Taking responsibility for a pricing error


Let’s say hypothetically that your company offers up for sale millions of dollars of inventory to its customers. But, due to an error on your part, the price of those items – some of which regularly sell for up to $1,000 – is artificially capped at $49.95. What happens when you realize the mistake?

First, you fix the pricing issues. That’s a given. In this case the glitch was only open for about six hours. But then what? You have to choose between fulfilling the orders and taking the hit, and taking responsibility for the fact that it is your system that messed up or simply canceling the orders and blaming your customers for not being smart enough to know that it was obviously a mistake and not just a sale.

If you’re Zappos you play it smart, sucking up the loss and making it clear that you respect your customers.

While we’re sure this was a great deal for customers, it was inadvertent, and we took a big loss (over $1.6 million – ouch) selling so many items so far under cost. However, it was our mistake. We will be honoring all purchases that took place on 6pm.com during our mess up. We apologize to anyone that was confused and/or frustrated during out little hiccup and thank you all for being such great customers. We hope you continue to Shop. Save. Smile. at 6pm.com.

If you’re British Airways, on the other hand, you simply insult your customers, ignore that the exposure was lower and the revenue was higher, ignore that the mistake was not nearly as obvious and generally accuse your customers of being schmucks. And then, after you’ve already fulfilled the orders (the tickets were issued) you go back on the issuance, revoking the tickets and lying to everyone about the story for the first couple days. Not cool at all.

Blaming your customer when you make a mistake simply is not smart business, particularly not when the customer doesn’t have similar means of redress. Other airlines have made similar mistakes over the years. In the vast majority of the cases they used the mistake as an opportunity to build better relations or otherwise market their services. Apparently British Airways is too good for that sort of thing.

Alas, the British Airways event is over and at least a few people made them pay for it in court. But their total lack of respect for their customers doesn’t make me so keen to patronize them in the future. They’re going to have to be offering quite a deal – and actually honor it – for me to go there again.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

4 Comments

  1. This is a really excellent point, which so few companies seem to understand. As an example, a few years ago when United priced business class from CA to NZ for $1400, I jumped on the deal. I had been a loyal USAir customer up to that point. However, my experience on that trip, plus my general feeling of dissatisfaction with USAir, caused me to switch my loyalty and a good chunk of my flying over to United. Since that time, I’ve flown close to 300,000 miles on United, and I’ve also switched most of my husband’s and children’s travel to United as well, for probably another 200,000 miles of United flights. I’m sure the extra revenue from those flights has more than made up for whatever “loss” United could quantify from the cheap seats.

  2. Same here!

    It was that CA to NZ bargain fare that introduced me to United Airlines.

    Before then, I had never stepped foot on a United Airlines plane.

    Since then I have flown well over 250,000 miles exclusively on United Airlines.

    Hopefully, BA and other companies will see the longterm benefit from doing the right thing towards customers and and stop their shortsighted short term, penny wise-pound foolish policies.

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