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Mailbag: E-tail errors: What's an online store to do?

Does an e-tailer have a right to correct a pricing mistake after a shopper has checked out? Our readers share their thoughts.

Earlier this week, one of our editors asked for your feedback on a recent e-tail experience. He found a snazzy set of luggage online priced at $15 per piece. He realized the offer was simply too good to be true and was likely an error.

This large department store contacted our editor four days after he had bought the luggage and received an order confirmation. The store voided the sale, citing its right to correct pricing errors. It offered him a 10% discount on his next purchase. Our editor felt the large department store should have acknowledged its error, but "sucked it up" and honored the posted price. Doing so, he argued, would have made him a more loyal customer who would share his positive experience with others.

What should the e-tailer have done? Here are some of our readers' thoughts:

I run an online store. If I make a mistake I honor the price and fix it. I recently had a customer purchase $40 worth of towels. He wrote and said he was not happy with the purchase and described the problem he had with the towels. I found that [problem] to be true on the remaining stock and sent him a different set of towels valued at twice his original order. He wrote me back, was extremely happy and told me I had a customer for life.

Steve P.
San Jose, Calif.

In my opinion the department store did what was [within] its legal right. So, it lost one customer who tried to take advantage. So what? In reality, shoppers like you are not loyal anyway, and you will be back in the future simply because you are a hard-core bargain shopper. That, by the way, is not a bad thing. Just don't expect others to treat you as a premier customer.

Amir A.
Los Angeles

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Ask your question to customer loyalty expert Michael Lowenstein

[The e-tailer] should have said "oops" but still honored its pricing. Then it would have you telling other people about this place that wants your loyalty in repeat sales. In my mind, once you have done a checkout successfully, that constitutes formal acceptance by the seller that you both have an obligation, an electronic handshake so to speak. Specifically, [the store] has an obligation to sell you the goods at the stated quality and price...and you have an obligation to pay them. It's easy for a place to talk the talk on wanting your business. But do they walk the walk?

Tim C.
Morristown, N.J.

When you buy or sell something, you make an agreement. There are at least two parties involved -- seller and buyer. Neither one can alter the agreement afterward without the other's consent. Period.

Fredrik W.
Stockholm, Sweden

You obviously had doubts to the validity of the sale from the start, so why shouldn't you "suck it up" and accept the fact it was an error that needed correcting? Would you have demanded a refund if the merchandise was not in good condition, even though you would have paid far less than market value? Certain variables are a given in a transaction with reputable parties and that should [include] both sides. Honesty and integrity are not one-way ventures. I do agree that your personal information should be removed from their databases.

Doug B.
Abbott Park, Ill.

I spent 25 years in the department store business, so my guess is that if you write an e-mail or a letter to the president, outline what happened, show him the article and point out that you didn't mention any names, (but reiterate that they should be big boys about the whole thing) you'll get it for the original price quoted. If it's someone like Macy's or Nordstrom, they have invested too much building an online business to risk having you mention their name [in print] next time. I doubt they're as much concerned with losing you as a customer as [they are with] the bad press.

Chuck S.
Des Moines, Iowa

You are absolutely correct that the best customer relations move would have been for the e-tailer to suck it up and deliver the goods as promised. An honest mistake is an honest mistake, but when the merchant confirms [the order], then waits four days before trying to rescind the deal, that's crappy.

Ward T.
Thrasher Tech
Bridgeport, Conn.

Take the 10% [discount] and buy another item if they have it -- like a case of Kleenex. You can send a box to each us for Christmas out here who have responded to your article.

Dave B.
BrookStone5 Communications
Mohave Valley, Ariz. edited some comments for length and clarity.

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