Have you noticed that one of the biggest enemies of local retailing is the online side of the same company? Apparently, we should now expect to pay a premium for buying a product from a company's store.

Today I researched a purchase of some printer ink. Staples' website entices with a competitive price. The cartridge I needed was priced 15 inc.VAT on the Staples website. It's even cheaper at 13.50 per unit if I bought two or more. But in-store it's priced 18.99.

This came as no surprise to me and many times previously I have challenged the in-store price with evidence of the cheaper online price and not once have I had to pay the higher in-store price.

But each time the process is annoying and frustrating. I tell the sales assistant at the till that I would like to buy the product but it's X pounds cheaper on their website. The sales assistant has to go to the manager to ask for advice. I'm told it's only cheaper because a) VAT hasn't been added on (it has) or the price is for buying two or more (no it's not). Eventually they agree that the website price is what I have said it is and they then agree charge me the cheaper price.

But that's not the end of it. Admittedly in a civil and not disrespectful manner I'm told that the reason the prices are different is that I'd have to pay postage on top if I'd bought via the website. Well, even so, the postage charge is smaller than the price difference and in the case of Staples, if I'd spent over 30 postage would be free. And to cap it all, any item can be paid for online and collected free of charge from the store anyway.

Even when I challenge that, there are mumblings about the fact that by going to the store I can have what I want then and there. I'm sure that won't be very comforting to those who have to travel some distance to find a store and then, quite probably, arrive to find that what they want isn't in stock.

Above all, the apparent split inside the company that faces the customer is confusing and off-putting. The manager said to me that it was very rare that anyone points out the difference in pricing between the store and the website. That, to me, just makes things worse; at the very least people who know no better are paying more than they should. Even if they are aware, maybe they just don't want to make a fuss and pay up and possibly feel bad about it. How are either of these scenarios good?

It's not just Staples. I notice an increasing number of national retailers whose stores are effectively being marginalised by their companies' online sales presences. It can be through basic pricing, or online 'exclusives'.

At the bottom line, I think it stinks that a retailer should say to a customer that it's a privilege to use their store and so you should have to pay more. And it's even worse when, effectively, there are two prices - one for the ordinary customer and a cheaper one for those who have done some homework.