Call Kurtis Investigation: Walmart Caught Shortchanging Customers Using Gift Receipts

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.

More from Kurtis Ming
  • jeff

    This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. I stopped shopping at Walmart some time ago. I just got tired of the messy aisles and the store associates that seemed to lack basic information, but mostly because I see Walmart as among the poorest examples of how to treat your employees.

    Officially, I guess I boycott Walmart, and I certainly would encourage anyone else to do the same. it’s clear that no matter how many lawsuits they have, no matter how often they get called on the carpet for their behavior, they will continue to find ways to lie and cheat anyone and everyone they can.

    This isn’t just something they did, it’s something they do.

  • William Daniel

    This happens at a lot more stores than just walmart. If you buy something, and someone returns it with a GIFT RECEIPT, they get the CURRENT value of the item. If you have the original receipt, then you can have the ORIGINAL price back. I have worked in retail for over 13 years, and this makes perfect sense to me. If you want someone to have a set value as a gift, give them the real receipt or a gift card instead.

    • Tambi

      I have worked for retailers for many years and I have never heard of any of the companies I worked for doing this.I quit working for Bestbuy after seeing how they handle customers returns,warranties, and their ridiculous policies. I dont care what the price is now. The person who paid for it paid full price and that is what whoever returns it should get back. It’s disgusting. Trust me the employee’s know. It’s fraud… plain and simple!

    • The human race is destined to fail.

      Nonsense. So you believe that if someone receives a gift that they already have, or one that doesn’t fit, that they should only be allowed the sale price in exchange? Absolutely criminal. And I managed a MAJOR retail record store for a decade.

      • Charles

        Wow, That makes your opinion all the more weighty.

    • Veronica

      Shocking how you can justify this criminal practice. If you have a gift receipt, are you going to try to tell me that the sale price including tax isn’t coded on there? If not it should be the law. This is outrageous. I’m usually not in favor of class action lawsuits but it seems to me that this is the perfect candidate for it.

      • ahu

        you must be an exec at walmart or something… save your bonus? the purpose of a gift reciept is to get your value. other wise why even have a reciept if your going to get the current price either way!!!!!!

      • Charles

        Just because it seems criminal and looks criminal does not mean it is criminal. There has to be a law in the criminal code against the practise for it to be criminal.
        Everybody knows the price or value of a seasonal item plunges after the season or holiday. You expect full value after the occasion has passed? Silly. Then folks would just return those things all the time and retailers would lose billions.

      • will

        I agree with William Daniel. A lot of stores have this policy. If you choose to return it, you are getting whatever the current selling price is. It doesnt matter whether the original price is coded on the gift receipt or now. If you are going to buy a $20 seasonal item and then return it after the season, what is the store going to do with that item? It is only worth the current selling price.

    • SGB

      Response to WILL. Who is talking about SEASONAL items? WHO??? Not me. I’m telling you they do this with ANY item and it’s fraud and a huge rip off. I’m all for suing them out of business. Don’t shop where the policy is to legally??? steal from consumers. BTW, are you a Walmart attorney? Why else defend this crime?

      • JCooks

        It does happen all the time and I can understand what Will is saying but its misleading. Why give us a gift reciept then without telling us what it really means. You can bring it in without a reciept and get the same amount back. Whats the point. Just disclose it. Let us know that your giving us this reciept and it really doesnt mean a thing…

  • joanne b

    This happened at Safeway. I returned stuff not used by a non profit breakfast and one of them was on sale. So they would only give the sale price even though the receipt showed the non sale price. I should have protested I will in the future. If they got the money they should returned. I think the idea of getting the regular price when you bought it on sale is good but good luck with that.

  • yan

    this may not be an isolated practice – this happened to me at Mervyns several years ago. Since then Mervyns has gone out of business.

    • SammyZ

      I worked at Mervyns, all their stores have a system where it ties the Gift receipt to the original receipt… if bought with cash it can be returned as cash (with the gift receipt)… Mervyns only gives you the sale price rate when you don’t have a receipt, I think you got things a lil mixed up since they been closed for so long (not me, I worked there for like 4 years)

      • Tambi

        It’s true what Sammy said about the gift receipts with Mervyn’s. It wasnt any policies they had that made them go out of business. Target owned them at one time and sold them. The competition, like Kohl’s, is what led to their downfall, not to mention the economy

  • SF shopper

    I suspected this years ago. I once return a baby shower gift at Gymboree and was surprise that how much the gift only worth and I know my friend didn’t just spent that little. For the following Christmas shopping, I asked a clerk at another store about their gift receipt return value policy, and she could not give me a clear straight answer! So from then on, I never once bother with a gift receipt! It is the company who is purposely deceiving the customers and not the clerk’s “mistake”! And for those who think it is okay, it is NOT! It is deceptive and the companies know it! If this is the what they intended then it should be stated on the receipts!

  • Ravi

    We try not to shop at Walmart. We just feel depressed walking into the store. You can see that the associates are not happy, the lighting seems to be dull and in general, the stores seem disorganized. Now this will add one more to our list of reasons for not shopping at Walmart. It has just become one very unethical company.

  • Mrs. Price

    This has been standard practice in retail for well over 15 years.

  • Peter

    This is great reporting! A reporter actually went out and did investigative work on a subject that is of value to viewers/readers.

    Kudos, congratulations, and keep it up!

  • the truth will set you free

    You will never have your day in court. The reason why is that Wal-Mart is the largest employer in America. With the job market as bad as it is the government will do whatever Wal-Mart says or they will threaten them with layoffs. Wal-Mart is straight gangsta.

    • cl8978


    • Charles

      That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Your tinfoil hat is crooked.

      • The human race is destined to fail.

        What are you talking about? In regards to your flippant, “Wow, That makes your opinion all the more weighty.”, I posted that information in response to someone else who had said they worked in retail for 13 years. Regardless, how could managing an honest retail business for a decade NOT make my opinion more weighty? What facts, knowledge or experience are you using to post comments like, “Then folks would just return those things all the time and retailers would lose billions.” Point in fact, you have no idea what you are talking about, so please stop. It IS common knowledge that you get what you paid for an item when you return it. That is the entire point of a receipt.

  • lin

    walmart flipped the script. many times I had purchased an item only to see it on sale later. i take my receipt to store and get the difference back. never a problem. so i guess they are beating folks to the punch. still they should notify customers up front and put it in their return policy. i always check and never shop at places that give store credits instead of refund. I try not to go in walmart if I can help it just because of the way they treat their employees. another good reason not to shop there.

  • Just Me

    It has happend to me many times at various different stores…not just with the gift receipt, but with the real receipt as well. Wal-Mart is not the only one doing this. Again, shabby reporting…you should have tested other stores and venues as well.

    Yes! It is criminal and we should not tolerate this! They make money off us to begin with, then they make more money off us for their inconvenience of the return. Shamefull!

  • Doug

    That’s nothing. I paid about $100k to Social Security and now I’m going to be means tested out of it. Will CBS do an investigative report of the Federal government and get my money refunded?

    • lewis

      doug, you nailed it

  • curious

    Does it work the other way? If you buy it on sale and return it when the sale is over, do you get the current price?


    They are aslo pocketing state sales tax. that is a crime against state of california.

  • Stephanie Hargon

    Isn’t that the purpose of the gift receipt? I know Walmart is bad about giving you next to nothing if you return an item with no receipt, but wow, so the gift receipts are worthless. It is better to give the person the original receipt, they will usually honor it as long as the 90 days hasn’t passed.

  • The human race is destined to fail.

    I’m absolutely shocked by some of the comments on this article. If you return an item according to the guidelines of the store where you purchased it you should receive the price you paid for it or an equal exchange value. If you don’t they are stealing your money, plain and simple. And in case you are not aware what the store guidelines are, they MUST be printed ON the receipt (anybody ever read the novel on the back of a Best Buy receipt?). If there is nothing printed on the receipt stating that you will only get a sale price, or a new lowered price when you return it then there is absolutely NO WAY you should get anything less than the price you paid to begin with. Think about it, would you expect to get MORE money in return if the price has gone up?

  • jennifer

    I work at a local walmart… there is a certain procedure to follow when doing a gift receipt transaction. For the logest time, I didn’t know what it was. We were not properly trained on it. I knew something wasn’t right about it so I looked it up in our guide book. When you use a gift receipt… the letters right above the barcode is the pricecode. If executed properly, you should receive a full refund of whatever was paid. I’ve actualy come across one where it was the opposite. We had an item on sale, customer bought it as a gift, when the reciever tried to return it, it had gone to regular price. So with the gift reciept, they got what was paid for it. No more, no less. I agree that those stores are not doing a good enough job satisfying our customers. I have customers that live closer to other store but choose to drive all the way to my store just because we are cleaner and friendlier. All of our customer service desk associates now know the proper gift reciept procedure and follow it. I’ve also heard that some store say you can only take an item back to the same store purchased at even with a reciept. Not true, except on tobacco and alcohol products.

  • Bazerkly

    Walmart did this to me. I wanted to exchange for a different size. They wanted to refund me the lesser amount and charge me the higher amount for the exchange. Walmart are CROOKS!

  • ConeyIslandBaby

    There is perhaps no other company that has done more to destroy American manufacturing and the rights of the American Middle Class than Walmart. Walmart conspires with the Chinese Communist government to use slave wage labor in China to produce sub-standard goods they can sell here in the U.S. Save America – Don’t shop at Walmart!

  • Lynette

    Same thing happens at Macy’s.

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