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Friday, January 14, 2005

The case of the $12 price difference -- an internet mystery....

This is the $12 mystery -- or the difference between $131.99 and $119.99.

Late yesterday, while cooking dinner (actually, reheating leftovers from the previous two dinners) our 7-year old 'microwave oven' crashed -- three minutes of high level 'nuking' barely had an impact on the cold pasta sauce poured over equally cold pasta....

Seeing such events as opportunities, we jumped on the Internet and looked up the price of a new microwave (following the rule that it is always cheaper to replace such things than to repair them).

Lo and behold (!), there was the perfect replacement unit -- in fact, after seven years, it was the identical unit with a couple of new bells and whistles tossed in, but even the product number was the same. And for only $119.99 at our favorite local appliance superstore (which will go unnamed, although it rhymes with 'west rye').

By now it is 8:45pm, and desperate to have a microwave to 'nuke' our cold coffee in the morning (I know, it is getting pretty disgusting by now...), we jump in the car to make it (through a very thick fog, as it was) to the store several miles away before it closed (which the web site said would be 9pm). With moments to spare (literally) we rush into the store (only to learn that the web site was a half hour off -- they closed at 9:30) and went right to the microwave section where we found the exact unit of our dreams -- for $131.99....

Hmmmm.

We inquire.

The salesperson (so to speak; they are really high school kids pretending to be interested in your needs) informs us that he is not suprised -- the web pricing is often less expensive because it is based on competing with other web store sites -- while local pricing is based on the local competition (which rhymes with Circuit City -- well, actually,it is 'circuit city' but I am not known for my rhyming abilities). His advice: go home and order it online and use the 'local pick up' option which (get this) would allow us to come back in the morning,walk right up to the same counter and pick up that exact same unit -- yes, the very same one sitting there on the shelf for $131.99.

OK -- we'll outsmart them, we think -- so we run across the store to the computer department where row and row of internet linked computers sit, screens flashing. And there we are able to access the exact store online site (so we thought) figuring we can put in the order right there and then and get out of the store that night with our new $119.99 microwave.

But, lo and behold (!) we find that the internet site now showed a price of... $131.99!

Dejected, thinking that we were just victims of a price change (it was too late to do anything by now), we went home knowing that our evening's pasta will have to be tossed and tomorrow's coffee will have to bypassed until the store opened (at 10am -- or so the web site told us) and we would have to buy the unit for the additional $12.

But once home and online, lo and behold(!), the web site showed that the price was indeed still $119.99. Even more important, we can even get a free (!) toaster or hand mixer if we ordered online -- even if we picked up at the store!

All's well that ends well, right?

Wrong.

We placed our order, and the next morning we awake to the sound of our son heating up his left over dinner (for breakfast, of course) in the microwave. And, lo and behold (!), the old Sharp-Auto Touch Microwave-Black-R-510 (oops, did I give that away?) is working just fine, thank you.

We try out our coffee -- we even reheat last night's leftover leftovers for lunch -- and it is fine.

What brought our microwave back to life remains a mystery, sure. (We suspect a local 'brown out' since our street lights seem to have become comatose.)

But even more perplexing and mysterious is the internet pricing shell game we particiapted in the night before.

It is at times like this that I wish the TV show "Ask Mr. Wizard" was still running so we could call in and ask him to solve this puzzle....
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