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Revenge is a dish best served cold, or at least served publicly on your boss’ website in a way that a) can’t be traced... Marks and Spencer Website Faux Pas: Accident Or Intent?

Revenge is a dish best served cold, or at least served publicly on your boss’ website in a way that a) can’t be traced back to you, b) looks completely innocent on your part, and c) brings maximum embarrassment to the company. At least, that’s the thought behind a massive gaffe that’s currently plaguing retailer Marks and Spencer. This one, which the company initially claimed was a coincidence and then tried to blame on a software algorithm behind their retail website, is too genius to be an accident.

Image courtesy of The Standard.

Image courtesy of The Standard.

Someone–intentionally or not–arranged the code so that the items on the screen–in this case, single-letter red glitter holiday ornaments–would spell out a rather naughty turn of phrase, but simply displaying it would be too easy. Instead, in order to see the message (it rhymes with “duck me”) spelled out in festive display, users had to search for both “red” and list the items from least to most expensive. Basically, it’s “out there,” but not exactly on the home page.

In a story on the oops from The Standard, an unidentified spokesperson said, “This was due to the algorithms used to display products on our website. It was quickly spotted and corrected.”

So M&S is claiming that the software did this itself. Without any human direction whatsoever. Just in time for the holiday shopping season. Sure…

Even if M&S genuinely has a website coding problem that causes its retail site to randomly spew glittery profanity, there appears to be a quality control issue at the very least. Companies make (or lose) a lot of money for not verifying their webpages before unleashing them on the internet, and this appears to be one of those times. Given the important nature of putting the best face forward in the retail market, a little human site checking is in order.

ComputerWorld‘s IDG Contributor Evan Schuman isn’t buying it, though. Assuming the error statement isn’t true, “The perpetrator was clever. The naughty message would only be displayed when someone performed a common search intersection, of the most popular color with the most popular search criteria. What supervisor is going to try multiple display combinations for a retail site that has such a huge number of SKUs? This was a wonderful way to dodge approval checkers but to be seen by a huge number of shoppers.”