Ashford.com flaw allows "free" purchases

Has Ashford.com got a deal for you: a free Gucci watch--at least if you believe its Web site--in the latest gaffe among e-commerce companies this holiday season.

Jeff Pelline Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jeff Pelline is editor of CNET News.com. Jeff promises to buy a Toyota Prius once hybrid cars are allowed in the carpool lane with solo drivers.
Jeff Pelline
2 min read
Has Ashford.com got a deal for you: a free Gucci watch--at least if you believe its Web site.

The deal, which turned out to be a pricing error, is the latest e-tailing gaffe to occur during this year's peak holiday shopping season. Last month, Toy's "R" Us and Dell Computer's e-commerce sites suffered major slowdowns or outages, and last week online grocers Peapod and Webvan disappointed some customers with Thanksgiving orders.

Companies and industry analysts consider this a make-or-break season for many e-tailers. Several e-tail stocks have been bid higher based on lofty expectations for this season, when e-commerce sales are projected to top $5 billion, according to some estimates.

As for Ashford.com's "free" watch, a CNET News.com editor was able to snap up the watch (model 720L) in a gold case, with a black leather strap for "$0.00," according to the e-tailer's Web site. And the shipping was free too, according to the order confirmation form.

"We're sorry. It was a pricing error, and we'll fix it right away," an Ashford.com spokeswoman said.

Earlier today, Portland, Ore., resident Philip Doyle told News.com that he had placed orders for five watches at Ashford.com, all at the remarkably low price of $0.00. Among the bounty were three Guccis, one Tudor chronograph, and a gold Mont D'or--which collectively retail for thousands of dollars.

"Thinking it was a simple mistake, I tried adding one to my shopping bag," Doyle said. "It worked. I added a couple more. Still worked. With Ashford's generous 'free shipping' policy, my total charge came to $0.00."

But if you think these deals are too good to be true, you'd apparently be right.

In a follow-up email from an Ashford.com sales clerk, Doyle was told that the pricing was a mistake. The watches were not in stock and they shouldn't have been on the site at all, he was told. Later, many of the "free" watches were removed from the site.

"I just think it's a good example of what can go wrong sometimes with computerized, online commerce," Doyle said.

The News.com editor-turned-shopper received an order confirmation form but also a disclaimer reading: "We are not responsible for and do not honor pricing errors." This is the policy of many--but not all--e-tailers.

The online retailer went public earlier this year. This week Amazon.com invested $10 million in cash for a 16.6 percent stake in Ashford.com.

Its e-commerce site offers a vast selection of diamonds and more than 12,000 styles of watches, jewelry, fragrance, sunglasses and writing instruments, among other items. Venture capital firm Benchmark is among those who supplied financing to Ashford.