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Tech Industry

Glitch irks Bestbuy.com customers

The Internet electronics retailer is blaming human error for a pricing mistake on a highly sought-after video card, but some customers claim they were misled.

Bestbuy.com is blaming human error for a pricing mistake on a highly sought-after video card, but some customers claim they were misled.

Bestbuy.com, the Internet unit of brick-and-mortar electronics retailer Best Buy, advertised a pre-order sale Wednesday for the VisionTek Xtasy GeForce4 TI 4600 graphics accelerator for $129.99. That's more than $250 less than what most electronic retailers charge for the card, which is intended to make graphics run smoother on PCs.

Video game enthusiasts quickly spread the word about the "too-good-to-be-true" low price. And it was too good to be true.

Best Buy has never offered a pre-order sale for hardware, only for music and videos, said Laurie Bauer, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Bestbuy.com. The group in charge of the presale was unfamiliar with the processes and fumbled it, she said.

Bestbuy.com corrected the price within hours but not before hundreds of orders were placed, judging from chat boards. The company sent e-mails notifying each customer of the mistake, saying that the company would not honor the erroneous price.

That didn't sit well with many who ordered the card and now feel they were duped. In their outrage, they have taken to e-mailing television stations and news organizations about Bestbuy.com's gaffe.

"If I had walked out of their store with a mispriced card, they wouldn't have chased me to my car and said: 'Hey we got to change the price,'" said Bill Tetrault, from Sioux Falls, S.D. "They told me that I can have it at this price. They should honor their prices."

Pricing errors at e-commerce sites is an old problem. Keying in prices on multitudes of products and relying on complex technology to make changes has often led to missteps. This in turn has led to angry customers.

Two years ago, a group of Buy.com customers who ordered a mistakenly priced monitor actually sued the online electronics store. Buy.com agreed to pay $575,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Pricing errors also have occurred at sites Staples.com and BlueLight.com.

Best Buy says it is trying to make amends. Five days after the controversy began, Bauer said that Best Buy is offering customers a $30 online coupon to custumers who had their orders canceled. The coupon can be used with any purchase, not just for the video card, Bauer said.

"We think it's a good faith effort to show our customers that glitches, happen but we want them to come back and shop with us again," Bauer said.