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Staples.com nailed again by its own Net coupons

For the second time in just over a month, the online office-supply store issues coupons that allow Web bargain hunters to stock up on free or deeply discounted merchandise.

For the second time in just over a month, Staples.com issued online coupons that allowed Web bargain hunters to stock up on free or deeply discounted merchandise.

In the latest gaffe, the codes for several discount coupons, intended for a select group of Staples.com shoppers, were posted on a Web message board Friday afternoon and circulated to a host of online shoppers, the company confirmed today.

Bargain hunters, many who troll Web message boards for these types of deals, pounced on the site and began ordering goods. A Staples.com spokesman said the company caught and canceled all but a fraction of the orders before they were shipped.

"We are continually evaluating and improving our system," said Tom Nutile, Staples.com's vice president of public relations. "We handled this the right way."

Several online shoppers boasted of the merchandise they were able to obtain from Staples.com at little or no cost on message boards such as FatWallet.com.

One shopper, who spoke to CNET News.com on condition of anonymity, said she placed three orders Friday, two using a $40-off coupon code and the third one using a $90-off code. "I was afraid to try the $288...It's so much money," she said.

Today, she said she received a $91.50 computer desk and $40 worth of school supplies. The total cost to her, including shipping and handling, was $5.

"These kind of deals aren't that unusual," the woman said. "You can find them on the Net all the time."

The woman did not get everything she wanted, however. Staples.com notified her today via email that her second $40 order had been canceled.

"They also messed up my order," the woman lamented. "I ordered note paper and they sent me graph paper...But how can I complain?"

This is the latest in a series of pricing glitches that have hit Web merchants recently and have also called into question whether online stores can safeguard special offerings.

Dozens of online shoppers flocked to Amazon.com last week after the retailer erroneously cut prices 50 percent or more in its toy store. Amazon canceled many of the orders before they were shipped, and the move caused many shoppers, who insist Amazon should honor the sales, to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission.

A glitch in Staples.com's computer system last month allowed some shoppers to walk away with $59.99 briefcases for a penny. The briefcases were supposed to be given away with a minimum purchase, but Staples.com was able to cancel many of the orders with only a few being shipped, the company said.

In a similar situation last October, a Staples.com coupon intended for a select number of customers spread across message boards, allowing some Web shoppers to obtain $20 discounts on all purchases.

News of system problems at Staples.com came on a day when the company reported narrower than expected losses for the second quarter ended July 29 and predicted it will reach profitability a year ahead of schedule.

The Internet arm of behemoth office-supply company Staples said today that it expects Web sales for the year to reach $350 million, up from earlier estimates of $310 million. Staples.com, expected to lose $150 million this year, said the number will be closer to $135 million.