November 6, 2013, 4:24 PM

A glitch causes Walmart.com prices to tumble temporarily

Social media lit up as consumers crowed about buying items at ultra-low prices.

Lead Photo

Walmart.com

This morning, a technical glitch on Walmart.com caused the prices of many items to temporarily drop to, in at least some cases, a fraction of what they were meant to be. By noon, the glitch appeared to be gone—but not before some shoppers had snagged deals and spread word of the better-than-everyday low prices on social media.

Wal-Mart is still determining how many products and orders were affected, and for exactly how long, according to a spokesman for the retailer. “This was simply a technical error, and we’re still working through the details of our customer orders and will follow up with customers directly,” he says.

Wal-Mart also released a statement saying that its web site might be intermittently unavailable today as it works to correct the problem, with apologies to customers. 

Posts under the Walmart hashtag (#Walmart) on Twitter and Facebook coming from consumers and deals aggregators today pointed out the low prices. Affiliate marketing site Yes We Coupon on Facebook posted “HOT! HOT! HOT! – Cricut Expression 2 Electronic Cutting Machine ONLY $4.80 At Walmart – Save $244.20” (sic), with a link to a blog post on its web site displaying a screenshot of that price on Walmart.com. On the retailer’s site, the item is now out of stock and is listed at a much higher price, $224.10.

A consumer comment on the Yes We Coupon blog post (which included an admission of incredulousness from its author, who wrote, “This order may get cancelled but it is definitely worth a try”) from 9:26 a.m. reads “I just tried this and added 10 to my cart. Before I could check out, they were sold out. Same with Silhouette Cameo and MANY accessories!”

Another deals aggregator, Sea of Savings, posted on Facebook this morning a link to a high chair for $7.28 on Walmart.com, with the remarks, “Wow! Do you or someone you know need a high chair?! This will sell out...so grab it quick!” The high chair is now listed at $33.88 and out of stock.

Meanwhile on Twitter, one shopper tweeted that he used Walmart.com’s temporary price cuts to receive a steep discount on a video game in a Best Buy Inc. store, taking advantage of that retailer’s price-matching policy. Arthur Moy, who goes by the Twitter handle “speedbrkr,” posted on the micro-blogging network that he’d bought the Nintendo 3DS video game “Pokemon Y” for $18.03 at Best Buy after showing a store associate on his smartphone that the game was listed at that price on Walmart.com. Now its Walmart.com price is $39.95 and the game is sold out.

Best Buy did not immediately respond to a request for comments.

Also on Twitter, author John Green (@realjohngreen3h), posted the following, in reference to his novel, “The Fault in Our Stars”: “In truly ridiculous price war news, Wal-Mart appears to be selling TFiOS for $3.05.” Minutes later, he continued by Tweet, “Also, the $80 box set containing all my books in hardcover is $11. (I don't lose money on this, but Wal-Mart sure does.)”

Walmart.com’s misstep comes at a time when the world’s largest retailer is investing heavily to increase its web sales. Walmart.com now stocks 5 million SKUs, up from 2 million last year, a product of it’s allowing more outside merchants to sell on the site. Wal-Mart reported recently that its e-commerce sales are up 30% over last year, and projected $14 billion in global web sales in 2014. Walmart.com, No. 4 in the 2013 Top 500, sold $7.7 billion via the web in 2012, according to Internet Retailer estimates.

Wal-Mart is not the first retailer to have technical difficulties interfere with its prices. This summer, a glitch in eBay Inc.’s PayPal payments service erroneously told one consumer he owed $92,233,720,368,547,800 on his account. And eBay itself went down for six hours in August when a maintenance glitch knocked out several of its web sites.

At the end of the day, the spokesman updated that Wal-Mart has cancelled all the customer orders for the aberrantly priced items. The cancelled orders will be refunded in full and customers will also receive a $10 e-gift card to use in Walmart.com or in stores, he said. The e-commerce site is functioning normally again.

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