Early last year, UK grocer Tesco, the third largest retailer in the world in terms of revenue, suffered a series of human errors in setting till prices for beer promotions in its Scottish stores. The errors caused a couple of "beer stampedes" by bargain hunters. The local police even had to be called in at certain stores to maintain order. Then in October, another till-related glitch allowed Terry's Chocolate Oranges to be sold for 29p instead of their usual £2.75, which caused an "orange chocolate stampede" by chocolate lovers (apparently the police were not needed in this case).
After each incident, Tesco issued a statement with a now familiar refrain, "We are putting steps in place to make sure that it does not happen again." I think it's time for Tesco to rework those steps once more.
The UK news media are reporting that an error yesterday on the Tesco Direct web site caused new Apple 4G 64GB iPads to be advertised for a price of £49.99, instead of £659. Naturally, word of the deal spread like wildfire across social media networks, eventually causing Tesco's web site to crash from the onslaught. By the time Tesco figured out that something was amiss, many customers had already received email confirmations of their iPad purchase.
The company, citing a clause in its Tesco Direct terms and conditions, says that while it is sorry for the mistake, it doesn't have to and will not honor the price.
A few buyers of the £50 iPad (all who knew that the offer was too good to be true, I suspect) are hoping Tesco will relent. There is some precedent: earlier this year, UK retailer Marks & Spencerreversed course in face of an online complaints campaign. In January, M&S experienced a pricing glitch of its own where it offered £1,099 50-inch Panasonic 3D plasma televisions for just £199. M&S originally said it wouldn't honor the price (the TVs were supposed to be on sale for £599) but then later said it would, at least apparently for those customers who had received a sales confirmation.
I wish the iPad buyers good luck, but even if Tesco's slogan is, "Every little helps," I don't expect them to reverse course.
I do, however, expect though another, "We are putting steps in place to make sure that it does not happen again," Tesco statement anytime now.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.