Amazon to customer: $3B charge may stand as record

Run-amok transaction may lead to changes for online retail giant


Never let it be said that Amazon treats a $3 billion billing error lightly. Ask Brian Klug, a California software engineer whose mischievous curiosity about a pricey CD-ROM has apparently flagged a hole in the retail giant's order system and may also have earned Klug a spot in the Amazon record book.

Writes Klug late last night on the social bookmarking site Reddit: "Amazon called me today to discuss my $2.9billion purchase. They wanted to make sure I had received the order cancellation e-mail, and confirm that everything was OK on my end."

A few days ago, Klug noticed a Discovery Channel 'Cells' CD-ROM (that runs only on Windows 98) being offered on Amazon for the eye-catching price of $2,904,980,000. It was being sold via a third party called Suburbanbooks. The $3.99 shipping charge did not deter him from placing an order.

Amazon dutifully noted his purchase and issued him an order confirmation.

Klug continues his account of the call from Amazon:

I mentioned I was an engineer, so we talked for a few minutes about e-commerce validation routines and such. He described a number of measures they had in place to make sure orders with erroneous too-low prices would get caught; but nothing like that existed for the other extreme.

The best part: He explained that Amazon would be implementing such limits ASAP -- and therefore my transaction would be the largest Amazon purchase ever!

Amazon was very professional about the whole situation. The caller acknowledged there was some humorous aspect to it, but made it clear they treat the shopper's experience with the highest regard and they wanted to make sure it wouldn't happen again. I felt the message was sincere -- it was really nice to get the call.

Charging an order of this magnitude -- even in jest -- is not something I would do or recommend, but the snafu did generate blog posts and chuckles both here and abroad.

And Amazon eventually caught on, sending Klug this order cancellation notice. (By the way, although Klug seems on the up and up, and his account rings true, I've confirmed none of this with Amazon.)

One final tongue-in-cheek thought from Klug: "The seller 'suburbanbooks' is only 30 minutes away (in Berkeley, CA). Think I should drive over, offer $5 for the CD-ROM, and check it out?)." To which a fellow Redditor responded:

Hell yeah,get over to Berkeley and grab that multi-billion dollar disk. It will be a nice wall mount for your story. The write up, the record high Amazon transaction and the CD-ROM that you wound up "old school transaction" buying by DRIVING to the seller and handing him a "fin" ($5). A great end to a great story. Make a nice display the take a picture and show us.

I'll second that motion.

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