By Kurtis Ming

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) –Walmart tops the list of Fortune 500 companies, bringing in the most revenue.   Our hidden camera investigation uncovered a practice that may be adding to those profits.  It has some customers and consumer advocates outraged.

 You give someone a gift receipt when you’re not sure if they’ll like your gift.   It could be the wrong size, a color they don’t like or maybe they just want something else.   For many, the gift receipt takes some stress out of gift giving.  It doesn’t state how much you paid, but you give it to them so they can get the full value if they return the item.   We’ve learned that doesn’t always happen at Walmart.

 “That’s totally wrong,” David Schmitz of West Sacramento said.

 After changing his mind about giving a make-up kit as a gift, he tried to return it to the West Sacramento Walmart store with his gift receipt.   He says the clerk was only going to refund him half of what he paid, because the item had since gone on sale.

“I bought the item, I paid for it.  I paid $15.  I didn’t pay $7.50.”

 His original receipt proves it.  After arguing a gift receipt and regular receipt should work the same, the store manager refunded him his full $15.

“But the average person isn’t going to know,” he says.

 We wanted to know if David stumbled across a secret at Walmart, so we sent in an undercover producer to buy a series of items at various Sacramento area Walmart stores around Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter knowing these same items would most likely go on sale after the holidays.

The pillow and blanket we bought at the West Sacramento Walmart store for $10 before Valentine’s Day, only got us $5 back when we returned them at the same location with a gift receipt.

We only got $4.50 for pajama bottoms we bought for $9.

 “That’s a little shady,” a shopper said outside the store.

 We returned two St. Patrick’s Day T-shirts we bought for $8 to the Walmart store off Truxel Road in Sacramento.

We paid $8 for each of those shirts, but only received $4 back for each of them when we returned the items with a gift receipt.

 After spending $13.75 on Easter items at the Walmart on El Camino Avenue in Sacramento County, we only received $7.96 back after the holiday.

Add up everything we bought, we spent a total of $51.82 with tax, but only received $26.99 back when we returned the items with gift receipts.

The various Walmart locations kept $24.83 of our money.

“It’s a rip-off,” a shopper said.

“I do think it’s stealing,” said another.

Just to make sure it wasn’t isolated to our area, our sister station in Philadelphia conducted a similar test with a gift receipt there and got the same exact results.    When the clerk wasn’t willing to refund the full price paid, the producer asked the clerk if she would know how much was spent on the gift.  The clerk responded, “No, I don’t.  I’m telling you…. when I scan this and I scan that, that is what comes up”.  

Sacramento consumer attorney Stuart Tally believes this is an ingenious scam saying Walmart has got to be making hundreds of millions of dollars off this practice. 

“What Walmart 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.”

 We repeatedly requested an interview with Walmart’s corporate offices wanting to know why this is happening, for how long it’s been going on, and how much more money they’ve brought in using this practice.  They declined our request, issuing this brief statement.

We are committed to customer satisfaction and apologize for any inconvenience to our customers. It is our practice to refund the original price paid to the customer when returning an item with a gift receipt. We will be communicating with our store associates to reinforce our practice.  If a customer has a question regarding a gift receipt, we encourage them to speak with a member of management.      -Ashley Hardie, Manager Media Relations

 So it seems Walmart is blaming its sales associates.   Remember though, our hidden cameras caught this happening not only in the Sacramento area, but across the country.

 Kim Brown with the Department of Consumer Affairs says this is the first she’s heard of this type of behavior with a gift receipt.   We wanted to know if it was legal in California. 

“California state law is silent on gift receipts,” Brown said.

David Schmitz hopes what happened to him, will help protect others at the nation’s largest retailer.        

“I would never get a gift receipt from Walmart because it’s basically useless.”

 We also randomly checked Target and Old Navy stores, and received the full value back when we returned items with gift receipts after they went on sale.  Our investigation is already getting attention at the State Capitol.    We’ll share it Friday, May 13th on the CBS13 News at 10pm.

Comments (140)
  1. Jo Ann Ealy says:

    Macy’s did the same sort of thing to me years ago. I purchased a leather coat for my daughter as a Christmas present — but the darn thing was, literally, falling apart within about six weeks. When we went to the store to exchange, they did not have her size so I asked for a refund. I was told they would refund only half of what I paid for the (defective) coat, because the coats were now on sale. I had to get nasty and demand a manager before they refunded the amount I had paid.

  2. JJC says:

    I had a similar experience at best buy in rancho cordova. i bought a power supply for my computer from best buy, the price was around $110.00. since it was best buys house brand, it came with a lifetime warranty, so i kept my recipt in my files. a year and a half later, the power supply failed. i took it back to best buy with the recipt. they told me since they did not carry that power supply anymore, they can only refund the last price listed which was the sale price. after complaining about the amount they wanted to give me, i had to settle on the sale price which was around $85.00. even though i had my original recipt, they would not budge on the refund.

    1. BB buyer says:

      where is the Best Buy in Rancho Cordova? I know of one in Citrus Heights, Folsom but where is it in Rancho Cordova??????

      1. JJC says:

        across the street from elephant bar and griil in the back of the stores. You are right, it is citrus hights, my mistake.


  3. charles m johnson says:

    your Walmart story is a little misleading! Not once in your story did you mention that you were buying Seasonal items, design to be utilize for the particular season coming up,ie. Valentines and St PATRICKS day and Easter. Of course the store put those items on sales at half price after the season. If the item was returned before the end of the season then they would have receive the full price. Like wise if you get a regular shirt, or vaccuum or iron and get a gift receipt you get regular price. You story is misleading. and you know it

    1. Robert Lee says:

      This was clearly done so that the story could be completed in a timely manner. This does not apply to only seasonal items in any way.

    2. Losing faith quickly says:

      Why should it matter? You pay hard earned cash for an item that they are selling regardles when its being sold. It may be seasonal but if its not marked that its a one time deal, I guess we are to assume that if we dont like it, regardless of the condition we return it, we have to take a hit.
      So, what? ….. does the cost to Walmart change with the seasons? I mean really, unless the world is going to end, Easter, Valentines Day, St Patricks Day will all be back in a year. People arent asking for more than the full value back, we just want what we paid. Besides…. you know they dont throw away all the returns…. they resell it, so really, where is the loss? Im wondering if you, Charles, dont work for Walmart yourself….

    3. Blake says:

      It is not misleading at all. They said they shopped during specific holiday times when they knew the merchandise (Easter items & St Patrick’s day shirts) would soon go on sale. They disclosed this in two separate paragraphs. What is misleading about that? Go back and read it again.

      1. Barry says:

        Irrelevant. They only bought seasonal because they knew that the items were going guaranteed to go on sale. Same would have happened if they purchased any random shirt or DVD.

        If a consumer purchases an item and returns it within the stores stated return policy, they should get the full purchase price refunded, regardless of whether the item is on sale or not. This is a shady, unethical, and perhaps an illegal practice.

      2. Barry says:

        Sorry, this was in reply to Charles, not you Blake. I agree 100% with you.

      3. Blake says:

        No problem Barry. Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you also. The larger problem is that among people who shop at Wal-Mart are also complaining about the loss (or lack) of American jobs, not realizing they are in part, a cause of the outsourcing of our manufacturing jobs. If you buy from China, that’s where the jobs and money is going.

    4. AL says:

      charles mjohnson@

      Why should it matters? You should get a full refund, as long as you don’t damage the item.

    5. b says:

      how can it be misleading when we give gifts during during the holidays all year and should ex to received an refund not matter what the date on the calender shows..
      i have had the same happen in the watertown area, big corp enjoyes riping off the little guy.

  4. Barbara Anderson says:

    In 2009 I bought my grandson a $50.00 Gift Card from Walmart and when he tried to use it the clerk told him there was no money on the card. I bought the card in Chico, Ca. and my grandson lives in Las Vegas, Nv. I brought the gift card back to the Chico store and spoke with a store manager and was also told there was no money on the card. Of course I didn’t keep the receipt so I was out $50.00. When I purchased the card the clerk at the Register ran the card twice saying she wanted to make sure it the transaction went through. Of course there was nothing I could do without the receipt so someone, (the clerk) got a nice $50.00 from me. After seeing your news this evening, I will give the receipt along with the gift. I’m not ashamed how much I spend on a gift.
    Keep up on the good work in bringing this type of “ripe-offs” to the public.

    1. Belle says:

      Always keep your receipt when buying a gift card. The cards have to be “loaded” with the money value by the sales clerk when you buy the card (they swipe the cards through the cash register to put the money on them, so if the cash register they’re using has a defect, it could cause it not to be loaded, also). I always worry that the clerk didn’t do it correctly, so I always keep the receipt for as long as possible. Also, since the cards have magnetic strips on the back, they can get erased by being too close to anything with a magnet or even certain magnetic electrical fields. If your grandson left the card anywhere near a computer, for instance, the magnetic energy from the computer could have de-magnetized his gift card, making the value of it un-readable. So, yes, hang on to the gift card receipts, for as long as you know that card is out there.

  5. annie says:

    its not a walmart policy its inproper training. there is a way to get the purchase price from the gift receipt. i would be more than happy to train those confused in the matter…

    1. buyer says:

      only if the purchase price is included in the bar-code since the purchase price is NOT printed on the gift receipt.

    2. katie says:

      annie, you are high.

    3. Sherry Franklin says:

      Why do the associates have to do another process to pull up the purchase price for a gift receipt? How would a customer even know if the did it properly or not? When the barcode is scanned on the gift receipt the price should populate from that transaction. PERIOD!!! They are not scanning the barcode on the item, that I could see would come up as the lowest sale price. Walmart has programmed the system to pull up the sale price not the price paid.
      I understand that you work for Walmart, and applaude your loyalty to your employer. Wrong is wrong, and with this issue Walmart is wrong.

  6. Wayne says:

    Charles, I’m not sure which Walmart store you work for but you are dead wrong in your assertion of a misleading story. The author clearly states what was bought and when. Not that it matters. A consumer should receive a refund of exactly what he/she paid. The only exception is if it is clearly marketed as a seasonal only item with no refund or reduced refund after the holiday. This isn’t the case. One more example of Walmarts deceptive practices. Ranks right up there with the practice of not paying overtime accurately and locking illegals in the store after hours to do the cleaning. Curtis Thank You for looking out for this type of abuse / fraudulent behavior in our neighborhoods.

  7. annie says:

    wayne i dont know whar walmart u r talkin about i get payed good overtime…

    1. Danielle says:

      Wow. It looks like a position at Wal-Mart is the best job you will be occupying for a very long time. I certainly don’t see ‘management’ in your future.

      1. annie says:

        say wut u want Danielle it wont bother me at all. its a job and these days everyone should be thankful for wut they have.

  8. viper3 says:

    i live in modesto and have this very thing happen to me from both stores once i bought a bike for my nephew for x-mas 2 days after the bike had a problem they wanted to give me half price back and then it was on a gift card. the other store tried ripping me off 150 dollars .and when i went to the managers about it they said it was there policy .well i said then if you wont refund my full price i paid i will take wal-mart to small claims court .the managers changed their minds real quick. now dont get me wrong walmart does try to compete with other major retail store ie sears jcpenny’s homedepot lowes toy’s r us .its walmarts way of making money and staying the lowest store prices around.

    1. annie says:

      im not gonna waste my time argueing with u. everyone has their views on what has previously gone down. i can just say from experience its actually a pretty good company to work for.

      1. J says:

        My husband works for them. They haven’t been so good to HIM…they don’t try very hard to conceal the fact that their employees are disposable. With the job market the way it is, they could replace every person on their floor in a week, and they know it. And from HIS experience, it shows.

  9. Dee says:

    Have to chime in on this one. The practice of reduced refunds has been going on at Walmart for many years. This does not only happen with seasonal items. If you return a product that has been placed on clearance Walmart will only refund the clearance price. This is harder to catch but all the same method. Point of the exercise? Why would they lose money on items returned after the price point division “decides” to clear out any particular product from all stores. It is a business decision and obviously has worked for 20 years that I know of. Call Bentonville and try to get someone to answer questions on this topic.

    1. Veronica says:

      Your argument is on very shaky grounds. It should be illegal. They need to refund the price PAID ;what Wmart received for the transaction. Who cares if they discounted it later. The customer and/or the persons with a gift receipt are entitled to a full refund.

    2. Michelle M. says:

      They can now legally get around this by placing a “returns expiration date” on the receipt. If you don’t return it with 90 days, you are refunded the last sale price of the item(s).

      1. SGB says:

        Who said it was over 90 days? An expiry date isn’t the issue. They do this if the item goes on sale right away. I’m surprised at how many people are defending getting ripped off. Wow

  10. Lola says:

    This happened to me when I bought some Christmas lights before Christmas. I couldn’t use it because it didn’t have the connecting plug. When I went to return it after Christmas with the original receipt, the sales clerk told me I will only get the sales price for it. I argued and got a manager to override and give me a full refund. Their excuse is that people buy seasonal items on sale and try to return them for full price using prior receipts when they actually paid full price for the exact item before the seasonal holiday. They told me it was their policy. I told them there were no signs and it was not stated on their receipt as their return policy.

  11. Veronica says:

    Why is anyone surprised? This practice should be illegal but they figure they can get away with it since the price is not on the receipt. I’m sure Wmart has tons of lobbyists in DC making sure this criminal practice has plenty of legal loopholes.

  12. Al says:

    And the morons will still shop at the Great Wall- Of China -Mart. It’s like they like being stupid imbeciles.

    1. Blake says:

      That would be the solution, but people are so greedy that they think their purchase is different. The Chinese ships that Wal-Mart owns is full of cheap goods coming to the U.S., but go back to China empty. The same Americans complaining about lack of jobs are the very ones supporting China’s jobs, their imports and the export of our jobs overseas. Stop buying Chinese and they will stop importing. The larger Wal-Mart becomes, the fewer jobs we will have. You must manufacture something in order to create jobs. If you buy from China, that’s where the jobs and money will go.

  13. denise says:

    Sounds illegal – fraudulent. I hope someone sues on behalf of Walmart consumers.

  14. David in Toledo says:

    I ran into this with Wal-Mart years ago. I happened to receive two poker sets from different people the same year at Christmas. I looked into returning one of them that had been purchased at Wal-Mart. But the Wal-Mart clerk told me I’d only get a fraction of what the gift-giver had paid for the merchandise because it had gone on clearance after the holiday.

    At least the clerk was honest to me about it. I ended up donating the unwanted poker set as a prize at a charity tournament.

  15. BAR-CODE SCAM says:

    KEY-WORD BAR-CODE. ON the gift receipts bar-code is to match the original receipts. This is in a big way STEALING. So if this is ok then if i buy a on sale item and i returned it but it is now at regular price that means they should pay me the difference.

  16. Cat says:

    Costco and Target refud full price paid with a receipt or gift receipt – seasonal or not. Or course, Costco does not issue gift receipts, but is very consumer friendly, even with returns.

    People…. Walmart will not change their ways unless they are sued and./or we stop shopping there. If you need to watch watch you spend, cut down where you can to shop at retailers with higher integrity. The Walton family gets richer and richer at the expense of their employees and customers. No integrity.

    1. Barry says:

      Costco does not issue gift receipts because all purchases are tracked by the member that purchased it. If you are returning a gift without a receipt, they are most likely going to give you the going rate for the item.

  17. Jenn says:

    babies r us and toys r us do the same thing

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