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Houston Best Buy accused of hurricane price-gouging on water

Commentary: The retailer says several employees made "a big mistake" in offering packs of water for $42.96.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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A big mistake.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

"Limited supply!!" boasted one of the signs above packs of Smart Water.

Another, on a pack of Dasani water, read: "$42.96 per pack."

This might seem a steep price to pay for 24 small water bottles. 

But if I tell you this special offer was being featured in a Houston-area Best Buy on Friday, you might shudder a little. 

You might also understand why Max Cotterill posted a picture of the Best Buy water offer on Twitter and declared: "Hey @BestBuy you want to explain why this store of yours in Houston is illegally price gouging?"

I don't know about illegal. But it certainly looks like a display of heartless money-grabbing at a time when people were about to lose their homes, their possessions and even their lives during Hurricane Harvey.

Best Buy told me that this happened at one specific Houston-area store on just that one day. The store, just like other stores around Houston, has been closed since Friday.

A Best Buy spokesman offered me these words: "This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees."

To some eyes, this was surely a dunderheaded, insensitive and even cynical mistake.

The retailer says it doesn't normally sell packs of water. Which makes the way this Best Buy tried to achieve a bulk sale a touch more painful.

Best Buy says it sells individual bottles for $1.79. 

It seems, though, that some employees -- perhaps believing themselves entrepreneurial -- thought that, at this particular moment, they could sell whole packs at a time, thereby making 24 sales at once.

Yes, $1.79 x 24 is $42.96. There wasn't even a discount for a bulk purchase, which shoppers might think routine. Go to Amazon, for example, and you'll find similar packs of Dasani go for $22.20.

"As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We're sorry and it won't happen again," the Best Buy spokesman told me.

And contrition is, indeed, the best response. It's not as if Best Buy is the only retailer accused of trying to take advantage. 

As The Hill reports, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says that there have been at least 600 reports of price gouging. One gas station allegedly started charging $20 a gallon. 

Friends in Houston tell me they've never seen anything remotely like the scenes they're currently witnessing. 

Perhaps this particular Best Buy, when it reopens, might offer a small gesture of goodwill. 

How about free Smart Water for a week? A limitless supply would be nice.