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More pricing errors hit online retailers

On the Internet, a pricing error can mean a great bargain or a great deal of frustration, as shoppers at and discover.

On the Internet, a pricing error can mean a great bargain or a great deal of frustration, as hundreds of shoppers at and discovered last week.

Separate pricing errors, one at and one at's BuySoftware site, followed a week after a similar problem at Onsale came to light. had been the target of consumer backlash earlier this year after advertising the wrong price for a monitor.

When redesigned its Web site on April 26, it mistakenly listed between 4,000 and 7,000 discontinued laser discs for $1.11 apiece. The laser disc advertisements stayed on the company's site for 10 days, until the removed them yesterday, said company spokeswoman Jennifer Blanchfield.

In a different incident, said it lost an estimated $50,000 when it accidentally sold a number of Palm V organizers for $79, $300 below the regular asking price.

The mishaps may not be systemic, observers said, but raise quality-control questions.

Allen Barbieri,'s president and chief financial officer, attributed his company's problem to a computer error related to its redesign. had alerted the several hundred customers who placed orders for the discs that they were no longer available, he said. According to Blanchfield, the company plans to offer each customer affected a free CD, DVD, or video worth up to $15.

"The most important thing for us is that we correct the error," Barbieri said.

One customer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he ordered about 40 discs from after reading about the offer on a newsgroup. But upon discovering the mistake, he said he would "absolutely not" shop with in the future.

"They don't have their act together," the customer said. could have held to a posted company reserving its right not to honor erroneous prices, but chose to take a considerable loss.

ShopNow spokeswoman Hannah Coan said a typographical mistake was entered last Friday night on the company's BuySoftware site. ShopNow changed the price back to $379 from $79 after being alerted to the error.

The company received some 250 orders for the Palm V at $79, she said. "In the interest of customer relations," ShopNow will sell one Palm V at the discounted price to each of the customers who placed orders.

At least one ShopNow customer took advantage of ShopNow's mistake. Tom Simpson, a senior site builder at, said he found out about the discounted price on a mailing list and ordered a Palm V right away.

"I had been thinking about getting a Palm V, but as soon as I saw one for $79, it was time for action," Simpson said.

Barry Parr, an e-commerce analyst at International Data Corporation, said the pricing errors on retail Web sites don't represent a trend in online commerce. To Parr, they are an indication that e-commerce companies are under more scrutiny than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, where such mistakes could go unnoticed except by a handful of customers.

"Clearly, if someone screws up in this environment, everyone finds out about it immediately," Parr said.

But the mistakes at could be an indication of greater problems there, he said..

"I'm surprised that their quality control is not better than it is," Parr said. "They're making a lot of mistakes."