I saw an article posted on social media that was churning the outrage machine. Perhaps you saw it too? The one about Best Buy charging $40 for a case of water. While there are some who would defend price gouging from an economics perspective, I’m not even going to do that. What happened at Best Buy is not an example of price gouging and should not inflame anyone who reads the entire article and knows basic definitions.
First, what happened? Best Buy doesn’t sell cases of water. But an employee realized there might be demand for entire cases, so he took the single bottle price and multiplied it by the number of bottles in the case to arrive at a case price. That would work out to $2.50 for a single bottle of Smart Water, or $1.79 for a single bottle of Aquafina. These are standard Best Buy prices. In Texas, price gouging is defined as “Selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price” (taken from the Texas AG’s site). That is vague. Certainly, some may find $1.79-2.50 for a bottle of water “excessive” — it isn’t the cheapest bottled water I’ve seen. But the way of determining price gouging appears to involve examining whether prices in the “declared disaster area spike beyond what the normal market forces set.” Indicating that price gouging does require a raising of prices. Which Best Buy simply didn’t do.
The upsetting thing about people not reading is that this article has been a vehicle for virtue signaling. Anyone who argues with the premise that this is an outrageous example of corporate greed is derided as immoral, callous, or a capitalist.
If we buy the narrative that this was price gouging and someone was taking advantage of vulnerable people during a natural disaster (despite the previous discussion of the meaning of the term “price gouging”) then we have to ask ourselves “which greedy entity profited here?” The employee? Best Buy, unfortunately, doesn’t have a commission scale, so the employee who did the pricing didn’t see any profit. The pricing wasn’t done by or condoned by Best Buy corporate, so that’s out too. Looks like we don’t have a villain here.
Another relevant question: who was the victim? Did someone die because Best Buy wasn’t giving out water for free? Who goes to Best Buy to buy water, anyway?
So where is the outrage coming from? Is it really our mentality that enduring a natural disaster makes us entitled to bulk discounts on water from the electronics store? Unfortunately, it seems that what sells these days is outrage. If an article helps the reader feel moral outrage (and thus, morally superior), then they’ll click, share, vent, and really… what more could an advertiser ask for. Don’t be pawns. Save your outrage for something that matters.