How Many Walmart Employees Does It Take To Screw Up A Return?

Ournextcontestant has a long, amusing story about the surprisingly difficult ordeal he went through to return a necklace at a Hawaii location while on vacation. He says it took the combined efforts of several employees to complete the transaction, sucking away valuable island enjoyment time:

This really is a story about Walmart, but please bear with me.

When I was college age, and either my friends or I picked up a girl at a bar or wherever (not that it happened that often), the next day we’d tell each other that we had a “Penthouse story,” a reference to the letters from readers that appeared in Penthouse magazine. We never knew if they were true, or from actual readers, but they always had such graphic detail: “Well, Penthouse, you wouldn’t believe what happened next …”

Which brings me, some 30 years later, to a Walmart in, of all places, [Hawaii]. Shocked that such a paradise would even have a Walmart (and a Costco and a Macy’s, etc., sigh), we were told it was actually a great place to buy little souvenir gifts for family back home.

While there, my wife also spotted a little necklace with a Hawaiian flair that she wanted to wear while on the island. We bought it, and as she went to put it on the next day, the clasp broke. (Shocking, I know.) A couple of days later, as we were heading back to Walmart to return it, we mentioned it to a woman in the hotel concierge, and she said, “Yeah, around here we call Walmart ‘Walmart fall apart.’ “

At the store, I was met at the door by a female employee who saw me with the necklace and my receipt. I told her it’s a return, she put a sticker on it and directed me to the return desk just a few feet away. There, another woman tried to make the return but couldn’t, realizing that it’s “jewelry” and therefore needs to be returned in the Jewelry department. Mind you, this “jewelry” cost $14.

Anyhoo, off to the Jewelry department I went, where a young man whose name tag said “Jay Z” tried to make the return. But when I told him I want the return back on my Amex card, which I had used to make the purchase, he said, “You mean, put the $14 back in your American Express account?” Yes, I said. Perhaps quite the amateur rapper, he could not figure out how to do this, so he summoned a woman — let’s call her “Walmart-employee-helping-with-this-return No. 4″ — to assist. Both of them were hovering over the register, puzzled. So they called over another employee, a woman wearing a special white shirt with a headset on.

It was at this point, as I saw the three of them pressed against each other at the register like Moe, Larry and Curly trying to fit through a narrow doorway all at once, that I realized when I have a return at Target back home, it takes, literally, a minute. And that’s even if I don’t have a receipt (Target tracks the purchase by using my credit card). I am out the door of Target in maybe two minutes if there is no line at the return desk.

So as Walmart employees Nos. 3, 4 and 5 worked on my return, I smiled and said to myself, “Well, Consumerist, you wouldn’t believe what happened next …”

(Yes, this is how my life has changed in 30 years, from Penthouse stories to Consumerist stories.)

The woman in the special white shirt declared she had solved the problem, leaving it for the other two to finish off the return. As she was walking away, it was apparent that the duo did NOT know how to complete the return, so I called to the departing woman in the white shirt, “Hey, don’t go away. They don’t know how to do this.”

Still, she kept walking, as the two workers stared at the register, clueless. The woman in the white shirt, however, got another woman — Walmart employee No. 6 — to come by. Wanting to complain about this comedy of errors, I asked her if she was the manager. But, as she looked up at me with an embarrassed smile and said, “No,” I realized that she barely looked 16. So, no, she was not the manager.

But perhaps the youngest employee in the store knew how to work the computerized register.

After about a total of 15-20 minutes, employee No. 6 solved the problem, and completed my return. Woo-hoo!

I returned to the parking lot, where my wife was waiting in the car. Of course, she wondered what had taken so long.

“Well, Honey, you wouldn’t believe what happened next …”

What’s the longest its taken you to complete a return?