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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 18 January 2006

An offensive link between a Planet of the Apes movie and a film about Martin Luther King Jr. on Wal-Mart's consumer Web site was a mistake caused by a well-intentioned effort to promote a DVD about the Black leader ahead of his annual holiday, a company spokesman said.

Wal-Mart removed the link on its www.walmart.com retail site last week after learning about the juxtaposition from reporters. Wal-Mart apologized and shut down indefinitely its entire online system for referring shoppers from one movie to others.

Carter Cast, president of the Wal-Mart's online shopping division, told The Associated Press there was no racist motivation for a link that sent shoppers seeking "similar items" from the boxed DVD set "Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series" to four Black-themed movies including "Martin Luther King: I have a Dream."

"There was nobody here who maliciously put together that combination," Cast said by telephone from walmart.com's headquarters in Brisbane, Calif.

Instead, Cast said, a business manager who wanted to promote the Martin Luther King Jr. DVD ahead of last year's holiday grouped it with three other movies — then assigned them to an overly broad category of DVD boxed sets. He said the links may have existed for the past year.

"I know the person was well-intended in trying to get the 'I Have a Dream' speech out as a cross-sell. But by not containing it in one particular item display group, for example African American culture, the person put it in multiple display groups," Cast said.

Wal-Mart said there would be no repercussions for the employee, who it did not name, since the outcome was not intentional.

Walmart.com uses a different system than many other big online vendors to create cross-selling links. Amazon.com, for example, bases recommendations on what a shopper has bought before and what other consumers who buy a certain item also purchased.

Walmart.com manually assigns movies to specific groups, called "item display groups," such as science fiction or African American culture. Then the company's internally developed software generates links guiding shoppers to other movies in that group.

The group of four movies about King, actress Dorothy Dandridge, boxer Jack Johnson and singer Tina Turner were defined too generally as DVD boxed sets, Cast said.

That linked them to over 260 boxed sets with all kinds of themes, from "Best Of Hitchcock, Vol. 1 (Collector's Series)" to "Doctor Zhivago: Special Edition" and "The Avengers - The '67 Collection: Set 1."

"In my eyes, the fact that we didn't catch this was a failure. We should have caught it," Cast said.

"The problem is there are millions and millions of combinations of items cross-sold against each other. We offer 25,000 DVDs. And then if you start going through the different combinations of cross-sells, you're in the millions," he said.

Cast said walmart.com would only start cross-referencing movies again once it has a new system in place to avoid a repeat. That could be a technology more like what Amazon.com uses or another approach, he said.

"We are looking at a bunch of different solutions right now," Cast said.

The Associated Press

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