OLD Media Moves

Wal-Mart’s online glitch helps customers

November 7, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

Wal-Mart has another item to add to its list for getting ready for the holiday shopping season: fixing its website. Customers were able to snag incredible deals Wednesday after a problem with the site offered items that typically cost hundreds of dollars for tens.

Here’s the story from the Wall Street Journal:

Christmas came early for some lucky customers on Walmart.com Wednesday morning.

A pricing malfunction on Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s website set off a shopping frenzy, as customers snagged expensive items like computer monitors and televisions for less than $10.

Wal-Mart said its site wasn’t hacked, but the company is still working on fixing the problem. As it works to fix it, the company said the site may not work properly for some customers.

The error led to very low prices being displayed for items such as treadmills that normally cost $600 being offered at $33, televisions priced at $2,000 on sale for a couple hundred dollars, and videogames such as “Grand Theft Auto V” that typically sell for $60, going for $18 on Walmart.com.

ABC News reported some details of the items “on sale”:

The country’s largest retailer was selling a 24-inch high definition Viewsonic computer monitor, an InFocus IN2124 Projector digital projectors and other products, many for $8.85. The projector is listed for $578.89 on Walmart.com and $579.99 on Newegg.com.

As customers shared about the deals on social media sites like Instagram, wondering if the site was hacked, products sold out online in just hours.

When asked if the company will honor items sold to customers at the mistakenly low prices, Jariwala said the company is “still working through those details.”

Just two weeks ago, Walmart stores in Louisiana experienced another frenzied shopping day, but that time with live customers. An error in the food stamps EBT system caused account limits to temporarily disappear, leading customers to load up shopping carts with hundreds of dollars worth of items.

Bloomberg reported that some customers decided to take advantage of the “discounts” by picking up items in the store:

The retailer also may have lost sales while its website was down in the middle of the day.

Some items including kayaks, monitors, televisions and gym equipment were heavily discounted while other items were priced up, said Christian Antonio, a Pittsburgh-area blogger who earlier today wrote about the pricing abnormalities. A can of Lysol had sold for more than $100 and Kool-Aid packets were selling for more than $70, Antonio said in an e-mail.

The price issues affected many departments, Antonio said. Children’s cribs were offered for $28 and highchairs for $7, he said. Exercise equipment such as elliptical machines and treadmills that normally sell for hundreds of dollars were offered for $33 and $21, he said.

Shoppers took to Twitter to crow about their deals.

“I ordered 50 kayaks and 100 speakers,” @AlbertMarsh posted. “You better honor it!”

Some, anticipating their purchases might not be fulfilled, opted for “Site to Store,” which lets them pick up online orders at a store. They posted pictures of their early-morning receipts alongside their discounted merchandise.

Walmart.com failed at 10:30 a.m., said Justin Noll, director of Client Experience for AlertBot, an Allentown, Pennsylvania-based company that tracks website crashes. At that time the site had an error message that said it was undergoing scheduled maintenance, which sites typically perform around 2 a.m. when traffic is low, Noll said.

“This looks like someone made a mistake,” he said. “Someone enters the prices and probably entered in the wrong price. It’s likely human error.”

Well, if it was human error, that person definitely made a lot of Wal-Mart customers happy. The LA Times story even offered advice from one Twitter user on taking advantage of the discrepancies:

Twitter user @freeshootXiggy offered advice for those looking to cash in: “People buying monitors off Walmart site in bulk are morons. Those are pricing errors, go for the smaller things maybe you’ll get lucky.”

Wal-Mart told the Associated Press that it was working to resolve the issue Wednesday morning and that the site may have intermittent problems with availability until then. 

“We apologize for any convenience to our customers,” said Ravi Jariwala, a spokesman for Wal-Mart’s online operations.

Jariwala would not say whether Wal-Mart would honor bargains that customers scooped up and said it was still working through the details.

Heading into the crucial holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart has doubled the number of items it has on its website from last year to 5 million.

Let’s hope it can get the pricing for those 5 million items right, especially before customers start buying in earnest for the holidays. I also hope there will be a few follow-up stories about whether Wal-Mart will honor the discounts or if it will cancel the orders.

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