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Disney battles coupon goof

Using a coupon code that was passed around on shopping discussion sites, consumers flooded the company's with four times the normal volume of orders.

A coupon mix-up at Walt Disney's online store over the weekend led to a surge of orders--and a huge headache for the company.

Using a coupon code that was passed around on shopping discussion sites, such as and DVD Talk, consumers flooded with four times the normal volume of orders. After seeing the site's order volume increase, Disney modified the offer, limiting customers' ability to use the coupon and started combing through the orders to determine which were legitimate, said company spokeswoman Maria Gladowski.

Disney is still going through those orders and hasn't yet determined what to do with orders from customers who shouldn't have had access to the coupon code, Gladowski said.

"We're processing the orders as quickly as possible. As we review and verify them, they will be shipped out," she said.

Disney had given a $15 gift certificate to customers who bought $65 or more of goods in one of its physical stores or over the phone or Internet in August and September, Gladowski said. The coupon had no minimum purchase requirement, she said, meaning that customers could potentially receive goods for free using the coupon.

To redeem the coupon online or over the phone, customers were initially required only to give the code for the gift certificate. Although Disney stated in the terms of the coupon that it could be used only once, the company took no initial technical steps to prevent customers from using it multiple times or passing it on to other people.

Instead, the company used two different codes on all the gift certificates it issued, one for customers who had previously shopped in its brick-and-mortar stores and one for those who had previously shopped online or over the phone.

Word of the latter code quickly spread on the Internet via the shopping discussion boards. Some board users later claimed to have made as many as 12 orders using the code.

After discovering that the code had been placed on different shopping boards, Disney took steps to limit its use. On Saturday, the company stopped automatically accepting the coupon online and started notifying customers that to use the gift certificate, they would have to mail it to the company after placing their order.

Customers who placed their orders before Disney posted the notice do not need to send in their cards, Gladowski said. The company is determining which customers had legitimately received and used the gift certificate and expects to process those orders within the next two days or so, she said.

Even more troubling for some customers than whether they will receive the items they ordered was how much Disney was going to charge them for their orders. On FatWallet, some users reported that Disney had charged their credit cards full price on orders to which they tried to apply the coupon.

In an e-mail message to CNET, one Disney customer said the company had changed the price on an order he placed for a collector's edition DVD of Fantasia, taking away the discount after shipping it.

"Disney has now altered the agreed-upon price and decided to charge me more without my consent," the customer wrote.

Disney does not plan to charge full price to customers who used the coupon code before it placed the notice on its site asking them to send in their gift certificates, Gladowski said. But those customers who placed their orders after Disney posted the notice will be charged full price, she said. Disney will refund the amount of the coupon after it receives the coupon from them, she said.

"People have been mailing in their cards," she said. "They don't seem to have skipped a beat since we got them to send them in."

Disney is the latest company to fall victim to Internet shoppers trying to exploit a pricing glitch or a poorly designed coupon campaign. Last year, Spiegel customers repeatedly used codes from supposedly one-time-use coupons to order products from the catalog company. After shipping some products before catching the problem, the company charged some customers for the discounts they received and threatened to never let them order from it again.

Similar problems have hit online stores such as,, and eZiba. However, most of those stores caught their coupon problem before they shipped products. Instead, most simply canceled the illegitimate orders.