3 On Your Side: Wal-Mart Gift Receipt Ripoff

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It has happened to us all at one time or another, you buy what you think is the perfect gift for someone and they don’t like it.

Fortunately, if they have a gift receipt, they can exchange it, and no ones feelings get hurt. But we found a problem at one big retailer. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan has uncovered a gift receipt rip-off that could make you look cheap!

You think it’s the perfect gift. They think it’s just plain ugly or downright useless. That’s when a gift receipt can come in handy. When David Schmitz changed his mind about giving a make-up kit as a gift, he returned it to Wal-Mart using the gift receipt. But he says they were only going to refund half of what he paid, because the item had since gone on sale.

Schmitz says, “I bought the item, I know what I paid for it, I paid $15, I didn’t pay $7.50.” In fact his original receipt proves it! Schmitz says, “I knew I spent $15 dollars and I wasn’t going to take less.” After Schmitz argued that a gift receipt and regular receipt should work the same, the store manager refunded the full amount. Schmitz says, “But the average person isn’t going to know.”

Could this be happening to others? 3 On Your Side went shopping at several Wal-Mart stores with our hidden cameras to find out, purchasing seasonal and holiday items that we thought were likely to go on sale.

We paid $31.03 for an electric blanket. But when we returned it using our gift receipt, we only got back $20.33. When we inquired that we thought we were owed more than that, the Wal-Mart customer service representative told us that since we didn’t have a receipt listing the actual price, she had to give us whatever came up in the register. So Wal-Mart pocketed $10.70 of our money!

We also purchased boots and a t-shirt. The combined cost was $14 dollars. But when we returned them using the gift receipt we were credited for only $10! Again, when we inquired about the discrepancy the customer service representative told us that since the receipt doesn’t list the prices, whatever the register scans is what you get.

We also bought two St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts. They cost us $5 a piece. Yet when we returned them using a gift receipt we only got half our money back, $5 total in the form of a gift card.

Irish eyes aren’t smiling in other parts of the country either. When our sister station in Sacramento took similar shopping trips, they only got back 50 percent of what they paid for some items too.

Consumer Advocate Edgar Dworsky says, “That’s just crazy.” Dworsky was dumbfounded when we told him what happened during our shopping trips. He says, “The whole point of a gift receipt is to get back exactly what the gift giver paid. You should be getting every penny’s worth what was paid for, not the lowest price, absolutely not.”

Watch the video…

Wal-Mart wouldn’t agree to 3 On Your Side’s request for an on-camera interview but in a statement says it’s their practice to refund the original price paid to the customer when returning an item with a gift receipt. But no one we encountered seemed to know that. In fact one Wal-Mart customer service representative told us, “If it is on sale, that’s the price that you get.”

Consumer attorney Stuart Tally believes Wal-Mart is pocketing millions of dollars due to this. He says, “What Wal-Mart knows is the person who gave the gift will never tell the person who received the gift how much they paid. And they know the person who returned the gift will never report to the gift-giver that they returned the gift.”

The whole situation has lead David Schmitz to say, “I would never get a gift receipt from Wal-Mart because it’s basically useless.”

Again, Wal-Mart says you’re supposed to get back what the buyer paid when you make a return using a gift receipt. We returned all of our items well within the 90 day return period and pretty much Wal-Mart is blaming their employees for these errors. The company says it will be working with the sales associates to reinforce its return policy.

Not all retailers refund the full price on returns, especially when it comes to holiday and seasonal items. But Wal-Mart does. If you have a problem getting what you believe is the full refund when using a gift receipt for a return, ask to speak with the store manager.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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One Comment

  1. Nanny in NJ says:

    Shopped at Deptford,NJ Store today Mon May 23– they say the Gift Receipt does not give the amount paid — so you get what the scanner shows. “What do you expect anyway — Wal-Mart should give everyone the highest price a item ever sold for”. They were absolutely adamante — said this is company policy and I am the rip off artist.

    1. Stuart says:

      You should call the attorneys who are starting a class action on this. http://www.kcrlegal.com/walmart-kohls-gift-receipt-investigation.aspx

  2. mattee says:

    It’s a procedural problem. I used to work in retail. When you get a gift receipt, that receipt references the original transaction number. You look up the transaction number from the receipt / scan the barcode on the receipt in order to get the price paid. If you scan the item, the register will return whatever price is in the item file that day.

  3. Mike Mcmahon says:

    I wonder if it works the other way around ?? Buy something on sale , get a gift receipt and then return it when it is off sale ????? hmmmmm???

  4. front&ashdale says:

    lets see. you buy a st.patrick’s day shirt and return it after st. patricks’s day when it isn’t worth zilch to the store. and your crying because they onlly gave you half your money back. C’mon!

    1. jimdonovancbs3 says:

      Front&Ashdale – Walmart policy is that you get the full amount paid regardless of whether you are returning holiday or seasonal merchandise. Now if this were at another retailer with a different policy, I’d agree with you. But in this case, Walmart shortchanged us. Jim D.

  5. CMEINUNG says:


  6. Pauline Smith says:

    Jim I found out this past Holiday Season that Wal-Mart is not the only retailer doing this. My daighter and I had similar experiences at JCP, BonTon, Macys, Boscovs, Claires, and NewYork NewYork – luckily we had original receipts as backup. Unless you have proof positive of what you or your gifter paid, you are more than likely going to get cheated when returning an item without the original sales receipt.

    1. jimdonovancbs3 says:

      Pauline – Different stores have different return policies. So you can’t apply the rule to everyone across the board. In this case Walmart didn’t follow their own policy. But just because a retailer doesn’t give you a full refund on merchandise that is currently on sale, doesn’t mean they are in the wrong. That may just be part of their return policy. So it’s important to know what you are dealing with before even making the purchase in the first place, especially when it comes to buying a gift. Jim D

  7. Maria McDonald says:

    I posted this info on my facebook page and a friend informed that in addition to
    not honoring gift receipts, at the end of the season, Walmart also cuts off the sleeves of coats and cuts shoes in half that never sold and throws them out in the trash. Wouldn’t they get a tax credit to donate them to either the red cross or homeless shelters? That is just such a disgrace! And a sad waste of valuable coats and shoes someone could use!

  8. tex says:

    I don’t understand why Jim Donovan didn’t press the company. These employees are not acting on their own–they are scanning the gift receipt, and the system pops out the lower price. This is Wal-Mart trying to stick it to people with gift receipts, plain and simple.

    1. jimdonovancbs3 says:

      Tex – Wal-Mart policy is clear. You get refunded the full amount paid when using either a purchase receipt or gift receipt. Wal-Mart indirectly blames employee error when this doesn’t happen. At this point it is unclear whether indeed there is a system wide software problem with the registers or whether the employees aren’t following standard procedures. Some Wal-Mart employees have made comments online that suggest it could indeed be “operator error.” As this story continues to unfold, we hope to get to the bottom of this. But our main concern was to alert the audience to the errors so that additional customers weren’t ripped off. Stay tuned for updates. Jim D.

  9. delco19078 says:

    That is why i won’t shop at WalMart because they don’t care about their customers or there employees.

    Proud to be union

  10. Olney Falcon says:

    We paid $31.03 for an electric blanket. But when we returned it using our gift receipt, we only got back $20.33. When we inquired that we thought we were owed more than that, the Wal-Mart customer service representative told us that since we didn’t have a receipt listing the actual price, she had to give us whatever came up in the register. So Wal-Mart pocketed $10.70 of our money.

    I don’t have a problem with that, and don’t see why anyone else would either. If you don’t understand “Caveat Emptor”, look it up. I learned about it in high school 50 years ago … It’s not that hard to understand… Moronic story…

    1. jimdonovancbs3 says:

      Olney – perhaps you aren’t understanding this clearly. Wal-Mart policy is to refund the full amount paid regardless of whether you return an item using a purchase receipt or a gift receipt. Caveat Emptor doesn’t have anything to do with this. In the scenario you mentioned above, Wal-Mart took $10.70 of our money, when even they now say they shouldn’t have. I find it odd that you don’t see why anyone would have a problem with this. Did they also teach you in high school to throw your money out the window when you drive down the highway?

      1. Bill Stephens says:

        Jim – Unfortunately, too many kids these days do just that! I have seen kids throw pennies (and even larger change) out their car window like it was mere litter.

      2. grumpy says:

        Hey Jim,
        Forget the Olney Moron reply. Good job as usual! Consumers need to be kept aware of any scams that retailers seem to get away with whether intentional or unintentional….Keep up the good work!

    2. tex says:

      Olney–the gift receipt doesn’t *print* the price, but the barcode on the receipt stores the actual price paid. The only thing that comes up on the register is what Wal-Mart *programs* to come up–and in this case, Wal-Mart is telling the computer to display the lower price instead of the actual price paid–which is stored in the barcode.

    3. Taryn Atkcr says:

      I saw your post on Call Kurtis about the gift receipt scam. Our law firm is investigating for a potential class action suit against Walmart (and perhaps Toys R Us, as well, if they are doing similar). Are you interested in sharing your story with us? If so, email stalley@kcrlegal.com or call 916-448-9800 and ask for Stuart Talley or Taryn Smith. Thank you!

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