A judge has discovered that the advertising practices of a chain of convenience stores, which attract customers with a low price but that limit it to a few pumps, can be clever, smart and even unpleasant.
In a 13-page decision published Monday, Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte ruled in favor of Mark Wilkinson, who owns eight Fat Dogs stores along Interstate 80, from Lincoln to Ogallala.
"Wilkinson's business practices can be perceived as clever and smart," Otte wrote. "These practices have and are intended to trap the inattentive consumer. However, the vigilant customer has the opportunity to buy gas at a discounted price in relation to other options. "
Wilkinson was sued in 2017 by a coalition of clients, competitors and other store owners, who argued during a non-jury trial in April that he was violating Nebraska's law with his deceptive and misleading advertising.
Unsuspecting customers will not know they have to look for the low price posted on the poster, they said. And they may not realize it until it's too late to have paid more than expected.
"It's typical of bait and change," said State Sen. John McCollister, who said he stopped at a Fat Dog near North Platte only to realize that the price of the bomb was higher than the signal that had stopped him. . He left without getting gas, he added.
With a digital subscription.
Thanks for being a subscriber.
Sorry, your subscription does not include this content.
Call 877-760-6006 to update your subscription.
And Dan O'Neil, whose Quik Stop store competes with Fat Dogs at North Platte, stated that Wilkinson's practices give the industry, and North Platte, a black eye. He worried that he would stop tourists from stopping.
"I have a large investment in that intersection and in the community," O'Neil said during the trial.
Wilkinson and his attorneys argued, and Otte confirmed, that the signs, dispensers and pumps of each station direct the clients to the cheapest gas.
"There is nothing to suggest that Wilkinson announces a product that is not available," attorney Daniel Klaus said during the trial.
Ultimately, Otte agreed, ruling that the plaintiffs could not prove that Wilkinson violated the state's Uniform Deceptive Commercial Practices Act or its Consumer Protection Act.
There is no doubt that Fat Dogs customers have paid more than they expected, he wrote. But that would not happen if they were paying attention.
"No witness stated that the signage in question was confusing, misleading or deceptive," the judge wrote. "In fact, the witnesses who generally testified at the trial agreed that if they had been attentive to the signaling and the prices indicated that they would have made the decision."