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Glitch bungles Amazon orders

The online retailer cancels thousands of orders for a high-end cell phone that because of a technical goof had appeared to be free.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
2 min read
Online retailer Amazon.com this week canceled thousands of orders for a high-end cell phone that because of a technical glitch had appeared to be free, an Amazon representative said Friday.

The glitch mistakenly allowed people to order the PCS Phone Handspring Treo 300 at no charge. The phone normally costs $200 after rebate on Amazon. It features a built-in Palm organizer, a color display and a miniature keyboard.

Amazon sent e-mail to affected customers Friday, notifying them of the mistake and that it had canceled the orders.

The problem, which Amazon fixed Thursday, affected only orders placed through Web sites participating in the Amazon Associates program, not orders made directly through Amazon.com, said company spokeswoman Patty Smith. The Associates program gives some 900,000 Web sites the ability to link to products sold on Amazon and lets people buy products from Amazon via an associate's site.

Smith said she didn't know which associates sites nor how many associates were involved in the bad orders. She also didn't know whether the problem affected cell phone models other than the PCS Phone Handspring Treo 300.

"Like any retailer with tens of millions of items for sale, there will be some incorrectly priced," said Smith.

But word of pricing errors, particularly those in favor of buyers, spreads more quickly on the Web than in the world of brick-and-mortar retailers. That poses a unique problem for Web retailers like Amazon. Thousands of orders for the free phone poured in after an alert was posted on FatWallet.com, a Web site dedicated to finding online shopping bargains, said Smith.

Amazon followed its policy on pricing errors, which is posted on its site, when it canceled the orders, said Smith.

The problem was related to a new feature for associates called Quick-Click, which Amazon introduced in November, Smith said. Quick-Click is designed to allow a more seamless transaction for customers shopping on Amazon via an associate's site. However, some associates using Quick-Click had problems with cell phone orders because the two-part transaction also requires an order for service, said Smith.