Not honouring prices...

Anyone who has visited the Bargain Forum over at The DVD Forums in the last few days will have almost certainly have noticed a number of threads on's prices. Before I go into detail on the recent developments I'd like to give you a little history on this case...

It all started a week or so ago when various eagle-eyed visitors to the Amazon web site noticed that prices for some discs were fluctuating - this has been reported on in detail on numerous sites so I won't go into huge amounts of detail here... The reason according to Amazon was that these fluctuations were part of a 'test' to see how customers would react to various changes to the site - DVD prices being one of them.

This in itself understandably got some people a little angry as Amazon could charge different prices to different customers and then just put it down to the 'tests' - while the differences were sometimes only slight, the prices on larger items were fluctuating by as much as $16 (The X Files box set being an example). Some users found ways to get around the problems by way of using different browsers and deleting cookies but there didn't really seem to be much of a pattern.

Fastforward a bit to 7 September - it was then that the Bargain Forum suddenly became flooded with reports of amazing bargains at Amazon - some products were discounted by up to 83% and you could pick up titles such as The Jet Li Collection for just $16.99 (retail price $99.99). The orders must have piled in! It looked even better when Amazon started to ship the discs out to customers and therefore everyone assumed that Amazon were going to honour these bargain prices.

I personally ordered two bargain discs - Monty Python's Flying Circus: Set 7 ($11.99) and the above The Jet Li Collection. My Monty Python disc was shipped on 8 September so I should be getting in some time next week, however this morning I downloaded my e-mail and received the following:

Hello from

We have new information about your order and need to hear from you before proceeding.

We are sorry, but it has come to our attention that the price of the following item has increased:

Jet Li(Primary Contributor) "Jet Li Collection-Box Set"
$79.99 $16.99

We apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment this change in price may cause. We hope you will understand that, with several million items listed on our web site, it is unfortunate but nevitable that some items will occasionally be mispriced.

So it seems that Amazon have decided not to honour some orders. I would usually be happy with this - they informed me of a mistake and gave me the chance to still accept or cancel... Nothing wrong there apart from the fact that I know that some people have already had their copies of this collection shipped at the original $16.99 price - it looks like Amazon are honouring some orders and not others. Does that sound good to you?!

It's not as if the prices were unreasonable - the system had the correct retail price for these discs but the discount was set at 83%. Admitedly you don't expect to find discounts like that every day, but they're not unknown. It's also true that these 'mistakes' were actually a result of the 'tests' Amazon were carrying out on their systems - so if you're charged more than someone else and Amazon benefits it's fine, if you're charged less then they can cancel your order. They haven't done anything wrong and according to their terms and conditions they are well within their rights to do this but it doesn't really look good now, does it?

In the past, Amazon have always been recommended by us - and the reasons for this are still valid: they offer good service, pretty good prices, they've got a number of good links with other sites to help you get discs cheaper and they're a friendly bunch of people. In fact, I personally will still order from them myself and I do not agree that any sort of boycott is a good idea.

This is nowhere near as bad as the (still unresolved) Boxman incident (more on that soon!), but it is in some ways similar - things like this have been becoming more common of late and it sometimes looks like their is one set of rules of high-street retaillers and a completely different set for on-line stores. Should they be allowed to get away with it?

It's a matter which is likely to come up a lot more as e-commerce takes off, but to get things into perspective, if Amazon made a mistake then they have acted very professionally about it and this does speak volumes. Giving the customer the option to cancel or keep their order is exactly the action I would expect (and have not received from other retailers). Despite my ramblings above, I still firmly believe that Amazon are one of the best retailers out there and this little hiccup has done little to change my views.

Related links:
The Register
BBC On-Line

Colin Polonowski

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