A local North Carolina car-unlocking service, Charlotte Flying Locksmiths (also known as 24 / 7 Charlotte Locksmiths, http://www.247locksmithcharlotte.com/) appears to be practicing predatory pricing. Based on my experience and several conversations with employees and a manager representing the company, it appears that they regularly engage in misleading callers with a low “base” cost and then arriving on site with a far higher fee than the customer was lead to expect.
When contacted, the company quotes a baseline price of $15 to consult (arrive at the vehicle,) plus a $35 starting price for unlocking the vehicle. They claim that this starting price will be modified by the technician when he or she determines the actual price upon arriving at the vehicle and assessing the situation. The $15 consultation fee is a deterrent to customers who, upon receiving a far more expensive price estimate on site, would reject the price-inflated service. The customer must still pay the technician whose services they are rejecting for the consultation.
The summary of my story follows thus: after I received a $50 base quote, a Charlotte Flying Locksmiths technician arrived significantly later than advertised, assured me that the task was simple as he didn’t actually have to unlock the door (he could crack it open and retrieve the keys instead,) then proceeded to inform me that the cost would be a $15 service fee plus $120 for the lockout. When I expressed to him that I was of the impression that the fee started around $30, his response was “you mean $130?” Thinking I had misheard the original dispatcher, I accepted, and within 3 minutes, the technician had cracked the door open and retrieved my keys. I confirmed the $35 quoted starting price after calling back, and have had a conversation with one of their managers (recorded,) who informed me that they “very, very rarely” actually charge $15 + $35 for an unlocking, despite the fact that they always quote that price and know that the average is around $150. He also refused to issue me any partial refund, though he did offer me a 15% discount (%5 more than their automatic online discount) the next time I need to use their service, if I retain the code they gave me.
For each stage of the story, I have evidence of the time of contact, the phone numbers used, an invoice, and a recorded call-back conversation with a purported manager at Charlotte Flying Locksmiths.
If you are interested in my story, it follows thus:
Saturday evening (11/1/2014,) we managed to lock our keys in our 2010 Toyota Corolla. After doing a brief search of locksmiths, I happened upon Charlotte Flying Locksmiths, which advertised a 20-minute arrival. A simple Google search for “Charlotte car unlock” will return their web address, “www.247locksmithcharlotte.com/” as one of the advertisement section results on the first page. When I called to get an estimate, the dispatcher I spoke with took information about the year, make, and model of my vehicle, and then said that the consultation price would be $15, with an additional fee for the job, the price of which started at $35 dollars and would be determined by the technician, depending upon the complexity of the job.
I considered this price quite reasonable, even if the service charge was doubled, so the dispatcher contacted one of their technicians, who contacted me by 9:12 p.m. to confirm the location of the vehicle and inform me that he was on the way.
Despite the advertised 20 minute arrival window, it took the technician 50 minutes to meet me at the car. Fortunately for me, my home was nearby, so I only spent about 30 minutes sitting on the car hood in roughly 40 degree weather waiting for the technician, but never did I receive any indication that he would be late.
As explained to me by Charlotte Flying Locksmiths management, it was technically a holiday weekend, the repercussions of which were that the technician should have a free pass to disregard their advertised response time. I can understand, though, that they were busy, and, frankly, this is not the reason for my complaint with the company.
When the technician did arrive, I showed him that the keys were sitting in the middle of the driver’s seat, and they had a small D-ring on them to make them easy to hook, and to make things even easier, we were under a street light so everything was well lit. He declared that I was in luck and that he wouldn’t even have to unlock the car- he could simply retrieve the keys for me. To me, this meant that this was a simple job, and that he was probably going to charge me around the base price that I was quoted by the scheduler, as he wasn’t required to actually unlock anything.
Instead, he came back with an invoice with a $120 car unlocking charge- nearly four times the baseline fee- for a job that he indicated to me would be easy.
When I told him that I was told something about a 30 dollar starting cost and that this seemed a little expensive, he looked at me and said “I think you mean one hundred thirty.”
Based on this, I thought I may have very well misheard the dispatcher. To top it off, I’d had to wait quite some time, I would be charged $15 just to have him drive off again, and I had made him drive out here just to make him waste his time because I misheard. As a result, I signed the invoice and paperwork and consented. He retrieved 2 inflatable door-wedges and a hook, and in roughly 3 minutes he cracked open the door, hooked the keys, and returned them to me.
Despite the technician’s claim that the baseline fee was approximately $130, I felt that I might have been misled, and out of curiosity called the company back to ask again for a quote. I was told a second time, by a different dispatcher no less, that the car-unlocking fee started at $35 and was determined by the technician. When I asked what set the price, he replied that it was “however hard the job was.” When I expressed to him that I was surprised by this and that I had just been charged four times that amount, he said that he wouldn’t be able to help me do anything about it and that they did not regulate the price. As such, I requested that I be contacted by a manager.
When the manager called me the following Monday (11/3/2014,) I told him my story, and he offered me a 15% discount on my next call to them if I could retain the confirmation number he provided me. It should be noted that their online discount is, by itself, 10%, and he was offering me only 5% more if I could hang onto a reference number until the next time I managed to lock my keys in the car in a decade or so. I expressed to him that I wasn't interested in utilizing their services a second time and asked, instead, for a partial refund. He refused flatly, multiple times, indicating that the difficulty inherent to the locking mechanism warranted the cost. When I explained again that the door was never actually unlocked by the technician, he claimed that the difficulty of not damaging the vehicle and the costs of expertise, tools, and insurance warranted the price, despite the fact that a technician would have to avoid damaging a vehicle for any job, as well as bring the same expertise, tools, and insurance to any car-unlocking, whether $35 or $350. He also repeatedly assured me that the lock mechanism was involved, irrespective of the fact that the technician did not actually have to unlock the door.
When I inquired what was required for a vehicle to warrant a $35 unlocking fee, he replied after hesitating that it occurred “very, very seldom” [sic]. He also indicated that they didn’t quote a more accurate price because “if I give you a flat rate, we might have to tell you up front 150 dollars”.
To me, this indicates a flagrant awareness that Charlotte Flying Locksmiths’ current pricing quotes are well shy of actual costs, and that they inform potential customers that the price starts at around $50 total with full knowledge that the average cost is around $150. They use this initial price to lure customers, and when the lock technician arrives on site, those same customers are surprised with a cost that is far higher, despite the fact that the dispatcher knows much of the details of the situation well before the technician arrives on site. In my case, I was also mislead by the technician to believe that the quoted cost was $135, and despite this, the manager repeatedly assured me that I was not misled. Whether by accident or ignorance or design, telling a customer that they misheard a price is misleading, and the manager was unwilling to recognize this fact.
I didn't like:
Unfair, Misleading pricing.