A Walmart Story

Typical Big Box Store
An Empty Big Box Store

All we wanted to do was return a vacuum cleaner.  We had purchased it 5 days earlier, broken it after 20 minutes total use, and decided to get a different model.  By the time we were successful we had involved most of the Wal-Mart’s night shift, provided entertainment for other shoppers, yelled at the store manager and received personal guidance on choosing a vacuum cleaner from the housewares department manager.

All of this only took about one hour.  What a night.

It all started last Saturday when I innocently purchased a vacuum cleaner from the local Walmart.  We actually didn’t have a vacuum cleaner anymore; the one I used to have had been ruined back during Katrina.  During the months we were rebuilding our house vacuuming was pretty close to the last thing we cared about.  Then we put down wood and tile floors, so still no need for vacuuming.  Now, however, we have a fully carpeted house again.  And the carpets needed cleaning after painting and fixing stuff.

So Saturday morning I went shopping for a vacuum cleaner for the first time in almost 20 years.  I admit to feeling a bit amazed at advances in the technology of sucking dirt out of carpets since I had last shopped.  Whatever.

Winnie was at work and I was on my own.  With three floors of cleaning in mind I selected a lightweight Eureka brand vacuum that would be light enough for Winnie to carry up stairs but looked powerful enough to actually clean carpets.  I brought it home, set it up, and started using it.  Then Winnie and I used it again over the next few days for a total of about 20 minutes.  Last night, while we were again using the new vacuum it stopped sucking dirt.

Winnie and I poked at it a few minutes, decided that the dirt-sucking failure was beyond our ability to fix, and so decided to return it for a different model.  I actually had the receipt still, but the box and papers that came with it had already been tossed away.  “No problem,” I thought.

We arrived at the local Walmart about 9:30PM and made our way to the returns desk. We handed the returns clerk our receipt and the broken vacuum and explained we wanted a refund so we could purchase a different model.  That’s when everything got “complicated.”

The returns clerk asked us where the box was; I explained it had already been thrown away.  She asked for the manual; I explained it was it the box when I threw the box away.  She told me I needed to have the manual; I explained I didn’t keep the manual or the box.  She told me I couldn’t return the vacuum without the box and manual.  I explained I was going to return it since it didn’t work and the box and manual were already gone. We repeated this discussion several more times.

The returns lady was now looking flustered.  She told me she couldn’t accept it without her supervisor’s approval.  So we waited while the supervisor showed up.  Then I explained; the vacuum broke after 20 minutes use, the box and manual were already thrown away, we wanted to return it and purchase a different model vacuum.  The supervisor looked immediately flustered. She explained they normally didn’t accept returns without the box and manual.  Once again, I explained I didn’t have them but still needed a return.

She went into severe indecision.  She mumbled for a while, and then said she could allow us a store gift card and I readily accepted as all we wanted to do was buy a different vacuum anyway.  She almost told the returns clerk to do that, then looked flustered again and explained she would need her manager’s approval.  So she called the assistant store manager.

The assistant store manager arrived and once again I explained my story.  This manager flately stated that she couldn’t accept the vacuum without the box and manual.  I told her she was going to have to, as the vacuum was broken and the box and manual were already hauled away with the trash.

She attempted to lecture me on the importance of keeping the owner’s manual.  I interrupted and replied that I didn’t save the owner’s manual as I didn’t need a manual to know how to operate a vacuum cleaner.  This stopped her for a few moments.  I could see she was thinking hard.  Finally she announced she would have to contact the store manager.

The store manager, a younger-looking man with a very stern expression on his face, arrived a few minutes later.  Once again, I explained my story.  By now, we had the returns clerk, her supervisor, the assistant store manager and the store manager around us.  There were also about half a dozen  sales associates and several shoppers hovering around wanting to see what the fuss was all about. Winnie was looking as angry as I was feeling.  The broken vacuum cleaner was the focus of everyone’s attention and still on top of the returns counter with my receipt lying next to it.

Once again, I explained about buying the vacuum cleaner, throwing away the box and manual, using the vacuum for about 20 minutes and it breaking.  I explained I wanted to return it for a different model vacuum that might actually work longer than 20 minutes.  I explained that I didn’t keep the box as I expected a vacuum to last longer than 20 minutes, and didn’t see the need for keeping a box and didn’t have room in our house to store it anyway. I also repeated that I didn’t keep the manual as I didn’t need a book to know how to use a vacuum cleaner.

With this comment the store manager almost smiled, but went back to looking stern.  I finished, then he firmly announced that without the box or manual they couldn’t accept the vacuum, as the store needed the box and manual to send the broken vacuum back to the manufacturer.  In a conciliatory voice, he explained the best he could do was allowing us to replace this with the same model vacuum as an even swap.

Winnie immediately launched a very loud, very angry, and totally incomprehensible tirade against the manager.  He half looked at me, helplessly.  He knew he was being insulted but had no clue what Winnie was saying so couldn’t defend himself.  I let Winnie roll for a few moments, then loudly said “Fine, we’ll take the same model vacuum and return it tomorrow with the box!” I grabbed my receipt and with Winnie, still yelling at the manager, we walked over to the housewares department.  As we walked away, I could see the crowd dispersing.

Over in the housewares department, I quickly determined that in fact there were no more remaining vacuums of the model I was expected to select.  Just as I determined this, the store manager showed up and I announced this fact.  He scurried away and returned a few minutes later with a scanner.

He checked his inventory, mumbled that he was supposed to have one still in stock, and scurried away again.  A few minutes later another man, the housewares manager, arrived and looked around.  He left and returned with the store manager.  After some more looking around the store manager announced that there were in fact no more model vacuums of the type we had purchased, so we could just choose whatever vacuum model we wanted as replacement.

It was as if the heavens opened and light shined down upon us.

The housewares department manager assisted us as Winnie and I selected a new model vacuum.  He explained the differences in brands, helped Winnie feel the weight differences between models, and explained features.  We selected a mid-sized Bissell that Winnie felt comfortable lifting.  He then called the store manager who came back a few minutes later.  The store manager explained we should just take the vacuum up to the returns counter and pay the difference; he had already called to let them know.  Winnie and I courteously thanked him (really).  We went back to the returns counter.

Our broken vacuum was still where we had left it, untouched.  I triumphantly dumped the new vacuum on the counter and the returns clerk, the same one from before, rang us up.  I paid the difference and we left.

Mission accomplished.  We had returned a broken vacuum and purchased a new and more expensive model as replacement. On the way out of the store I couldn’t help think “Why was that so difficult?”

On the way home Winnie made a suggestion. She suggested we take the new vacuum home, clean the house, and then return the vacuum on grounds that our house wasn’t dirty any more.  Then just buy and return a vacuum every time we needed to clean.

I started laughing so hard my sides hurt.

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