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Pricing glitch wreaks havoc in Amazon DVD store

Customers buy items at up to 75 percent off, but the online retailer cries foul and asks for full price or order cancellations.

3 min read
Amazon.com is dealing with the fallout from another pricing glitch, this time in its DVD store.

Last Thursday, price-savvy DVD shoppers placed dozens of orders for drastically discounted movies and box sets such as the "The Beatles DVD Collector's Set." But Seattle-based Amazon has since told customers that the prices--some were more than 75 percent off the list price--were a mistake and has asked customers to pay the higher price or cancel their orders.

That has several saying they will not return to the leading e-tailer.

"This is the last time I will do business with Amazon," said Bristol, Conn., resident Michael Cucka, who was asked to pay $79.99 for the "Jet Li Collection--Box Set" that he originally ordered for $16.99. "There are too many other places online that don't pull stunts like that."

Amazon spokesman Bill Curry declined to give details on the problem or on how many customers or DVD titles were affected, saying only that it was a "temporary glitch." Curry said Amazon sent email notices to customers warning of the price change "in accordance with the policy on our site."

"End of story," Curry said.

The pricing glitch is the second in two months at the e-tail giant. Last month, a similar problem in Amazon's toy store led to dozens of orders, some of which Amazon actually shipped. In response, several customers, upset by what they felt was deceptive advertising and unfair treatment, filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau about Amazon's handling of the toy store glitch.

The DVD store glitch also comes after a price test in Amazon's DVD department. Early last week, Amazon tested different prices on dozens of its top-selling DVDs. The variable prices meant that one customer could pay up to $15 more for the same DVD than another customer, even if they placed their orders at the same time.

Unlike the price test, the glitch seems to have led to far greater discounts on a more limited selection of titles. And the discounted prices were available to all customers.

Among the titles affected by the glitch were the "Tom Cruise Action Pack" ($25.49 discounted price, $64.97 full price), "Monty Python's Flying Circus--Set 7" ($11.99, $31.96) and "Stephen Hawking's Universe" ($19.99, $41.99). Amazon has not only restored the higher prices on all of the affected titles, but all of the availability dates have changed on them as well.

Amazon says that "Brazil--Criterion Collection," another title affected by the glitch, has a release date of Dec. 30, 2020. But shoppers can order the same title through Buy.com, and Buy.com says it will ship it to them within 48 hours. Several customers ordered "Brazil" for $19.99 during the glitch; Amazon's current "preorder" price is $47.96.

Curry said he did not know why the availability dates had changed.

Several customers speculated that the discounted DVD prices might be related to the price test from earlier in the week. Max Armstrong, of Scottsdale, Ariz., said at least one Amazon customer-service representative told him the discounted prices were part of the price test. Armstrong, who runs his own computer consulting business, called on Amazon to honor the discounted prices.

"If they were doing research, that's something that costs money," he said. "They can't expect to do research for free all the time."

Marcus Brannon, a Newark, Ohio, high school student, said the price test factored into his decision to order two copies of the Stephen Hawking set. Although he thought the prices were suspect, he thought they might be a part of the test, he said.

"You never know what online stores will do next to get public interest," Brannon said.

Curry said the price glitch was unrelated to last week's pricing test.

The discounted prices certainly drew interest on message boards such as DVD Talk and Home Theater Forum, where shoppers posted dozens of messages. But all the attention may eventually come back to haunt Amazon.

Vicky Bagley said her order for the Tom Cruise set was the first one she placed on Amazon--and her last. Bagley, who lives in Detroit and works as a customer service representative for an insurance company, said Amazon could use some help in how it handles situations like the pricing glitch.

"I don't know how they can stay open like that," Bagley said. "They have to do better than what they are doing. Word of mouth--it spreads."