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How to get noticed on the Internet

A pricing glitch on Walmart.com this week generated enormous publicity and did more to promote the retailer’s e-commerce business in advance of the holiday season than any of its other marketing efforts.

No one is suggesting Walmart introduced the erroneous prices intentionally, but had it done so it wouldn’t have been a bad strategy considering the tremendous exposure generated. Pricing errors happen all the time in the physical retail environment, and they are seldom noticed by anyone other than the customer who benefits from the error and cashiers who are trained to execute transactions, not question pricing.

It is a different story on the Internet where a few lines of incorrect code slip into the system and the next thing Walmart knows its pricing glitch is widely reported and featured on CNN. The pricing errors arose Wednesday morning when some shoppers discovered too-good-to-be-true low prices on select items such as electronics. Walmart had fixed the issue by the afternoon and told customers it wouldn’t honor prices on the mispriced goods, but rather offered a $10 credit.

The company didn’t say how many customers were affected or the volume of goods involved, but had it chose to honor the prices imagine the groundswell of favorably publicity the company would have received. Of course, it also would have set a dangerous precedent for itself when, not if, an extreme pricing discrepancy arises.