A few weekends ago, in the mail, Bridget and I got a coupon that asked us to be a guest for a day at Sam’s Club. I scanned it so you can all take a look. Go on, take a look. This was apparently mass mailed to people that are within driving distance of the local Sam’s Club. We decided that we would bite and try it out. We had previously stopped shopping at Wal-Mart because a woman was rude to Bridget and they don’t exactly have the most labor-friendly practices. Regardless, it had been ages since we went to a Wal-Mart so we figured it was time to give Sam Walton another shot.
We left for Monroeville and as we approached the turnpike I noticed a sign that read, “No tickets. Flat rate at exit.” We had forgotten that the PA Turnpike workers were on strike. To save staffing costs, the turnpike was charging flat rates to keep everything flowing smoothly. Well, normally a trip to Monroeville costs me $0.75, today it cost me $2.00. I wasn’t happy about this. It made me wish I was driving to Philadelphia just so I could’ve bucked the system out of nearly $30.00. Regardless, we arrived in Monroeville determined to buy a Christmas tree and other odds and ends that we needed. We visited several of the stores and then headed to Sam’s Club to cash in on our “Be Our Guest” coupon. We entered the store and the guy took the coupon and separated the coupon (with perforated edges) from the larger part of the advertisement. Of course, he then tried to staple a membership application to it, but he was out of staples. I thought it was funny because we had no intention of buying a membership. We were only interested in using the coupon and leaving.
We wound our way through the store and went down every aisle looking for especially good deals. We found that most of the items were actually very comparable to Target prices. Target is our store of choice, so that is where all our comparisons come from. It was a few cents here and a few cents there of savings. Nothing too impressive. We were going to get a tree, but found that they were ugly and overpriced. After about an hour or more of searching through the warehouse (this place felt like an airplane hangar) we decided to check out.
Arriving at the checkout line was simple enough, almost all the counters were open. The kid took our items and began to scan them. After Bridget handed him the coupon and papers he said, “You can avoid the 10% surcharge if you become a member today.” Bridget took the coupon back and pointed to it and indicated that we were using a guest pass and that the fee should be waived. He responded with a puzzled look and another woman came walking over. The woman in question snatched the coupon from Bridget and said in a very confrontational tone, “You mean this?“
“Umm. Yes…” said Bridget.
“We never waive the 10% surcharge,” the woman defiantly proclaimed.
“But it says here that…“
“No ma’am,” the woman interrupted. She was certainly treating us poorly at this point. Her tone had moved from defiance to scolding irritation. “Had you read the coupon you would’ve seen that there is a 10% fee if you don’t become a member.“
“But it says that we are invited to be a guest.“
“Yes ma’am. But if you had read it closely you would obviously have seen that there would be a surcharge. All non-members are required to pay a 10% fee.“
I decided to pipe in at this point. “So you’re saying that this coupon is in fact not a coupon at all?“
Bridget says to me, clearly upset, “I feel deceived. “
“Sir, if she had read the…” she added before I cut her off.
“No. This ‘coupon’ that we were sent in the mail, that is asking us to be a guest of Sam’s Club, is in fact nothing more than an advertisement. Is that what you are saying? We can come in here any day and ‘be your guest’ and still pay the 10% fee? This is, in fact, not a coupon at all. Am I understanding this correctly?” I said.
“It says right here that… If she had read…,” she stuttered.
Bridget looked at me and said, “I feel as if someone is being rude to me.” She was obviously upset and I was getting angry with the way this was being handled.
“No. This isn’t a coupon? It’s an advertisement, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes.” she said. Finally. As this interaction was taking place, the young man at the register had finished totaling out items. The total came in a little over $220.
“Your 22 dollar 10% charge can be applied toward your membership,” he said hopefully.
“I don’t think we should buy anything at this point. I’m pissed off about this. I didn’t come here to have someone be rude to me even if I hadn’t read the fine print,” Bridget said to me.” I certainly wasn’t buying a membership now that we had been treated like children that needed to be scolded. However, the time we had spent in the store (almost 90 minutes) made me not want to abandon the goods. Otherwise we would need to spend just as much time in Target getting the things we needed. It was already getting late and we were getting hungry. I decided that we would pay for the stuff, eat the charge, and never come back.
We checked out and I was already looking for the customer service desk to talk to a manager about this situation. I sent Bridget to the car with the stuff and she was very upset when I sent her away. I had the receipt in my hand so that I could shove it in the face of the person I wanted to talk to and show them the $240+ I just spent in their store. Bridget quickly returned, tears in her eyes, saying that she couldn’t get out of the store without the receipt. I gave it to her and she departed. I was furious.
I walked to the customer service desk and asked to see a manager. “Is there something I can help you with sir?” the woman said.
“My wife is outside crying in the car because of the way one of your employees treated her. I want to talk to a manager.” I said coldly. The woman that had been rude to us came over and began talking to the customer service lady about the weather or some other inane topic. She stood no more than 3 feet from me. I was seething.
The manager approached and the rude woman left. I explained to the manager that we had received this alleged coupon and we attempted to check out with our guest pass. I said to the manager, “I realize that we did not read the fine print. I also see that this is nothing more than a bait-and-switch marketing ploy. However, that does not give your employess the right to treat us the way we were just treated. We just spent $240 dollars in here and my wife is outside crying because of the way that woman treated her.” I pointed at the woman as she pretended not to see my accusatory glare. “We have both had similar experiences like this in Wal-Mart. This is the first time in about 3 years that we’ve shopped here and because of the way we were treated, we won’t be coming back. Target will be getting all our business from here on out.“
“I’ll see what I can do to talk to that employee about the situation.” said the manager. No offer to refund the 10%. No explanation as to why we received a deceptive ‘coupon’. Not even an apology.
I left and got in the car to console Bridget. We talked about it and decided we would tell everyone how we were treated. This is our story. If anyone talks to me about shopping at Wal-Mart I will tell this story. I’ll tell them how the customer is never right at Wal-Mart. I’ll tell them how a nasty employee caused Wal-Mart to lose the business of me and my friends. I’ll tell them of the unfair labor practices and other questionably ethical dilemnas that Wal-Mart is tied to.
Some other reasons not to shop at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club:
- Always low wages–always. Everyone knows retail jobs are low-paying. But Wal-Mart is special. It pays so little to so many that it drives competitors’ wages down as well. Not only does Wal-Mart hire poor people; it keeps them poor. A recent Pennsylvania State University study found that counties that gained a Wal-Mart store during the ’90s were less likely to climb out of poverty than Wal-Mart-free counties. (cecd.aers.psu.edu/pubs/PovertyResearchWM.pdf)
- Wal-Mart the welfare queen . Many Wal-Mart employees can’t afford the company’s expensive health insurance. So it encourages them to apply for state assistance. A University of California at Berkeley study (laborcenter.berkeley.edu/lowwage) concluded that health care, housing subsidies, food stamps, and other forms of public welfare for Wal-Mart workers cost California taxpayers $86 million a year, or $1,952 a year per Wal-Mart “associate.” Other states have also documented large numbers of low-paid Wal-Mart employees using tax-funded public health insurance.
- Lock ’em up! The New York Times has reported on many allegations of illegal employment practices at U.S. Wal-Marts. Among them: locking workers in overnight to prevent theft; forcing people to work through breaks and mealtimes; contracting with cleaning companies that recruit workers from overseas, bringing them into the U.S. illegally, and then threatening to have them deported if they balk at seven-day work weeks and working “off the clock.”
- Don’t sweat it . The company continues to buy from sweatshop suppliers, accused by human rights and labor activists of hiring children and physically abusing workers.
Bulleted list is pulled from an article entitled Rednecks & Blue States