Target Demands Extra $189 To Exchange Camera No Longer On Sale

Coco took advantage of a great deal at Target, buying a digital camera on sale for $189 below list price, with a $75 Target gift card on the side. Neat! Trouble was, he didn’t open or test out the camera until a week later, once the sale was over and the gift card had been spent. Photos taken with the camera didn’t come out, so he took the camera back to Target to exchange it for a working one. The trouble was, they couldn’t exchange it for him unless he paid an extra $189 and return the $75 gift card.

On 11/27/11 I drive 20 minutes to the nearest Target to buy a Panasonic digital camera that I saw in the Sunday newspaper insert. The camera is on sale for $399 w/$75 Target gift card with purchase. After tax I paid $426.80 and received a $75 Target gift card. Two days later I end up using the $75 gift card to buy an iPod Touch at Target.

On Saturday 12/3/11 I charge the battery and go to a family members wedding and take photos. The next day I go with my wife and kids to a holiday event and take lots of photos again. Today 12/6/11 I load the photos from the camera to my iPhoto library and discover that there is a problem with the camera. The photos did not come out. There is distortion and severe color issues with the photos that were taken, which rendered most of them unusable. I am not dumb, so this was clearly not user error, rather a defective product sold by Target.

Today 12/6/11 I gather up the accessories, the box, the original receipt and call Target to make sure they have a replacement camera in stock for an exchange. Target has the camera in stock and tells me to bring it in for an “easy” exchange. I drive 20 minutes down to Target to exchange the defective camera for one that works.

I arrive and stand in line for almost 20 minutes (because there is only one person working in customer service) to exchange my defective camera. When I get to the register, I hand the woman my original receipt and the camera (in box) and explain that the camera is defective. She tells me that I will have to walk back to the Electronics dept. and have one of the employees pull it out of lockup and walk it back to customer service. I walk back to electronics and there is only 1 person available and he is busy. After a long wait, he asks me what I need. He pulls the replacement camera out of locked case and walks it up to the customer service desk as I follow. Meanwhile a new line of people has materialized and I spend another 20 minutes in line waiting to be helped again.

When it is finally my turn, the customer service rep scans my receipt, scans the old (defective) camera box and then scans the new camera box. She looks at the computer for a minute and then says that I am going to owe $189 to complete the exchange. I asked her why, and she said that the camera is no longer on sale and that the price difference is $189. She then mentions that I received a $75 gift card and that in order for her to process the exchange that I would have to return the gift card along with the defective camera. I explain that I used the gift card already at Target to buy an iPod and that I do not have it. I also explain that I am not asking for a return and that all I want is what I paid for, which is a working Panasonic Lumix GF3 camera. She says that store policy requires that I return the $75 gift card and that I would have to pay the $189 in order to exchange the defective camera.

I ask to speak to a manager. She calls a manager on the phone (because they do not have walkie talkies in customer service). She asks me to step aside while she rings up other customers. 15 minutes later, still no sign of a manager. She tells another employee to try to find a manager. A few minutes later, the phone rings and I hear her talking to the manager about my situation. She explains several times that I bought a camera that is defective and that I simply want to exchange it for a working camera. Eventually she gets the green light to make the exchange and after several attempts, is able to “make it work”. She reminds me not to loose the receipt and sends me on my way. (I never actually saw or spoke to a manager)

As I am leaving the store, I am calling the 800 number for Target to lodge a complaint about, 1. the service, 2. the exchange policy. I end up speaking with someone with a heavy accent who says he will be able to help me with my issue. I explain everything to him, and he says that according to Target policy, I will have to pay in order to get a working camera and return the gift card that I received. I am pissed off and need some time to think, so I say goodbye. About 15 minutes later I call the number for Target’s corporate office and again end up speaking to someone with a heavy accent. I ask if I am speaking to the Target corporate offices, and she says yes that I am speaking to customer service. I say that I want to speak to someone at the corporate offices and she eventually transfers me to someone else. The woman I ended up speaking to sounds like she is actually in the United States and not another country. I explain everything to her including my frustration with the length of time I had to wait, the lack of service, the defective product, being asked to pay $189 in order to be able to exchange a defective camera, etc. She says that per Target policy, that I would have to return the $75 gift card in order to be able to exchange the camera, or else I would have to pay the additional cost.

I explain that it is a silly policy because I am not trying to return the camera for a refund nor am I trying to get a different product. I simply want a camera that works! She indicates that she understands why I am frustrated and that she will log my complaint and then asks me if there is anything further she can help me with.

What is the deal? How can Target get away with this kind of policy? Shouldn’t there be a law that protects consumers from defective products and the ability to exchange one for a working product immediately after purchase? Should I have contested the charges on my credit card? A little feedback, advice, and commentary would be greatly appreciated. Target policies are draconian and oppressive. Too bad they are unlikely to change, because so many people fall victim to Targets predatory policies.

One thought: Try contacting Panasonic. They won’t care what price you paid for the camera, as long as you can prove the date of purchase.

Depending on what state this took place in and the specific laws regarding sales there, the state attorney general’s consumer protection office might also be interested.