Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is shutting down the system that creates movie recommendations on its shopping Web site after it linked a "Planet of the Apes" DVD to films about famous black Americans, including Martin Luther King Jr.
Wal-Mart said Thursday it had removed what it called the "offensive combinations" from a walmart.com page advertising a boxed DVD set, "Planet of the Apes: The Complete TV Series."
Under a "similar items" section, the DVD set's page linked shoppers to four films about the lives of King, actress Dorothy Dandridge, boxer Jack Johnson and singer Tina Turner. Wal-Mart later altered the page to link with television show DVDs.
The world's largest retailer said the software that generates links for shoppers from one movie to others of similar interest would be shut down. All cross references would be removed as soon as technically possible until the system can be fixed, Wal-Mart said.
Bill Wertz, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company, said it wasn't yet clear how or when the technical problem arose.
"We're still looking into it," he said.
Wal-Mart moved swiftly after a link to the page for "Planet of the Apes" began circulating on the Internet.
"We are heartsick that this happened and are currently doing everything possible to correct the problem," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said in a statement.
"Walmart.com's item mapping process does not work correctly and at this point is mapping seemingly random combinations of titles. We were horrified to discover that some hurtful and offensive combinations are being mapped together," she said, adding that the company was "deeply sorry that this happened."
"To further illustrate the bizarre nature of this technical issue, the site is also mapping movies such as 'Home Alone' and 'Power Puff Girls' to African-American-themed DVDs," Williams said.
A documentary about surfers, "Riding Giants," links to the same list of seemingly unrelated fantasy films as the King biopic, including "Polar Express" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."