Say What? The Biggest Ecommerce Blunders of All Time

When it comes to making mistakes, these disasters truly take the cake. Continue reading to learn valuable lessons that will help you avoid epic fails like these.


If that’s not your reaction when reading these epic blunders, it’s time to enroll in PR 101.

Check out these big ecommerce fails, and, more importantly, learn from their mega mistakes.

1. Best Buy becomes the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas”

Some businesses believe in “under promising and over delivering,” but when it came to Best Buy last year, they delivered quite the opposite.

During the major holiday rush, Best Buy offered deep discounts to drive millions of shoppers and dollars to its site. The problem? They ran out of inventory on several items before fulfilling shipments. To make matters worse, they cancelled numerous orders, just days before Christmas.

As expected, upset customers flocked to the web to leave seething comments. One poignant consumer compared the company to the Grinch, saying, “I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.” At the end of the day, Best Buy apologized and had to cough up store credits to those affected.

Lesson Learned: When running discounts and promotions, have the inventory to back it up.


2. Belkin gets caught for otherwise “positive” reviews

Everyone is entitled to share their opinion, whether it’s good or bad. But when electronics retailer, Belkin International, got caught paying for positive product reviews, their online reputation became badly tarnished.

Back in 2009, a representative from Belkin’s business development team had the bright idea to pay users to write perfect reviews of Belkin products for 65 cents each.  To make matters worse, the Belkin rep provided specific instructions on how to write optimal reviews. Needless to say, the unethical practice was discovered and the company found itself in a PR nightmare. Even after their apology, Belkin product reviews are still likely taken with a grain of salt.

Lesson Learned: Always be authentic and transparent, no matter what.


3. PayPal feels “Regretsy” after denying a Donate button

On top of record-breaking sales, the 2011 holiday season was full of snafus. One that caught major ecommerce headlines came from payment juggernaut, PayPal, after they shut down an account designated for providing toys to underprivileged children.

But wait, why would PayPal do that?

Turns out the campaign was created by Regretsy (a popular blog that pokes fun at unusual crafts), which was accused of misusing PayPal’s “Donate” button. PayPal argued that since Regretsy wasn’t a non-profit organization, it wasn’t eligible use the button. After a horrible conversation between PayPal and Regretsy, the blog posted scathing content about PayPal, lighting the controversy on fire. Eventually, PayPal released the funds for use, but not before taking a few punches.

Lesson Learned: Be open to making exceptions to your policies, when appropriate.


4. Ocean Marketing goes viral for awful customer service

We all know that customer service is an important aspect of any online business. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention that to a rep at Ocean Marketing, a firm that supports a popular video game controller.

Long story short, Dave, a customer checking on the status of his order, got into a nasty email exchange with Paul, a PR lead for the company. After providing a few “short” responses, Paul blasted the customer by saying, “…put on your big boy hat and wait it out like everyone else.” After this exchange snowballed for the worse, Dave sent the thread to a popular blog, Penny Arcade, which posted the emails on its site. Shortly thereafter, Paul was fired, but not before he held the company’s social profiles hostage and left a big bruise on the company’s reputation.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let idiots manage your customer service.
The biggest takeaway from these baffling blunders is this: in the world of real-time news and social sharing, little errors can blow up into major catastrophes. Be cautious with the decisions you make when managing your online business – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Happy selling!
-Matt Winn, Social Media Manager, Volusion


Matt Winn is Volusion’s Senior Brand Manager, where he helps oversee the organization’s branding and communications efforts. Matt has created hundreds of articles, videos and seminars on all things ecommerce, ranging from online marketing to web design and customer experience. Beyond being a certified nerd, Matt is an avid college football fan, enthusiastic home cook and a self-admitted reality TV junkie.

20 Responses to “Say What? The Biggest Ecommerce Blunders of All Time”

  1. David Bellinger

    I am a novice and I appreciate getting any info on how ( or in this case ) or how not to run a business. Thanks Matt

  2. james

    Thanks, glad to read the entire Blog, and the #4 mistake is the best laugh that I have had… well,in a LONG LONG time for sure!

    • Matt


      Glad you got a chuckle! Hard to believe that actually happened, isn’t it?


  3. Danny

    Matt, great list…it’s good to know – 2 fold…as customers, we can be hear..
    but more importantly, as business owners, our customers can be heard and we as the subject…and very quickly…I think we all know that but it just goes to show how fast and out of control one employee, one support ticket, one order, one unrealistic customer not handled right can, or certain internal processes can scar your company…
    Keep up the great work…
    and whos counting…4 or 5 blunders?? Titles aren’t everything :)

    • Matt

      Hi Danny,

      You raise a very good point that I didn’t consider, which is the shift of power to the customer. With the rise of social media and the 24×7 news cycle, customers expect immediate attention and to have a voice. This definitely changes the “old school” business mentality of communications. Excellent insight – thanks for bringing that up!

      I think you’re spot on by breaking it down to just one negative touchpoint turning into a reputation-scarring ordeal. While I’ll admit that it’s next to impossible to prevent instances like these from happening, it’s definitely less of a blunder if you treat your customers well and respond promptly and honestly.

      Thanks for reading! And you’re right, titles, schmitles :-)


  4. Samatha

    “Smile and Wave Boys, Just Smile and Wave” is my motto as well and I always tell my co-workers to use it as well! Even when you are gritting your teeth under that wonderful smile!!!!! 😉

  5. Cindy

    Wow! What a great article, Matt. Two days ago, I wrote into my “very rough” business plan to address such issues as these. I had to put that part of it away for now because the “fear” of it all (and knowing that some people are never happy or satisfied) overwhelmed me. Just by your taking the time to address this issue makes me feel like maybe it is much smaller monster than I was making it out to be. Now, I feel I can confront this problem “head on.”

    Now, back to the beginning…working on my Design….ahh, the sleepless nights…I am too excited about my new business to fall asleep.

    • Matt

      Hi Cindy,

      So glad to hear that you’re putting together a smaller business plan. Keep in mind that while it’s important to have a plan in place in case you have a blunder of your own, that the true planning comes ahead of time when you’re focusing on the little details that can turn into a big blunder.

      Best of luck on the new site – who needs sleep when you’ve got an online business?

      Happy selling! -Matt

  6. Brian

    You might also want to change the first sentence which reads “When it comes to making mistakes, these five disasters truly take the cake.” Keep up the good work!

    • Matt

      Hey Brian, thanks for the catch. I should probably add this blog title to the list, no? Thanks for reading!

  7. Mike P.

    You made my week with #4. Holy bad customer service. I tell all my reps that no matter how bad and irrational the customer gets (and I think this customer was perfectly reasonable) to back down and take a lesson from the Penguins of Madagascar to “Just Smile and Wave Boys, Just Smile and Wave!”

    By the way, did the same to us as #1 and cancelled a Hanukkah present that was supposedly in transit and due to arrive two days before Hanukkah started. Sent me and my wife scrambling for an entire day to find an air hockey table. Not fun…

    Have a Great Weekend!!

    • Matt


      Glad you liked the post, and thanks for commenting! That’s a great motto to share with your support team. Perhaps you should show them that nasty email exchange from #4? Wowsa.

      Sorry to hear about the incident with Target – just goes to show how minor mistakes like that can end up posted on the web in a flash.

      Have a great weekend, too!

  8. Jack

    Matt, the font and color choice on this page looks really bad!

  9. Stephen

    Kind of funny that on a top 5 blunders list, there are only 4.


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