You see a sign advertising gas at $3.09 a gallon. You pull in and fill up. After filling up, you realize that you were charged $3.59 a gallon for the same grade of gas. Bait and switch? Sounds like it. Illegal? Apparently not in Nebraska. The fine print on the sign said the $3.09 price only applied at select pumps.
That’s what’s happening in North Platte, Neb. A Conoco station is advertising a low price, but that price only applies for two of its pumps.
Under state law, the signs — which show in smaller print that the lower-priced gas is available only at certain pumps — are not illegal as long as gas is available at the lower price at even one pump, according to Steve Malone, administrator of the state Weights and Measures Division.
At a difference of 50 cents a gallon and using a conservative estimate of 60,000 gallons a month, that’s an extra $360,000 a year. Because the Conoco is located just off the Interstate, repeat business isn’t a huge concern.
The owner of the Conoco station refused to comment on his deception. In a a classic race to the bottom, the BP station nearby has also adopted the shady practice.
“I personally don’t like doing it,” [an owner of the BP station] said in a telephone interview. “They (the Conoco station) were pulling more people in to their station. It got to the point that in order to get any business we had to match what they were doing.”
It’s a tough situation. Be honest and lose business to the cheating sleazebag down the road. Or cheat your customers to stay “competitive.” A friend asked how I’d handle it. I’d probably start by advertising my prices with a big sign that says “AT ALL PUMPS”. If that didn’t work, I’d add a sign that said “UNLIKE THE CONOCO”.