Macy's Wrongly Priced Necklace: The Problem That Was Never Supposed To Be Possible In-Store

A strange recent incident involving Macy's (NYSE:M), an impressively—and unintentionally—marked down necklace and a POS system is noteworthy not merely because of what happened, but where it happened: namely, in-store.

The recent Macy's (NYSE:M) print ad certainly spoke the truth. It described as a "super buy" a $1,500 diamond-silver-and-14-karat-gold necklace on sale for $47. It was indeed a super buy — and it was also a major mistake. But Macy's didn't catch its own mistake for some time, until well after quite a few customers made good on the purchases in-store.

The $1,500 necklace was indeed supposed to be marked down, but only to $479, not $47. Things like this happen online with annoying frequency. But in-store? This raises several questions: Macy's described the error as "a mistake [that] was made in a recent Macy's advertisement," according to Holly Thomas, a Macy's VP for national media relations. Was that mistake replicated in the pricing database, accessible through POS?

If the wrong price existed only in the print ad, what happened with the checks-and-balances that are supposed to exist in-store? When an associate did a scan and saw $479, didn't a $47 ad activate any alarm bells? No one thought to check with a supervisor?

Apparently not, as quite a few purchases of the necklace happened in-store. Indeed, one such shopper bought out all of the remaining inventory—which is usually a good heads-up to double-checking pricing. That buy-out generated another problem. Seems the associate then offered the shopper behind him the ability to buy more of the necklace and have Macy's ship it. He agreed. Before it was shipped, though, Macy's figured out what was going on.

A different Macy's spokesperson, Beth Charlton, E-mailed a statement: "For those customers who bought the necklace at the $47 price, they were fortunate. For the gentleman you spoke with, he was not so fortunate. We are sincerely sorry he was disappointed and unable to buy the necklace at the $47 price for his wife."

So Macy's policy when it makes a mistake is essentially "You pay your money and you take your chances"? No apology? No explanation of what happened? No attempt to make the shopper feel better, such as an apology gift certificate?

What we have here are two broken promises to customers: One promise in an ad and another by an associate. Yes, it was based on a mistake, but it was the chain's mistake. If Macy's thinks the mistake was costly based on how many customers got the promised necklace, wait until the retailer sees the results of those angered customers who didn't.

The proper response would have been to say "This was our mistake. But we want our shoppers to trust that we back up with an associate tells them. Therefore, any customers who were promised this necklace at that price will get it delivered. It's the right move."

Given that it was a one-day sale and that a very small number of shoppers were made this promise, it seems an easy way for Macy's to have scored nice-retailer points.