Online retailers face significant losses after a glitch on Friday that reduced the price of some items on Amazon’s UK website to as little as 1p.
The incident occurred on 12 December between 7pm and 8pm UK time, when third-party goods selling on Amazon’s Marketplace via RepricerExpress were made available at minimum prices.
RepricerExpress is a tool which automatically adjusts the price of goods to make them competitive with similar online products. The company website advertises its service as being “risk free and safe in every way”.
Craig Constantinides, who owns video games retailer Go2Games, was among those affected. He told Channel 4 News his company had already shipped £10,990.78 worth of goods sold during the critical period on Friday – for which the customer had only paid £146.59.
On a Facebook group page created as a forum for affected retailers, Mr Constantinides wrote: “We are really in some trouble here… We must have a way out of this mess!”
Jess Wright, a spokesperson for Go2Games, told Channel 4 News: “It is deeply saddening and difficult to stomach that all our staff’s hard work for the year may see no reward thanks to such a brief glitch.
“Aside from the financial implications of this error, we are also seeing a threat to our brand. As one of the leading merchants in our field, we have managed to maintain 100 per cent positive customer feedback for our two years trading on the channel.
“With many cancellations on the horizon, our customer satisfaction has dipped, with our feedback seeing an immediate decline as a result.”
Another vendor, Stuart Cameron, posted his experiences on RepricerExpress’s own community forum. He said he had sold his entire inventory “in under two hours” and said it had cost thousands of pounds. Another warned: “I’m not leaving this and will fight for it.”
It is still not clear what caused the problem on Friday evening. RepricerExpress was unavailable for comment when contacted by Channel 4 News.
However, two days ago Chief Executive Brendan Doherty issued a statement saying the company was “continuing to work to identify how this problem occurred and to put measures in place to ensure that it does not happen again”.
And over the course of the weekend, RepricerExpress gave clients email updates on the situation.
On Friday at 21.33 it emailed: “We are still working to identify the cause of the problem and will keep you updated.”
We have been in touch with Amazon and have requested that Amazon acknowledge that this is an issue with our software. RepricerExpress email to clients
On Friday at 22.30 it said: “We have been in touch with Amazon and have requested that Amazon acknowledge that this is an issue with our software and that your account should not be affected by problems with our software.”
At 23.08 it said: “We are currently updating all incorrect prices with the original prices you imported into RepricerExpress.”
Early on Saturday morning it announced: “The process of updating prices is largely complete (as long as updates are still enabled on your account)”.
By Sunday it was still unclear whether RepricerExpress had identified the cause of the original glitch. It emailed clients: “Thank you for your patience whilst we continue to work through this matter.”
And what of the lucky punters for whom Christmas appeared to have come early on Friday evening?
Consumer affairs expert Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, believes the 1p price tag does not necessarily have to be honoured.
“People shouldn’t assume they will only have to pay the 1p, as retailers won’t usually have to honour pricing errors when it is clear there has been a mistake,” he told Channel 4 News.
“Even if you have been through the checkout process you may not have a contract, as some companies’ terms and conditions state that a contract has not been made until, for example, goods have been despatched or even delivered to your door.”
An Amazon spokesman told Sky News: “We are now reviewing the small number of orders that were processed and will be reaching out to any affected sellers directly.”
However, the online retail giant declined to answer specific questions when contacted by Channel 4 News. Instead, it issued the following statement –
“We are aware that a number of Marketplace sellers listed incorrect prices for a short period of time as a result of the third party software they use to price their items on Amazon.co.uk.
“We responded quickly and were able to cancel the vast majority of orders placed on these affected items immediately and no costs or fees will be incurred by sellers for these cancelled orders.
“In the small number of cases where orders were processed, we are asking sellers to contact the third party software company responsible for their pricing in order to discuss next steps in terms of any compensation that may be due.”