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Internet

Staples' Web promotion a victim of its own success

A discount coupon that Staples intended for a select group of customers was circulated via the Web, allowing unauthorized users to go on a spending spree.

Sometimes the Internet can be too efficient for selling products. Just ask Staples, the office supply giant.

Last week, a discount coupon that Staples intended for a select group of customers was circulated via the Web, allowing unauthorized users to go on a spending spree, Staples' spokeswoman Shannon Lapierre confirmed.

The coupon--in the form of a five-digit code--provided a $20 discount on all purchases at Staples.com. It was mailed to select customers as part of a marketing campaign. Users who placed orders on Staples' Web site could enter the code and receive the discount.

But an unidentified user published the "secret" code on Internet message boards last week, so scores of people, not just a select number, could receive the discounts.

Staples executives didn't learn of the problem until Monday, but by then it was too late. Some of the merchandise purchased with the unauthorized code had been shipped. Staples reacted by canceling as many pending orders as possible.

Lapierre declined to say how many unauthorized orders were placed using the coupon code.

"The [ coupon codes] were intended for a specific area or customer," Lapierre said. "In the broad range of the Internet, people had the opportunity to distribute the code. It's really caused us to go back and redress our processes."

She added: "We're seeing the problems that come from moving brick-and-mortar companies to the Web."