business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, we reported that for a brief time, a Hewlett Packard pocket computer that retails for $299 on in the US was selling for the equivalent of just $10.95 on Amazon’s UK site. The low price generated a ton or orders – all of which Amazon cancelled once it discovered the error. We said that we thought the company should bite the bullet and sell the computer for the low listed price to the people who ordered it at that price…and make sure such a thing never happens again.

This opinion generated a number of emails, including this one from MNB user Ralph Prescott:

“So, if you offer your house for sale, and the price printed in your ad is off by just one decimal point, are you going to sell it for 10% of your asking price?

“Sure, as you’re on your wife’s taxpayer provided healthcare benefits, you won’t.

“No one was harmed; there is such a thing as HARMLESS mistakes. Any and EVERY visitor to that site knew that it was incorrect. If a situation approaches negligence or irresponsibility (and that does happen), THEN you punish. But there is nothing in this situation that appears to be so. Honest mistakes in business shouldn’t be an opportunity for attorneys and other vultures to steal. Would you teach your child that it’s okay to take advantage of people that way?”

How did you know we’re on Mrs. Content Guy’s taxpayer-provided healthcare benefits? (By the way, they’re not just provided for no reason…she earns the benefits by teaching the taxpayers’ kids.)

Another MNB user wrote:

“Had I been one of the persons attempting to purchase this $299 hand held computer for $10.95 in the hopes that it might be legitimate and not an error, I would certainly not be upset to later learn that it was an error and that Amazon was not in fact going to sell me that item for $10.95. To insist that Amazon sell that item for $10.95 is as unreasonable as suing McDonald's for being overweight. It's all part of the same greedy mentality we see far too much of in the world. As a gesture of good will, perhaps Amazon should have offered those buyers a 25% discount, but to hand out stock holder's money by going through with these $10.95 sales would have been wrong.”

And MNB user Bryan Roberts, of, wrote:

“The UK arm of Amazon is probably fully aware of a case that involved the UK high street retailer Argos in 1999. It offered TV sets at a ridiculously low price (around GBP3) on its website - I seem to recall as a result of a decimal point being in the wrong place - which were snapped up at a rapid rate by consumers who wasted no time in telling their friends about the deal. One shopper reportedly ordered 1,700 TVs. Argos, upon realising the mistake, rejected the purchases as invalid. Its argument - sustained by legal advice - was that the prices were clearly a mistake rather than a promotion and did not reflect the true intentions of the company. It said that without written confirmation, the orders did not constitute a contract.

“This was despite regulations that store-based retailers have to sell goods at the price displayed. So, in the UK, the precedent has been set in favour of the businesses. Doesn't do a great deal for public relations however!”

Okay, we give up. We’re going take a U-turn in our commentary. It was a dumb idea to suggest that Amazon ought to live up to the accidental low price, and we’re sorry we suggested it.

On the subject of the much-discussed Atkins diet, and the decision by the state of Maine not to ban the sale of soda and candy in schools, one MNB user wrote:

“I'm sure you've heard enough, but I'd just like to add...

“Whenever a new (Atkins is actually rather old by the media's standards) diet appears, it already has expectations placed on it that can't ever possibly be met (lose 15 pounds in a week, look like the model on TV, we'll give you all the self esteem you never had, etc.) So in that respect, it is doomed. The notion of a well rounded diet with exercise will not "sell" because of the audience we have become- it's too hard, it takes too long, I want a quick fix.

“Atkins (no I am not currently on this "diet" but I do limit my sugar and processed food intake) is not about only protein or high fat foods. It asks you to cut out high sugar fruits, breads, pasta - anything that turns to sugar in your system. You can eat veggies and have a variety of foods. In the beginning, it is more restrictive, but it also has a very detailed plan about maintaining the program and adding in new foods. It has been shown to reduce cholesterol in some people. There are a number of other "diets" very similar to Atkins that are less stringent that allow you to include high fiber grains and fruits (more about balance, but ironically they don't get the press coverage).

“As far as the schools go- too bad they voted no on the ban for candy in school, but ironically voted yes (not the same school, but the school system nonetheless) for meatless Monday (by the way, you can get leaner cuts of meat, but what about leaner fried foods that often accompany school lunches? I wonder who gives the schools more money?)

“As for the retailer and suppliers, it would be nice if they also helped
Americans to eat better. Use this Atkins trend to your advantage and ours.”

We commented yesterday in France, the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last Presidential election there was as high as 81 percent, far higher than the 51 percent that voted in the last US presidential election. One MNB user wrote:

“My recollection is that many European countries hold elections on weekends...which will push the percentage voting up...versus our own practice of weekday/workday elections. In 2002 in France I think that Election Day was Sun 9 Jun.”

Responding to a story we wrote about Wegmans getting an award from Syracuse University, one MNB user wrote:

“Wegmans should be a model for how a grocery operator runs a successful business. You name it: supplier relations, supply chain leadership, management integrity, merchandising, store format, quality of store personnel, results, etc., Wegmans performs at or near the top in all. If you look around the industry, it is those companies where the companies’ leaders names are on the banners that seem to be the best! Congrats to everyone at
Wegmans, very much deserved and some of the bigger chains should pay more attention to them for the way to run a grocery company!”

Finally, we got the following email from a member of the MNB community who asked to remain anonymous, and who clearly has her heart in the right place:

“I read your newsletter every day and look forward to it. All the news is not good and we know that. Case in point is Fleming. There are a lot of good people that work for the company and they are being affected by all of this. With your wide range of readers, you might want to alert them to a fact that Fleming will be having a job fair on March 27-28 for the folks that work in Lewisville and Oklahoma City who will be cut back as a result of management mistakes.

“Fleming put an Ad in many papers asking people to call if they are interested in meeting some top quality associates. Maybe you would alert your readers and someone might get a job out of this mess. Wouldn't that be great!!

“Here are the numbers for the HR Depts. that were listed in the paper: Lewisville, TX 972-906-1486; Oklahoma City, OK 405-841-4217.”

Consider them alerted.

And have a good weekend everybody…
KC's View: