This article was originally posted on March 19th, 2007 at americanchronicle.com
It was my birthday a couple of days ago. I’ve gotten well past the point where I make a big deal out of it. Still, it is nice that others recognize the day. It is pleasant that someone else lets you know that they are happy you were born. It’s also nice to get presents. So, it was my birthday and my wife got me a couple of presents, which was nice. She got me single cup coffee maker that brews coffee right into a travel cup, so I can kind of grab and go. She also got me a $100 Best Buy gift card, and that is where my adventure begins.
I used to love Best Buy. I went there often to buy CDs and other products because they had the best deals. They also had a tendency to have the largest selection. Since the advent of the Internet as a shopping venue, however, I find that Best Buy no longer has the best deals. I also don’t like having to deal with the crowds in there at Christmas time. The nearest Best Buy store to me is also quite a bit further away than other big box stores I could go to. But all that didn’t really matter today because I had a $100 gift card and I was going to go spend it on something I wanted, something fun. I was actually going to go shopping for myself. I got in my car and headed to Best Buy.
I arrived at Best Buy and grabbed a little hand held shopping basket. I wondered what there was that I would want for less than $100. I saw some digital cameras, but any that I wanted were more than $100. Besides, I already have a digital camera. I saw some digital camcorders, but they started at well over $200 and I don’t have the extra money to spend on something so frivolous at this moment. I saw a nice pair of binoculars for about seventy five dollars which I thought about because my telescope broke a while back, but I took a pass on it. I walked around the computer section for a while, trying to get a feel for the newest in that technology, but nothing caught my eye and there were certainly no deals that jumped out at me. I settled on the old stand by, CDs and movies. I went down the aisles looking at the Rock CDs, as those were what I was interested in. I picked out about five CDs, including Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, a couple of old CDs from the Cure that I had never replaced from when my house burned down, and some other CD that I can’t remember. I then went to the movie section to look for something that might interest me. I found a history documentary on Hitler and the occult and some other movie. I wanted to get as close to a hundred dollars as possible. When I had picked out what I felt was enough I proceeded to the cash register.
I waited patiently in line as the cashier finished with the customer in front of me. I said hi to the cashier and asked her how she was doing as I like to do when in that situation. She told me she was fine and we continued to make small talk as she rang up my merchandise. The total of my purchase was $91.51. I felt OK with that and handed the cashier my gift card. I told her I wanted the remaining balance in cash. She told me she couldn’t do that. I asked her why not and she informed me that they couldn’t give cash back for a gift card. I insisted that someone had given her cash for that card and that I should be able to recover the cash I wasn’t spending. The manager quickly became involved. She told me that they could not give change for a gift card unless it was less than five dollars. She told me that if I had the receipt from the gift card that I could get the change from it. Can you imagine? Does anyone give someone a gift card and then give them the receipt to? How ridiculous does that sound? I changed tactics and told her I didn’t get up that way very often and did not want to return to her store to spend what was left on the card. She told me that I could go back now and spend the remaining money. Now my ire was raised. I saw their game. People get these gift cards and then are forced to spend almost the entire amount at the store, and I’m sure that the store hopes the consumer will spend more than what’s on the card. I could feel my face getting red. I grabbed my merchandise and walked out the store.
I was a few steps out the door when an idea hit me. If they weren’t going to give me the $8.49 change for the card, which should not have been that unreasonable a request, then I wasn’t going to give them any money at all. I turned around and went back in. I didn’t need the junk I had bought. Besides, I could probably get it cheaper somewhere else. I would return it and get my money back.
I went to the return counter and told them I wanted to return everything I had just bought. I told them I wanted cash for the merchandise. They would not give it to me. They would only put them money back on the gift card. Again, a manager got involved. This manager had a badge that told me he was a “hiring manager”, whatever that meant. I told him what was happening and that I refused to spend any of my money at his store. He told me that he would have liked to have given me cash for change but that Best Buy had a contract with American Express and that the agreement stated that they would not give change for more than five dollars. I told him I didn’t care about his excuses and that I wanted the money back for the card. He told me I needed the receipt, that if it was bought with a credit card that money would be returned to the card, if it was bought with a check then a check would be sent to me, if it was bought with cash than I would receive cash. The other manager, who had come over to observe the proceedings, said she had told me the same thing. I explained to her that she hadn’t, that she didn’t say anything about a contract with American Express. She told me that she had told me about not being able to return money without the receipt. The point was moot. I was going to have to get the receipt from my wife, who had been thoughtful enough to buy me this gift card which was now turning into more problems than it was worth. This certainly wasn’t the best customer service I had ever experienced.
I really doubt that these people cared about what was going on here. I can’t help but believe that those workers simply saw me as some butt hole out to give them a hard time. I doubt very much that they could see this from my point of view. I figured it this way, that someone had given them money to buy the gift card and had given me the gift card to use like money at their store. They were going to get their $100 cash for the card no matter what, so they should be able to give me the change. If what I was told by the “hiring manager” is true, then American Express really should have no business telling Best Buy how to best serve their customers. Personally, if it were me, I’d find someone else to handle the gift cards or do it myself if some corporation like American Express was putting such stupid restrictions on my customer service. If I had only wanted to spend ten dollars at their store it seems to me that it would be ten dollars more than they would have had otherwise. What harm would it do Best Buy to give change for a gift card no matter how much or how little one spends when using it? It seems to me that too many people probably just accept these restrictions, don’t question them, and so like sheep we just spend the money at that store even when we can’t find anything we really need or want. We really have become materialistic zombies wondering about the aisles of the big box stores buying junk to try to fulfill our empty lives. I found myself, as I traveled home now light all that merchandise but still in possession of the $100 gift card, thinking that I really didn’t need the stuff I had bought and that the money could be better spent elsewhere. I found myself thinking that all I was doing was acquiring meaningless junk anyway. Certainly there was more to life than acquiring material goods. I began to wonder if this episode was going to bring me some kind of spiritual epiphany.
I got home and fortunately my wife had the receipt for the gift card. If she had thrown it away I guess I would have been stuck with the card and I would have been forced to spend the money at Best Buy. It seems to me that that policy is also a little unfair. I took my son with me when I returned to Best Buy. I gave the manager the card and the receipt. He then asked me if I had the credit card which had purchased the gift card. I told him no, that it had been a gift. My son noted “Hence the name gift card.” Quite an astute observation from a thirteen year old, even if it was beyond obvious. I told him he had said all I would need was the receipt and that had he told me I needed the card I would have brought it. I ended up having to call my wife to get the credit card number. I then explained to the “hiring manager” that I knew he didn’t care, but someone higher up at Best Buy should. I explained that they’d had $91.51 in their pocket and that money had been lost to them simply because they refused to give me $8.49 change. Not only that, I told him, but I had given Best Buy gift cards as gifts in the past and I would no longer do that. In addition, my wife, who also thought the policy of not giving back change was silly, would never again buy a Best Buy gift card. I also told him that I would write about this episode and people would read about it. And so I have. In the end, the money was put back on my wife’s credit card and she gave me $100 dollars cash I can spend anywhere. I don’t know where I’m going to spend it, maybe I’ll hunt down some deals on the Internet, maybe I’ll take my family out to dinner. I’m sure I’ll make good use of it. As for a spiritual epiphany, it never happened, at least not yet. But I do feel better now that the episode is over and I've kept my promise to write about it. In fact, I feel strangely more empowered with $100 cash in my pocket than I did with flaccid piece of plastic good at only one store in my wallet.