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
  • cl8978

    I dont think that it is COPRPORATE it has to do with the Lames that they have working there. Once a clerk took the Divider and said to me can you go get one with a UPC code on it?

    • rachel

      I work at Wal-mart. I hold a BA in English and history and a BS in Secondary Education. Teaching jobs have been hard to come by during the recession so I’m still at my part-time ‘while I’m in college’ job. Many of my fellow associates are current college students. There are also associates in management with multiple degrees as well. Oh, and my IQ is in the 120’s. Now *smug* tell me again how all Wal-mart associates are “Lames”. Next time try to use those few brain cells of yours to do something OTHER than make useless stereotype claims.

  • still kicking

    What a totally one sided bogus article. How about discussing what happens if the item goes UP in price, something far more likely to happen these days. Does the holder of the gift certificate get the dollar amount for the old price or the new one? And if it is the old price will Curtis suddenly claim a scam is going on and demand that the consumer be allowed to make a profit on the gift card?

    • Kevin

      The article isn’t one-sided. The author requested a response from Wal-Mart, who refused to comment in full. It is very clear that Wal-Mart is refunding only half of the funds it earned on these sales. There is no defending the practice; it is deliberately anti-consumer. It is Wal-Mart’s prerogative to respond. If the corporation refuses, there is no reason the author should not publish the results of the investigation. That isn’t one-sided: that’s consumer reporting. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the concept.

    • The human race is destined to fail.

      As I mentioned in a previous post, no, you don’t get more back. The entire point of being given a receipt is so you and the store knows what you paid for it. Its a record of payment. That number is fixed. If you return or exchange an item that’s the amount you get. I don’t understand why this is such a hard concept for people to grasp.

    • Captain Target

      Shut up, Wal-Mart employee…

    • Samuel Gray

      I’ve had two other things happen at Wal-Mart with returns. On multiple occasions when I returned with my receipt, the amount that rang up for the return was different than the amount I payed for it. Each time I have taken my receipts and asked the clerks about the difference. When I was owed money they gladly rectified the situation. When Wal-mart was owed money they wouldn’t take my money, because it would have been to much trouble on their part to fix it. This leads me to believe that the receipts only identify that you purchased the product there (gift or otherwise), not what the price was when the receipt bar code is scanned.

      • The human race is destined to fail.

        Umm, reeeeeaaally? You don’t have to pay for something you’ve already paid for, the same as you shouldn’t get less back than what you paid for it. Nobody in their right mind is going to return something and give the store MORE money because the price has gone up. lol That part of your comment makes absolutely no sense.

  • Bazerkly

    What’s wrong with the customer making a profit? That will never happen at Walmart!

  • Bill

    I’m probably about the only person alive who’s never seen the inside of a Walmart store. Not because I think Walmart is objectionable, its just that the
    nearest one is way up in Rohnert Park, and I refuse to drive 35 miles to
    see a Walmart let alone shop in one.

    • Bob

      You are so special, Bill.

  • Love to Shop but not there!

    I have been to Walmart to reutrn something with a receipt. I was told that I was not going to get a refund for anything because they said I stoled it. And that I made a habit of this. Both the sales associate and the night manager made those comments to me! I didn’t shop at Walmart very often, Now I don’t shop there anynore. After the fuss I made, calling the store manager & corporate and threating to let all people know what they were up to. They finally refunded my money….

    • flameforjustice

      Where did the idiot walmart employees think you got the reciept?

      • rachel

        Without knowing what the cameras and store-to-store communication was regarding this return, it is impossible to draw a factually-based conclusion. As for where the employees thought ‘love to shop…’ got the receipt – from the trash can, from the parking lot, from the same items already returned without a receipt and this is take two, from friends etc. It happens. The s**t people pull to try to scam is just unreal. If they’d put as much effort into actually WORKING for their money instead of stealing, this country would be a much better place. This is especially true since WE are stuck paying for their scheming.

    • jim


  • steve

    WalMark is stealing and thats the only way to figure this out anyone can explain away if it happening once but not all the time. This is a snake in the grass and really a terrible thing, when they are doing it without anyones knowledge. I would think this is stealing no holds barred, simple theft

  • D Smith

    This has been happening for years…I returned something to a store @ Pier 39 in SF years ago with a gift receipt and they tried to refund what the price was on that day. Why do you think all store issue gift receipt’s. It is not only Walmart. Everyone does it and it has been going on for sometime. I myself do not give gift receipt’s any more because of this.

  • steve

    Not only is WalMart anti consumer but they are also against the regular businesses in the towns they come into, its the worst sort of theft along with destroying hard working people. BUT the consumer is stupid and would rather save a few dollars than to frequent a business thats an individual who has been in service by the town for many years, WalMart comes in and destroys the home town atmosphere of the place. I am not sure why people put up with it. I would not shop at Walmart, unless I have too. I would rather pay a few cents more or even a dollar more than to not shop at a friendly home town store. Yes cheap goods but the worst kind of destructive behavior, its un american, I am sure but we all put up with it

  • flameforjustice

    I asked a deli employee to wash his hands and put on fresh gloves after he had came from somewhere in the back He refused and the deli manager was there and said NOTHING. I called corporate,they were pleasant and promised to have Store Manager call me. Store manager called me,after voicing my complaint he just praised the employee. First and last time I have went to walmart.

    • rachel

      the back is a work/prep area. If he was restocking product or making food there would be no reason to change his gloves. Should he have done it anyway even though that’s wasteful if his gloves were still sanitary – yes to please your germaphobic ways.

  • PJay

    I think it’s the company trying to get away with what they can. I bought a 3 gallon water bottle there and it was something like $4 and said it included the first fill up of water. After going through the line and getting home, I saw that they had charged me for the bottle and for the water, it came to like $7 or $8. I told the store manager and he gave me some double talk and basically couldn’t explain it.

  • Manuella Bush

    Ok I will just say I shop there all the time and still will. I always pay close attention to my receipts. I have never had that happen and if they tried it with me they would hear it from me…That is stealing..Shame on you Walmart.

  • Devin Mazzeo

    Having worked for Walmart in the past I can assure you that any time a customer has a complaint, legitimate or not, an associate is blamed even if they are following company policy & procedure.

  • Carol Wagner Kalaveras

    It doesn’t surprise me at all. Walmart is always ripping off their own employees from their benefits and pay. Now they’re trying to blame their employees for shorting the customer. I am sure there is no way the sales associate is responsible. How many times does a manager have to come over to authorize a void or some other transaction for the sales person because they have no authority to process such transactions. And managers are following Company policy.

  • kyle

    I can’t believe the people who are defending Walmart here… it’s mind blowing.

    For you sheep, let me summarize the key points:
    1. According to the article, Walmart STATES that this should not be going on. Full purchase price should be refunded if you use a gift receipt. Then they go on, implying that it’s the fault of the associate. First of all, I don’t believe this for a second… they scan the item then the computer tells them how much to return. But if it IS true then this is outright THEFT by the employees and should addressed by Walmart corporate more agressively than “reinforce the practice”.

    2. I have a feeling that if you return the items using a regular receipt you will get the full paid price back. If this is true and if it’s true that you only get the sale price when using a gift receipt, then this is outright THEFT by Walmart. I don’t see how anybody can dispute this.

    • Donna

      I have attempted to return an item with a gift receipt because I wasn’t able to produce my orginal receipt. When I was told that I would be given the price in the computer I refused to accept their price knowing that it was wrong. I did find my orginal receipt within 24 hours and I returned back to the store with the item, the gift receipt, and the orginal receipt. The same statement was told to me about the present computer price and Wal-Mart wouldn’t give me the price that I paid on the receipt. I said that I wouldn’t accept that price and again I picked up my item and walked out of the store. I later gave the item to charity.

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  • Bird

    Several years ago I purchased an item at a Wal-Mart in the Sacramento area and then went home which is in the mountains. I ended up needing to return the item so I went to the one closest to me which was in Carson City. That particular Wal-Mart did not sell that item at their store so they said I could not return it at all even though I had a receipt. I made a big deal out of it and the manager did end up giving me a refund.

    You also have to watch and make sure they are giving you the clearance items their prices. I once bought a pair of slacks on clearance for $3.00. The register rung it up as $18. But the original price on the tag was $17. It was a big mess and I felt like they were trying to rip me off. The manager was very irritated with me. I didn’t do anything wrong. So since the price rung up higher than the actual price it was suppose to be I got a $3.00 credit which means I got the slacks for free.

    So don’t forget that if an item rings up higher than the price is suppose to be you are suppose to get a $3 credit on your purchase or if the item is $3 or less you get it for free. It says it right there on the tray where the debt machine is. I have gotten several items discounted because of this policy. So watch as they ring up your items.

    • Kathy Bollerud Markovich

      but do you have to actually pay for the item, then take it to customer service for the refunds? ive had many items scan wrong, and if I bring it to the cashiers attention, she changes it..but Ive never gotten a credit for it..unless I keep my mouth shut, pay for it, then take it to customer service.

  • asmodeus

    I’ve had the same thing happen at Macy’s. Lesson is buyer beware.

  • Chris Cade

    kohls also did thid

  • Anomis

    I’ve had the same thing happen to me at Christmas 2010 when I tried to return Christmas items, they would only give me half the price. I ended up keeping the stuff but I never heard of that kind of practice before. So Im really glad this story was done and I hope things change. And as far as Rachel the walmart employee and all her iq’s and degrees, WHATEVER!!! Who cares of all your education if you don’t have any common sense?

  • Kathy Bollerud Markovich

    this has happened to me at Walmart and many other stores including Meijer. They have told me that if an item is on sale, it doesnt matter what youve paid fer it..that they will only refund the amount the store has listed as the price at the time you try to return it. Ive argued this point with them over and over..and have never been on the winning side of this battle. Long story short..I dont shop much at the chain stores like walmart and meijer…Ill buy my items at credible places that operate with \fair business tactics.

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