I have infrequently used two online shopping services, both of which are very good. One (call it Site A) bought the other (call it Site B) some time ago, but has kept them up as separate operations, at least for consumer-facing aspects.

One interesting result is that this division seems to include the mailouts – you get one from Site A, and then shortly afterwards one from Site B. Sometimes the other way around, but usually within an hour of each other. The announcements are usually similar – discounts and hot specials, product recalls, and the like. Really, as one might expect, given they are probably working off the same raw data and inventory.

Then on 23 Sept, Site A sent an email advising that its minimum order policy was now $50. “In light of the ever increasing demand in home shopping,” the email said, “and to ensure we continued to offer high levels of service”, they were introducing this threshold. If you had less than $50 of goods in your cart when you tried to checkout, you would be prompted to add more.

Well, a little steep, I thought, but fine by me; I think a failure to set a minimum order was likely what helped the demise of poor old kozmo.com. I usually end up ordering more than $50 simply because I order so infrequently that by the time I do, I need more than that.

Nothing from Site B that day. Or the next. I had idly wondered (amongst a heavy workload) whether Site A was introducing a differential between it and Site B, positioning the two sites at different audiences. Then an email arrived from Site B four days later (27 September). Same wording, same $50 threshold. I guess not.

Then on Friday, 14 October, I get two emails within about 15 mins of each other. Both Site A and Site B say: “We wish to advise of an error in our recent communications to you on the [Site x] minimum order value. The [Site x] minimum order value is now $30, not $50 as previously advised. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Now is it just me, or is this spin going a little far? If it was an error in the email, I would have expected a follow-up perhaps hours or days later: “Oops. We never intended $50. Some schlep keyed it in wrongly. We meant $30. They accidentally hit the ‘5’ key. Sorry.” But no. It seems that orders must have dried up too much in the intervening three weeks, customers scared off when they only wanted a case of beer and some nachos, prompting a corporate re-think.

Fine. But why not just say that? “We wish to advise that, due to customer feedback, we have lowered the minimum order threshold.” There are plenty of other ways of saying it. Even calling it an error is fine: “We made an error in our minimum pricing. We thought $50 would be acceptable, but it wasn’t, and you’re all off using Site C, or braving the local checkout aisles. Please come back.” But to say it was an error “in our recent communications to you”, rather than “an error in our recent adjustment of our online business”, well, that doesn’t ring right.

I will still keep using the sites, because I like them: on the rare occasions that they have made a mistake, they have been helpful and fixed it cheerfully. They usually work just as advertised, and it’s scarcely more expensive than shopping at the supermarket, but much quicker. I just don’t like spin that almost borders on dishonesty.