TBL: Is Ticketworld Scalping Concert Tickets?

Consumers put up with a lot, but nothing torques them off quite like confusing, misleading or inequitable pricing, whether it's concert tickets, bagels or even a single banana.

Nancy B. of New Britain says she knows of at least four ticket prices (including the face value, $45 each) on comparable seats for a recent Chicago concert at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods. Nancy paid $121 each for two tickets through a local reseller, Ticketworld. She also paid Ticketmaster almost $114 each for tickets in the same section she bought for friends.

At the concert, she did more research. The people in front of her, she says, paid the face-value $45 for tickets bought directly from the MGM Grand. Others paid $90.

"Why is it OK for a vendor like Ticketworld to buy a block and essentially scalp them," says Nancy, "when I would be arrested for scalping? I cannot believe the difference in our ticket prices."

Consumers have been asking that question for years. As far back as 1998, Richard Blumenthal, then the state's attorney general, tried to use Connecticut's $3 scalping limit to prevent a ticket reseller located in Massachusetts — coincidentally, Ticketworld — from charging $125 for tickets to a New Haven event that originally sold for $32.50. It reached the state Supreme Court, which overturned a Superior Court decision and allowed Ticketworld to continue charging huge premiums for tickets

Not much has changed since then, though the state Department of Consumer Protection says it's now investigating ticket resellers. The DCP, in a 12-page report delivered in late February at the request of the General Assembly, acknowledged "deceptive practices" by some ticket resellers but recommended no additional legislative action.

Here's what's most bothersome: "Many consumers," noted the study "complained that they were unaware that they were paying above face value for the tickets that they purchased or the nature of add-on fees."

For now, as long the ticket resellers don't violate the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act — fair disclosure and no deceptive advertising — they can charge whatever they want.

As always, consumers have the last word on inflated ticket prices. If it's that objectionable, boycott the resellers: Don't pay, don't go.

The Bottom Line showed he does not discriminate against pricing complaints in March when a column featured George Pauley of Berlin, a retired executive vice president at Stop & Shop, who questioned the legality of a Citgo convenience store charging tax on a single, 89-cent banana. (The state Department of Revenue Services classifies the convenience store a seller of taxable meals so, yes, the banana is taxable.)

David Poriss of Burlington, emboldened by the banana saga, couldn't wait to unburden himself after a perceived injustice over bagel pricing at the Bristol Price Chopper. The bagels, regularly 79 cents each, were on sale at six for $3. Poriss bought four bagels, thinking they would be discounted at the six-for-$3 rate.

But no. The cashier said the bagels would cost 79 cents each, or $3.16. Poriss said he took his argument to management, which conceded the sale sign did not have a must-buy-six condition.

"But I did not ask her at the time the damaging question," says Poriss. "According to their rates, what if I bought seven bagels. Would the price of the seventh bagel convert back to the 79-cent price? Outrageous. Why should the customer be 'punished' for buying more than the advertised price?"

Poriss became doubly peeved when he noticed a display adjacent to the bagels offering five Del Monte fruit cups for $5. With this offer, Poriss could have bought from one to five fruit cups, each $1, instead of the regular price, $1.59.

"The supermarkets cannot have it both ways," he says. "How can the customer know that buying less than the bulk price would result in a higher price. The supermarket cannot just say, 'Bagels are an exception to the bulk-pricing rule.'"

Poriss continued his bagel investigation the following the week and found the same sale but with a fresh condition: "packaged or in bulk." So now he knew he'd have to buy six to get the deal.

But he didn't. He put one in his basket, then added a single doughnut that was also on sale with no minimum-number purchased required. The cashier entered the regular price, 79 cents, for each.

"So nothing has changed," he says.

Price Chopper says the deals should not be compared.

"The answer highlights a difference between branded deals that are brought to us from a supplier, like Del Monte, and store-made product, like our own New York city-style boiled and scratch-baked bagels," says Mona Golub, Price Chopper's vice president of public relations and consumer services.

The bulk price on bagels, she says, is the grocery chain's new everyday price.

"In order to offset some of the expense of reducing the price of a half-dozen by 43 percent," she says, "we left the single price on bagels where it was and encouraged the purchase of the most popular multiple of the product, a half-dozen."

Golub says Del Monte suggested the fruit-cup promotion and the specific pricing that allowed for individual items sold at the bulk rate.

A state statute says the price of any commodity or service advertised for sale "shall not be misrepresented, nor shall the price be represented in any manner calculated or tending to mislead or deceive."

As for pricing, Golub says a large billboard sign above the bagel case lists pricing options, with the featured advertised item (six bagels for $3) detailed on a sign on top of the case.

The Price Chopper deals were, at the very least, confusing to Poriss. But misrepresentation?

"The retailer," says DCP spokeswoman Claudette Carveth, "as long as there is proper disclosure, has a right to limit the terms and conditions of a sale item and the consumer usually has a choice to either take the offer or not."





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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