Being well connected with the deal hunter community, I was quickly tipped off about something unusual happening earlier today. I started rapidly getting “deal alerts.” They were popping up one after another in quick succession, but all for the same store – Walmart.com. That isn’t so unusual in and of itself, being that retailers sometimes have major, store-wide sales. But these alerts featured suspiciously low prices, prices so low as to be laughable. Treadmills, electronics, computers, toys, you name it, were being sold for as much as 90% off retail. Even Black Friday doesn’t get that good. Clearly something was wrong over at Walmart.
True, I’m trying to run a company, but this smelled like a good story. I went to check out some of these unbelievable deals but it was as if I was playing a cat and mouse game with Walmart. A user would post a great find, but as soon as I would click on the link, the item page would be taken down. This happened over and over again, though in my defense, I was trying to do this on my smartphone with a spotty connection. Even so, time and time again, I read of others having great success, such as
- Purchasing dozens of new hit video games like Battlefield 4, Grand Theft Auto 5, Pokemon and others which normally go for around $60 each, for $18.
- Giant, high end big screen TVs normally thousands of dollars for only a few hundred:
- A $200 Lego set for $10.99
- A fully loaded, Acer computer system, which normally sells for close to $1000, for only $151
And the list goes on and on. It was entertaining seeing all the people brag about their conquests. Those with the most success selected in-store pickup. But many orders selected for shipping slipped through as well. Such as this order for a motherboard and solid state drive which sold for $20 each instead of their usual $260 and $200 respectively.
But while I always appreciate a fellow deal hunter finding a deal, many crossed the line, purchasing hundreds of items for resell on ebay.
Walmart wasn’t the only company to suffer. When some of these buyers emptied the shelves at Walmart, they went onto other sellers with price-match policies, such as BestBuy and Target, to cash in yet again. This buyer did just that:
It is hard to know how much of a loss Walmart took today or how many people were able to cash in, but if the multitude of success stories I’ve seen are any indication, Walmart took a big hit today, perhaps in the millions. And while many products were sold at ridiculously high prices as well (some reportedly saw a can of Lsyol selling for $100), not surprisngly, I haven't read of a single report of one of those products actually being sold.
A lot can be said about a company by the way it handles itself in a crisis. When Walmart started catching on, its employees handled it about as poorly as they could. They began turning people away who had arrived at the store to pick up their items and cancelled orders yet to be shipped. Often with ridiculous excuses rather than simply admitting the truth. This deal hunter reported one of my favorites:
"Well, this is a completely odd reason to cancel my in-store pickup after I had confirmation
this morning it's ready for pickup on the 55" Samsung:
'Your order was canceled on Wednesday, 11/06/2013
Item was missing from box: -$348.74'
How the heck do you not know a TV is in a box? This'll be a fun fight after work."
When price errors happen, it puts a company in a quandary. The store can either refuse the order, earning negative publicity and the wrath of customers who may take their business elsewhere. Or they can honor the price error and absorb the loss. Walmart seemed to take a hit on both fronts – they refused orders but only after accidentally honoring countless others. Further compounding their woes, they had to take their website offline, which feature over 5 million products, losing legitimate sales as well.
Now many store shelves at Walmart lay empty just as the holiday season is ramping up into full gear. This could be one error which Walmart may not recover from too soon and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone ended up losing his or her job over it.
At least Kathleen Sebelius will be in good company.
It looks like Walmart finally admitted its mistake and sent those whose orders were cancelled an apology and a $10 store credit.
A copy of such an email is below:
Meanwhile, Walmart is trying to recall shipped orders, but many were still being delivered. Like this lucky fellow who purchased three 28" Viewsonic computer monitors for $33 each!