No, you can't buy an iPad 2 for $69, or even $179. But the mistaken, wildly low prices by a third-party reseller on Sears' website has triggered an acrimonious debate on the retailer's Facebook page, with nearly 400 customers weighing in.
Last Friday on Sears.com, a third-party seller called GSM On Sale offered two iPad 2 models at astounding prices, according to several media reports: the 16GB, Wi-Fi-only model for $69 (Apple lists it for $499), and the 32GB, Wi-Fi-only model for $179 (versus Apple's $599 list price).
It's not clear how many customers placed orders. But it is clear that however many there are, they are plenty upset about not getting a $499 product for $69.
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The third-party seller is part of Sears' Marketplace program, which offers companies the options of selling their product on the Sears website (with Sears handling the transaction processing and settlement), selling through the site (with Sears also handling inventory and shipping) or simply advertising on Sears.com.
It didn't take long for GSM On Sale to catch the error and notify Sears, which posted a very brief apology on its corporate Facebook page by 8:42 p.m. on the day the ad appeared: "Unfortunately, today one of the Marketplace third party sellers told us that they mistakenly posted incorrect pricing on two Apple iPad models on the Marketplace portion of the website. If you purchased either of these products recently, your order has been cancelled and your account will be credited. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."
Many posters to Sears' Facebook page seemed to have read this as a promise of refund, instead of credit.
Sometime later, the GSM On Sale website, as well as its storefront on Sears.com, went offline. On Monday, visitors to GSM On Sale's website were greeted with a page carrying a prominent red "Closed" sign and a message saying: "Our online store is currently closed for maintenance." As of 8:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, July 19, visitors to the GSM site were greeted by the same message.
Neither the speed of the response nor the offer of credit mollified fuming buyers or other critics who joined the debate on Sears' Facebook page.
The critics insist that Sears and GSM On Sale should honor the ad pricing even though it was a mistake. "your company should've honored their word and sold those IPads for $69 and stop being so greedy!! Think about the consumer who keeps you in business instead of always looking for ways to make a profit!" was posted by Kellee Whipple.
Another poster, Chris Parrish, wrote, "Does not matter who screwed up the price it was there for the world to see and they should honor something. I feel it is false advertisement and they have my info and my money as well."
But others criticized the critics. "i am an avid 'slickdealer', but to think this ad would stand up is absolutely ludicrous," posted Jason Lewis. "This was not Sears fault....There is more than $69 of materials in the iPad, and, again, if any of you had done any research then you would of realized that Apple has a MAP policy(minimum advertised Price), No reseller is allowed to sell below a certain price point. Most of the people buying these were probably salivating at the thought of reselling them on eBay and the like."
Others complained that Sears had promised a refund within 24 hours, but days later, hadn't delivered. "I know it was a price mistake, but don't take my money out as soon as I click submit and then promise to have it in my account within 24 hours and 4 days later it is still not in there!! " wrote Ellen Loyd. As mentioned, the Sears Facebook announcement actually promises a credit, not a refund.
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In the MySears.com section of the website, about 60 posters also debated.
"I'm sorry I don't see THOUSANDS of customer waiting untold hours and weeks to get refunds," wrote autorep84, in another section of the Sears website.
"I do see several and it is very common knowledge that it take 3-5 business days for a customer to receive their funds back. Now, this is not doing by Sears. In most cases, the customer's bank decides when to put funds back. I'm not saying that every case isn't Sears' fault but a very VERY large majority of refunds that happen on a daily basis go back in the normal 3-5 business days and the delay is due to the hold and posting by the financial institution."
Conspiracy theories are also popular, most of these echoing the theme that Sears, or possibly GSM On Sale, deliberately either creates these snafus or exploits them to finance company operations with, in effect, "interest-free loans" from its customers.
"If this was only happening on the iPad with this particular reseller, I would say it was an mistake," posted Stacey Miller Caraway. "But I had it happen on two other items with both another reseller and Sears.com themselves recently. I think it's being done on purpose."
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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