Walmart took my money! Why won’t it just give me the iPad!

When Nick Fitzsimmons tries to buy an iPad at Walmart, he gets the runaround. Why does it need to conduct a “background check” on him? 

Question

I had a very disappointing experience with Walmart today. My wife is about to leave to visit her family in China. She asked me to buy her an iPad Mini to take with her primarily so we could chat and stay in touch.

She did research on the Internet and found a 16GB iPad Mini 2 for $199 on Walmart’s website. I looked at it and decided that it was a very good deal. Then I attempted to purchase one last night.

Since time was of the essence when I ordered it, I specified that I would pick it up at a local Walmart store. The order page let me search for stores in my area. It also showed which stores had the item available for immediate pickup.

My neighborhood store showed that it would be several days before I could get an ipad there. But I found a store about 30 minutes away that showed that I could make a pickup immediately. I selected that store for my pickup site.

“Walmart took my money from my bank account”

I completed the order, paying with my bank debit card. Shortly afterward I got a text message on my phone saying that Walmart would send me another text message and an email when I could pick up my order. My wife and I went out for dinner to wait. We both assumed that by the time we had eaten the iPad would be ready for pickup.

While we were eating, I got a message from Walmart saying that my order had been delayed. It advised that I should check my email for more information.

When I opened the email it said that my order was on “hold” until they could verify my financial information. The email said that it would get back to me in the next 48 hours telling me when I could pick up my order if everything checked out.

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I immediately opened my online banking app and saw that Walmart had already charged me $214. We finished dinner and went home. I sent an email to Walmart asking for a better explanation. By now it was too late to make the pickup. In my email I also asked for the procedure for canceling the order, if necessary.

When I looked at my email the next morning, there was an email from Walmart. This one said was that they had canceled my order and that my bank account would be credited in approximately 10 business days.

“Walmart took my money — twice!”

I asked customer support asking why my order had first been put on hold, then canceled. About 30 minutes later I got a response saying that they couldn’t understand why it had been put on hold. That representative suggested that I should try to place the order again and that it should go through. I placed a second order, and this time my preferred store showed the iPad as being available for pickup immediately. I placed the order.

About 20 minutes later, I got the same email about confirming my financial information. I checked my banking app and saw that I had been charged another $214. At this point, I called their customer support phone number.

I spent 5 minutes on hold before speaking to a rep. After describing the situation, she put me on hold for about five minutes. When she came back she said that Apple required that they perform a “background check” on anyone buying an iPad because it was “sensitive technology.”

I pointed out that I could walk into the Apple store at my local mall and walk out with an iPad with no background check whatsoever. She then told me she would need to talk to her supervisor. I spent another 10 minutes on hold. Then she returned to tell me that they need to make sure it was really me placing the order. I said that my bank account had already been charged twice, but I still had no iPad.

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She said she would ask her supervisor if there was anything they could do for me. But then I was mysteriously disconnected. I called back and found that there was no way I could speak with the original representative. I had to start over again with a new one.

What kind of customer service is this, Walmart?

This one didn’t even attempt to explain why the hold was put on my new order. She told me that it wouldn’t make any difference because the store that showed as having it available for immediate pickup didn’t have any in stock. Apparently, it wasn’t expecting any until later that month.

When I told her the website showed that they had them, her response was to say that they had probably sold out since I had placed the order. I responded that I had placed the order over an hour ago and the store had only opened 10 minutes earlier, so I didn’t understand how many people could buy an iPad in those 10 minutes. She apologized for the inconvenience, said she was sorry she couldn’t help me, thanked me for shopping Walmart, and ended the call.

I sent another email to customer support describing my total experience.  I told Walmart that I would not be patronizing them in the future. After that, I went out and purchased the iPad at the Apple store for $100 more than what Walmart was advertising. I can’t say what Walmart is actually selling it for, of course, because I wasn’t able to buy one.

Walmart took my money — twice — but wouldn’t give me even one iPad! Do you think you can do anything to help?–  Nick Fitzsimmons, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Answer

Walmart should have had an iPad 2 ready for you at the store, as promised. And if it didn’t, it should have given you an immediate refund, not suggest you wait an additional 10 days.

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I have to say, this is one of the most bizarre cases to cross my desk in a while. I’ve never heard of background checks for buying iPads, either through Walmart or any other sales channel. I also find it strange that Walmart — a company that is known to have some of the best technology to manage its inventory — would experience these kinds of glitches.

I made numerous attempts to contact Walmart on your behalf, both by phone and email. Mostly, I was concerned that with the holiday shopping season coming, other people might experience the same problems you did. Is there a way to avoid them (besides, of course, avoiding Walmart)?

Walmart’s response

In response to an email, I received a call from a Walmart representative. My executive contact apologized for your experience and noted that this is “not the kind of experience we want people to have.” She said Walmart does not require any background check for purchasing iPads, and that the representative you spoke with had given you incorrect information.

A Walmart representative contacted you directly. She told you that Walmart had reviewed the call center recordings with the two original service representatives. There will be some “retraining” to follow.

A manager contacted you and said Walmart uses a proprietary algorithm to determine what orders are flagged for financial hold. But she wouldn’t tell you why, exactly, your purchases were held up by the system. She also sent you a $50 Walmart gift card as compensation. You indicated you’re happy with that resolution.

 

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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