the terms of a contract that the consumer did not write or have the opportunity for meaningful negotiation of its terms is deceptive and wrongful.
But I digress, back to “My Best Buy”.
These loyalty programs which award points and rebates seem harmless enough, right. What could go wrong and who wouldn't want to be eligible to get something in return for buying from Best Buy. But, if you're a Best Buy program member, BEWARE. Your individual right to seek relief for any wrongs by Best Buy will be greatly diminished if you are a member. Even worse, the arbitration clause bans your right to participate in a class action.
Here are some of Best Buys new terms:
Dispute Resolution IN CONSIDERATION FOR PARTICIPATING IN THE PROGRAM, YOU AGREE THAT IF (1) YOU HAVE ANY DISPUTE WITH OR CLAIM AGAINST BEST BUY ARISING OUT OF OR RELATING IN ANY WAY TO ANY PRODUCTS OR SERVICES SOLD OR DISTRIBUTED BY BEST BUY INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE ADVERTISING OF OR THE SALES PRACTICES FOR SUCH PRODUCTS AND SERVICES, AND (2) YOU RECEIVED POINTS, COULD HAVE RECEIVED POINTS, OR YOU APPLIED POINTS OR A CERTIFICATE TOWARD SUCH TRANSACTION, THEN YOU WILL RESOLVE DISPUTES OR CLAIMS BY BINDING ARBITRATION, RATHER THAN IN COURT, EXCEPT THAT YOU MAY ASSERT CLAIMS IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT IF YOUR CLAIMS QUALIFY.
BY AGREEING TO ARBITRATION, YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT YOU ARE WAIVING YOUR RIGHT TO MAINTAIN OTHER AVAILABLE RESOLUTION PROCESSES, SUCH AS A COURT ACTION OR ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDING, TO SETTLE DISPUTES. THE RULES IN ARBITRATION ARE DIFFERENT. THERE'S NO JUDGE OR JURY, AND REVIEW IS LIMITED, BUT AN ARBITRATOR CAN AWARD THE SAME DAMAGES AND RELIEF, AND MUST HONOR THE SAME LIMITATIONS STATED IN THE AGREEMENT AS A COURT WOULD.
If you are not careful, your purchase of goods or services from Best Buy could be your worst buy if you are a member of their loyalty program, My Best Buy.