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Online retailers hit by pricing glitches

Online retailers hit by pricing glitches

Pricing glitches at Staples.com and Amazon.com within the past two weeks left some customers happy but others miffed, as the firms scrambled to recover from discounts unintentionally given to some customers.

Although the problems at Amazon.com and Staples.com were different in nature, they call into question the ability of online retailers to effectively control the content of their Web sites.

This week, a glitch in Amazon's computer system lowered prices by 50 per cent or more on some items. The cause is still unclear. In one e-mail to customers, Amazon blamed computer error. But in another e-mail, it said the pricing problems occurred because suppliers raised their prices. In one case, the price of a refrigerator play set was listed as $US2.49, but Amazon later said the correct price was $24.99.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company is too busy to respond to questions about the pricing glitch, though it told some news outlets that the errors were due to a "hiccup" in the system.

In Staples.com's case, discount coupons intended only for certain customers were obtained by someone randomly punching numbers into the coupon tab field at its Web site. That person then posted the coupons on FatWallet.com, a site that alerts consumers to discounts at various online stores and provides a forum for consumers to share information, according to Tim Storm, founder of FatWallet.

David Cooperstein, an analyst at US-based Forrester Research said the pricing errors point to a more widespread problem.

"These [highlight] the problem of content-management and pricing-management systems," he said. "Companies have to have better workflow management to make sure that the prices that are posted are the right prices before a shopper [sees them] and [that] coupons can't be introduced" where they shouldn't be.


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