Walmart.com had a pricing snafu on its website this morning where some items were marked down ridiculously low and others were marked ridiculously high.
Popular video game Grand Theft Auto V was marked down to $18 and had sold out. Many toys and books and other items were marked down as much as 85 percent.
I overheard a co-worker mention it. It generated some office buzz. We got online and laughed at some of the prices, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures priced at $369.99.
There was either a glitch on the back end of Walmart.com’s web pricing, or someone hacked the site.
I’ve never read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was on sale for $3.05. I put it in my online shopping cart. My favorite novelist’s new book—Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt—is set to release on December 2. It was on sale for $3.05 as well, plus free shipping.
I plugged in my debit card info and ordered both books. $11 with a small shipping charge for the Gladwell book.
Boom. Savviest purchase ever.
I texted a couple people about it encouraging them to take advantage, knowing full well this was a pricing mistake and that Walmart was losing money each and every time someone ordered something at these prices.
Is this who I want to be?
Is it okay to do what I did this morning?
The It’s-Wrong Argument
Of course it’s not okay.
It’s fundamentally no different than a bank truck getting in a freeway accident, having the bank’s money flying all over the road, and being one of the people who snatches up as much of it as possible and drives away.
I KNEW Walmart wasn’t having a special sale. The evidence was obvious. There was a glitch. A mistake. There was even the possibility that some rogue hacker had caused this, and here I was trying to capitalize on it. Near as I can tell, I swindled Walmart out of about $30 by ordering those two books this morning.
Would I ever walk into a Walmart (*shudder*) and just steal $30 worth of goods? Not a chance.
So, why did I think this was okay? Why was my instinct to jump all over what I saw as an opportunity to capitalize on the misfortune of others?
The It’s-Perfectly-Fine, Walmart-is-the-Retail-Satan Argument
Of course it’s okay.
They’ve been using brute force and high-volume buying power to put competition out of business for years. Little mom-and-pop shops all over the United States and presumably other countries are just shutting down because Walmart’s bean counters decided they could turn a huge profit by opening a new store in a particular location.
It’s a small-business death knell—the news of a massive discount retailer moving into town. At least for any small business that sells similar wares as Walmart. And Walmart sells an awful lot of stuff.
Walmart makes all of its money doing EXACTLY what I did this morning. Jumping at an opportunity to get more for less.
The Final Analysis
I don’t really know how I feel about it. My guilt meter isn’t exactly going off the charts right now.
In fact, my co-worker JUST came back from Walmart where she’d ordered some things at huge discounts and Walmart refused to honor the purchases she’d scheduled for in-store pickup. They canceled the orders. My co-worker didn’t argue with them, she said.
In my case, I asked for my books to be delivered to my house. I even paid the delivery fee for one of them. It will be interesting to see whether Walmart treats my order differently as a result.
I don’t particularly care either way, but in the end, I’d like to see my books show up on my porch one of these days.
I’ll pick up the package. I’ll smile. Hell yeah, I’ll think. I just got a good deal.
Then, you know what I’m going to do?
I’m going to read Gladwell’s Outliers. Then I’m going to spend 10,000 hours doing something.
And a decade from now?
I’m going to be so rad at something, you’re not even going to be able to recognize me.
I’ll be tall and rich and smart and funny and getting laid and happy. Everyone’s going to be like: “Hey Matt! You’re so amazing and happy and sexually active! How ever did you pull off this magnificent life!?!?”
And I’ll say: “Walmart.com, baby. A glitch in The Matrix. I seized opportunity.”
They won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
But you will.