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Wal-Mart Runs into Good Trouble with Laptop Promotion

Wal-Mart is having a hard time keeping up with demand for its $298 Compaq computers and has had to make adjustments as it has dealt with the various dimensions of the promotion.

For one thing, it has had to tweak the pricing on its web site. Consumers who check won't see the $298 price but rather a notice saying: Price varies by store.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Melissa O'Brien explained that the notice was necessary in response to certain state laws that preclude retailers selling goods for less than the listed wholesale price. In those states, stores can't sell for less.

"That's so in about four or five states," she said. "Pretty much everywhere else, it's $298."

The product and $298 price went up on the website on Sunday but couldn't be found online during a check on Monday, something that was probably the result of a temporary glitch, O'Brien said. By today, the computer was back on line with the "price varies" notice. Still, the product couldn't be had, at least within 100 miles of New York City. The website informs that the product can only be bought in stores, but, if you plug in a zip code for one greater New York City neighborhood, a message pops up informing that Wal-Mart's computer can find no store stocking any of its Compaq cousins within that radius.

O'Brien said, "This is such a hot item and special buy that many of our stores did run out of the products early this week."

Wal-Mart was restocking Wednesday and was also planning another round of shipments late week until the $298 laptops run out. No cause for electronics despair, though. "This isn't going to be our only and greatest special," O'Brien said, affirming that Wal-Mart is getting ready to launch new deals on computer products, including a netbook promotion that's should soon break.