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Dell pricing goof clears gadget shelves

The computer maker is no longer filling orders for customers who discovered an item mistakenly priced. How about a discount instead?

A pricing mix-up on Dell's Web site has forced the PC maker to cancel some orders with Christmas right around the corner.

The Austin, Texas-based company had been offering refurbished Altec Lansing AD880 speakers, which normally sell for $229, for about a tenth of that price on its Web site.

The speakers were listed on the site from Dec. 6 through Dec. 11 for $24.95, according to the company, which attributed the mistake in pricing to "human error."

Message boards geared toward online shopping discounts--such as FatWallet.com--carried news of the low price, and eager shoppers jumped at it.

"Was I trying to get a good deal? Of course, but it wasn't like I was trying to cheat (Dell) or anything--I only ordered one set," one customer, who didn't want to be identified, told CNET News.com. This customer learned of the error on FatWallet and placed an order Dec.12. "There were a lot of postings about the deal, but then the (cancellation) e-mail starting coming out, and I just hoped I didn't get one."

The enthusiastic response on the part of bargain hunters led to a quick sapping of the company's inventory, and Dell oversold the item. The company was forced to send e-mail cancellations to customers and offered a 10 percent discount on a future software or peripheral purchase. The discount expires Jan. 4.

"We regret the inconvenience and responded as soon as possible, and as compensation we offered a discount on a future purchase," Dell spokesman Bryant Hilton said.

The company did fill orders at the erroneous price until stock ran out, Hilton said.

Hilton could not confirm how many cancellations were sent out or how much stock the company had of the speakers.

This sort of feeding frenzy has happened in the past on online retail sites, such as Amazon.com, Buy.com and Staples.com, leaving companies with egg on their faces and customers empty-handed.

A similar error concerning a notebook occurred in August on Dell's Singapore and Malaysia sites.