Today I was reading on SlashDot about a promotional problem that Amazon encountered just before Christmas of last year, and their subsequent method of recovering lost earnings from this problem. At first I found their solution to be wrong, but as I continued thinking about it, I realized that Amazon is partially right to pursue their course of action.
The jist of the problem is this: Amazon advertised a "Buy One, Get One Free" DVD promotion, and the online shopping cart would glitch when the order was placed, effectively allowing a buyer to get two DVDs for free or a small fraction of the actual cost. Shortly thereafter, Amazon sent an email to customers asking that they either return the unopened merchandise to them or their credit cards would be charged for the proper amount. People who did not respond to Amazon's request had about a month before the company started putting through (what some consider) to be unauthorized charges on their cards.
When I first read this, my initial reaction was: "No. If Amazon screwed up their pricing, then Amazon should take the hit." But then I started thinking about this from a legal point of view. In many countries, this would be considered theft.
The customers knew that Amazon had a pricing glitch in their system. Some may have even taken gross advantage of this glitch ordering dozens or hundreds of Box Set DVDs for a fraction of their actual cost. Many legal systems make it the obligation of the consumer to advise the retailer of this error and ensure it's correctness. If the consumer does not let the retailer know, then the store does have the legal right to go after the consumer for the remainder of the proper balance within a short timeframe.
I'm forced to agree with Amazon regarding their recovery policy. Customers would have seen immediately that two or more DVD Box Sets were incredibly under-priced at the Check-Out. Why didn't these people say "Wait a minute? This is only going to come back to haunt me if I take advantage of this." ? Where is the moral compass of the people who may have abused this error?
There are way too many people who think that the world owes them something for nothing. The loudest shouters are usually the ones who knowingly break laws and agreements for their own personal gain thinking that "big giants like Amazon should take it up the rear" when a mistake is made. But Heaven forbid someone does the same to these people in a sale.
Some conspiracy theorists believe this was just a tactic by Amazon to boost their bottom line during the busy Christmas season. However, I see no pattern to this. Web-based companies have made mistakes before. We're all human, and are not impervious to the occasional typo. While it might have been prudent to have someone test this on the live web server, consumers should know the difference between right and wrong.
Just because we can do a thing, does not mean we must do a thing. Greed will only consume us.