Amazon glitch leads to items being sold for almost nothing

In the UK, many items on Amazon suddenly appear for a price of one penny. Retailers rail, while Amazon blames third-party software.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Some buyers surely couldn't believe their eyes. Or their luck. Sky News screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Christmas is a time of giving but, as far as retailers are concerned, it isn't necessarily a time of giving away.

Yet on Saturday, some UK-based retailers were aghast as their wares were suddenly being sold on Amazon for one penny.

No, this wasn't an attempt by Amazon to wipe out a recalcitrant book publisher or diaper maker. Instead, it was an alleged glitch that affected some of those on Amazon's Marketplace who used the Repricer Express function.

This, Repricer Express boasts on its site, is "trusted by more than 2,025 happy Amazon sellers across eight international markets." The service automatically changes the price on items to ensure that retailers are competitive with similar wares online.

However, as Sky News reports, some UK retailers began to see that the word competitive had been taken to dire extremes. Some items were for sale at a penny.

This all happened between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday, when so much Christmas shopping was being done.

Oddly, though the prices were absurdly cheap, Amazon's fees had reportedly not been altered. The company issued a statement to Sky News that said: "We are aware that a number of Marketplace sellers listed incorrect prices for a short period of time as a result of the third party software they use to price their items on Amazon.co.uk."

Amazon said that the majority of the orders had been canceled, with no cost to retailers. I have, though, contacted the company to ask how those retailers who might have been affected would be compensated. I also asked about the nature of the third-party glitch. I will update, should I hear.

Some retailers are in an unforgiving mood. One, called Belle, told Sky News that she feared losing £30,000 (around $47,000 or AU$57,000) on her toys and games. "It's disgusting really because this third-party software, that is their business," she said, "this should not have happened, this is 2014."

For its part, Repricer Express CEO Brendan Doherty said in reply to one complaining retailer on his company's site: "We have received communication that Amazon will not penalize sellers for this error. We are continuing to work to identify how this problem occurred and to put measures in place to ensure that it does not happen again."

Doherty added: "We've been in business for over 10 years and we've always taken pride in the levels of service we provide -- so everyone here is devastated and disappointed that you have experienced this problem."

This didn't appease some retailers. One, Stuart Cameron, wrote in response to Doherty: "Just sold my entire inventory in under two hours. Heads are going to role [sic]. Solicitor [lawyer] first thing Monday morning. This has just cost me thousands and now have to stock check my entire warehouse."

I contacted Repricer Express to ask what specific measures Amazon and/or Repricer Express is taking and will also update, should I hear.

Amid all the rancor and rage, one imagines there might be one or two happy people -- those who bought a coveted gift for a piffling pittance. At least they might have a merry Christmas.