A Tale Of Two Target Managers And A PS3 With Mismatched Serial Numbers

A reader who would like to be called CrazyNJConsumer writes in with another one of those “mismatched serial number” PS3 stories. The scenario usually goes like this: You buy a PS3. It’s broken. You return it. The store checks the serial number and finds that it doesn’t match. They accuse you of swapping your old broken PS3 for a new one and refuse to take the return. You are very sad.

My husband received a brand new PS3 for his birthday from my (very generous) sister on April 2nd. The next night (April 3), my excitedly retired our PS2 to the closet and set up his new toy – the packaging was PERFECT, the machine was not. We weren’t surprised we had received a used machine but WERE surprised that it did not work – games wouldn’t register, Blu-Rays wouldn’t play. His new PS3 was just an expensive piece of garbage.

I called my sister who had both her receipt and the debit card she used to purchase it and we agreed to meet the next day (April 4) at our local Target which is NOT the Target she purchased it at but is closer to my house, so screw her. I politely informed the CSR that the PS3 was not only used but broken and we wanted an even exchange for the new machine. After opening the box and examining it with a member of the Electronics team, she noted that not only was the console used but the serial number did not match the serial number on the box – essentially, someone had beaten the system and we were the patsies with the POS machine.

She was as helpful as she could be but still had to call the GSLT (I think that is the acronym) to the front of the store to process the return. When Y. (male, evil) came to “help” us, he immediately told me the PS3 was not returnable. My non-confrontational sister prepared to eat the $400 but I persisted. Y. informed us that because the serial number on the console did not match the serial number on the box, there was nothing he could do to help us. I politely informed Y. that, come hell or high water, we were getting a refund. It was just a matter of how long it took. Y. politely responded, “I imagine you already got what you wanted. There is nothing else I can do for you.”

I asked him to scan the box and take a peek into the PS3’s history – had it been returned before? When had it been received in the store? All I wanted was the benefit of the doubt that we might have both been taken advantage of. He refused. He specifically stated that it was not returnable, it was our problem, and started walking away. When I asked if he was the story manager, he replied, “I’m in charge right now.” (Which means no). He rolled his eyes when I asked if he would please call the Fairfield location and see if they would be able to help us. After wasting 5 minutes arguing with one of the most stubborn women on the East Coast, he agreed. He walked about 3 feet away (for privacy?) and picked up the big red phone to call the other location – obviously I was eavesdropping. He gave the GSLT(?) of Fairfield, Ryan, the rundown of what was happening and the impossible happened. Ryan actually wanted to see the situation resolved fairly. Ryan traced the PS3 and was able to see that it had been returned a few days before my sister purchased it. He was also able to see that the serial number on the console was NOT checked against the serial number on the box (scary what a computer can tell you) and told Y. that it was a legitimate return.

I have never seen a “manager” so angry after solving a problem. Y. told us that it was Ryan’s decision if Fairfield would accept the return but it was HIS decision if Clifton would accept the return. And he had already made up his mind – no. After a 45 minute drive to Fairfield (which is about 5 minutes away – don’t you love Route 3 on a Friday?), we were finally able to meet the charming Ryan who processed our return in – seriously – less then 3 minutes. It was unbelievable.

I consider myself to be a fairly informed consumer. I keep my receipts, I watch my statements, and I play by the rules – but it never would have occurred to me to open a box, remove the packaging (seriously, this PS3 was perfectly wrapped. I want the thief to come to my house and clean because he/she is METICULOUS) and compare serial numbers. It also never occurred to me that Target would accuse me (in a roundabout way) of dishonesty and fraud. All in all, it only took about 1.5 hours of my life to solve the problem but the experience has left me with a terrible taste in my mouth (or is that lunch?)

Thanks for your story, CrazyNJConsumer. We’re really glad to see that you were able to work it out with Target (thank goodness for nice managers like Ryan!). Often when we get letters like yours they end with “now I’m stuck with a $400 paperweight,” and we have to start using the “c” word. (Chargeback. Don’t be gross.)

For the rest of you out there, please check the serial number of all the electronics you buy before you leave the store. You will save yourself a lot of headaches.



Edit Your Comment

  1. Coder4Life says:

    oh cool. image box.

  2. Buran says:

    Wow. Please call/write corporate and file a complaint against that guy — he knew you were honest but didn’t want to deal with it.

  3. BrockBrockman says:

    Although I like the idea of opening the box and checking the serial number before leaving the store, I have trouble seeing the logistics of it.

    Do you do it after you pay, at the register, damn all the people behind you in line?

    Do you do it before you buy it, on the floor, and risk looking like some sort of thief?

    Do you go the the customer service counter and ask them to open & check the serials of something you’re about to buy?

    Or – you just don’t buy things from big box retailers? Or maybe not from anybody, ever?

  4. crabbyman6 says:

    @BrockBrockman: especially in this case where it was a present. I understand the issues here, but agree its not practical. In these cases if Sony would just put a little window so you could match them without opening the box the problem would be solved. I don’t know how to prevent getting a box of bricks instead of a kitchenaid though.

  5. ccouvillion says:

    Yea for Ryan! And to Target for tracking such things. I bet Ryan could find out who checked the PS3 in and discuss it with the employee.

    I still don’t understand why Sony moved away from a system where the serial number on the machine itself is scanned rather than what is on the outside of the box.

  6. RAREBREED says:

    @BrockBrockman: I agree. Opening a box in the store to check the serial numbers seems to be more painstaking than anything.

    It sucks that the quality of merchandise and honesty of society is so questionable these days that this has to even be suggested as a routine!

  7. exkon says:

    “Do you go the the customer service counter and ask them to open & check the serials of something you’re about to buy?”

    Actually I do like that suggestion. It seems highly reasonable and worth doing if your purchasing a big ticket item.

  8. Franklin Comes Alive! says:


    Doesn’t MS do this with the 360? And I know when I bought a Gamecube it had a little spot to scan the serial on the console itself, so Nintendo must do this also.

  9. Beerad says:

    @Buran: Agreed. OP should definitely get this story to a regional district manager or someone at corporate so they know what’s up. Make sure to praise the good manager, too, so he gets recognized.

  10. crabbyman6 says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: yeah, MS does it as well as the DS. I THINK the wii does it too. I know on the old consoles they almost always had the little window.

  11. Beerad says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: IIRC, when I bought my 360 there was a little tab that flipped up on the box so they could scan the serial code directly.

  12. Kaadian says:

    I purchased a PS3 from Walmart.
    Took it home and discovered it would not play US DVDs or games.
    Upon inspection someone had peeled off the serial number sticker and put a new one on it. It had the Japanese equivalent of the “FCC” sticker on it.
    It was a Japanese PS3 !!!
    Someone must have bought one from Japan, bought a US one in Walmart and swapped them, Then returned the Japanese one, which was sold to me.
    Took it back and explained. I got my return no problems. The manager asked if he could still sell it….

  13. ChuckECheese says:

    So here goes my silly question: Where do all these busted PS3s and XBoxes come from anyway? Don’t they just sit next to the TV? How do they get damaged?

  14. comedian says:

    “GSTL” = Guest Services Team Leader.

    The person, or in this case the vindictive chimp, in charge of the return desk at a Target.

  15. Anonymous says:

    ::warning, sarchasm follows::

    Well, obviously the “Generous Sister” pocketed the good PS3 and replaced it with a broken one, then passed it off to her gullible sister and brother in law. Duh!

  16. macfoo says:

    How very sad. A shoe store will go to great lengths to make sure the pair of shoes in a box is identical but big name retailers can’t verify a serial number!

  17. A.W.E.S.O.M.-O says:

    @ChuckECheese: In the case of the Xbox you just have to play it for a while and it’ll bust itself.

  18. Geekybiker says:

    I wonder if any action is ever taken against the people who do return broken ones and its later caught?

  19. cde says:

    His name was Y? Why hide it, I want to go harass the prick in a while :P

  20. mduser says:

    @ChuckECheese: Unless you play the PS3 in one of those computer-chip maker “clean rooms” it seems they will die of dust overload in weeks.

  21. cde says:

    @CaptainCynic: *Imagines that that sarchasm typo was intentional*

  22. warf0x0r says:

    They seriously need to cut a hole in the freaking box so purchasers can compare them to the box number. This is one product that I’m going to open before leaving the store.

  23. Verdigris says:

    It’s just common sense for a company to allow visual access to a big ticket item from outside the box. I wouldn’t blame Target (although that guy did sound like a douche), I’d blame Sony for not using common sense in packaging a big ticket item.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Yep, intentional.

  25. qwickone says:

    @exkon: that won’t stop them from rolling their eyes at you and generally acting like you’re being ridiculous

  26. Turcicus says:

    What’s strange is Sony would change the way they box their systems between the PS2 and PS3. Go look at an old PS2 box – it has a hole to directly scan the serial # on the console (I’m referring to the original, larger PS2s. I don’t know what they do on the slim model).

  27. joellevand says:

    @BrockBrockman: At my local CC, they do that for all of the plasma TVs, apparently, or you have to sign some form saying you took delivery without inspecting the unit. I guess this happens with items other than just consoles?

  28. satoru says:

    I’d at least to a email-carpet bomb to Target. State that Ryan at the Fairfield location was very helpful, but also state that Y was very unhelpful and in fact inconvenienced you significantly despite Ryan addressing your concerns in a professional manner. At least this way you can say “look I like target but I feel that Y wasn’t indicative of the level of service your organization should be providing.”

  29. Sndtrkman says:

    The Nintendo Wii has the serial number in that hole in the box. Plus, I was able to match the one on the console to the box itself and it matched. I’m thinking of purchasing a 360 so when I do, I know for a fact that I better double check that serial number before I leave the store.

  30. IssaGoodDay says:


    I’m guessing they don’t… Probably costs more in investigative fees than it does to eat the loss. Sucks that people like that get away with it though =/

  31. xoxor says:

    Love the little side notes:

    e.g. “(very generous)” and, “…so screw her.” and, “(male, evil)”

    Are you my ex? :-)

  32. SpdRacer says:

    @ChuckECheese: It is an electronic item, all you have to do is look at it cockeyed and it will fail out of spite!

  33. parad0x360 says:

    As far as I know there is no number on the box. The serial # they scan is the one on the PS3. I have never seen a system where the serial would be on the box AND the system.

    Seems kind of odd you managed to find one packaged that way.

  34. LogicalOne says:

    There’s an easy solution to this problem: Manufacturers should NOT put serial numbers on packaging! What’s the point of putting them there in the first place? It only leads to miss-match situations like this. If the s/n is only on the console, then that’s the s/n that counts. It would also cut down on “inventory shrinkage,” as well.

  35. joeblack13 says:

    I’m not sure about the PS3, but the serial number on the 360 is a sticker, so even checking it might not be a foolproof option.

    Incidentally, I knew a kid in college a few years back who used to scam Circuit City like this all the time. Apparently Target is not exempt from falling victim to this practice.

    The first manager sounds like a real A-hole, though.

  36. AHammer says:

    You had you problem resolved. Great end to a almost horrible story.

  37. CyberSkull says:

    I thought there was a window on the box they could check. I know Nintendo and M$ both have a window on the box of the DS, Wii and 360 that you can check the serial number on.

    Oh, and digg it!

  38. mthrndr says:

    I think the solution to this is pretty easy. Just ask them to scan the package they’ve pulled out of the glass case to see if it’s a return box or not. If someone had returned the box a few days ago, then it would be in the system as a return. no need to check the console serial.

  39. cccdude says:

    “we agreed to meet the next day (April 4) at our local Target which is NOT the Target she purchased it at but is closer to my house, so screw her.”

    If this is her attitude towards her “generous” sister, imagine how she treated Y? I’m betting she was a b!tch from the moment she walked in – of course he’s not gonna bend over backward to help her!

  40. Stanwell says:

    @exkon: Back in the day at KB Toys, before bankruptcy and when they still sold video game systems, we used to check the serial number on every system at checkout. Break the seal in front of the customer, open the box, show them that all parts were there, and write the serial number, store number, and our initials on the lid of the box, and told the customer that if they had to bring it back for any reason, that EVERYTHING in that box had to come back. Annoyed some customers that we broke the seal, but it generally worked out pretty well.

  41. That-Dude says:

    @cccdude: Amen.

  42. Joedel263 says:

    there’s a simple solution… Nintendo AND Sony used to do it but have since stopped. Microsoft has picked up on it though…

    the serial number is printed once.. on the system. there’s a hole cut in the box right where the serial number is.. that makes the box irrelevant..

    of course we did get a ps2 back once that was a gallon of motor oil (black bottle with the serial number stuck to it in the right spot.. shame on the cashier for not realizing that a ps2 does not contain liquid though..)

  43. deathshadow391 says:

    Dude what a douche. If anybody did that at my target they would be fired faster than they could say GSLT

  44. Major-General says:

    GSTL=Guest Services Team Leader. If no love, ask for the LOD (Leader on Duty). The LOD is responsible for running the store, and is not neccessarily the Store Team Leader.

  45. nacoran says:

    I had a friend who was a manager at a electronics store. I bought a phone there that died. It was past the store’s return policy date but not the manufacturers. He said that dealing with the warranty was to complicated.

    He had me buy a new one, swap them out and return the old one in the new ones box. He did this as a store manager not as a friend. The getting the manufacturer to honor the warranty was to much of a hassle for him as a store manager. I imagine there is a good chance that someone tried to repair it and sent it out in a box that didn’t match the serial numbers.

  46. calpchen says:

    “I want the thief to come to my house and clean because he/she is METICULOUS.”

    *chuckles* He’ll clean your house alright.

  47. ConsumerAdvocacy1010 says:

    @Buran: Agreed one hundred percent. Write to corporate and complain about the one “manager” and praise the other one.

  48. CharlieInSeattle says:

    @mduser: I’ve had my PS3 since it came out, it’s never failed on me, and I’ve had it run for weeks on folding at home.

  49. Wubbytoes says:

    Man, what an ass. Guys like that have no business working in customer service.

  50. idip says:

    The PS3’s do have a ‘window’ in the box for the serial number. When the Target employee scans the PS3 barcode the register will automatically prompt for the serial number scan as well. They will then scan the serial number which is directly ON the actual PS3 through that window.

    The Serial number then prints up on the receipt as well. So yes, as they are scanning before they bag you can ask to double check the serial number. Not that it matters because the only serial number Target employees scan is actually ON the PS3.

    I can see why the GSTL didn’t want to return it ONLY IF the serial number DID NOT match the serial number on the receipt. But if they did match, there should have been no problem with the return. So something seems a bit weird here. *shrugs*.

    Any all in all, people complain that Target has a “New and Unused” return policy. Ideally it would have prevented issues like these, however, I suppose the ‘thief’ in this case was cleaver enough to make things look perfect on the inside to fool the guest service team member.

  51. grimparrot says:

    I manage a small video game store, so I deal with PS3/X360/Wii sales on a daily basis.

    The problem is going to a store to purchase a major piece of electronics which is staffed by under trained and underpaid high school kids is this sort of thing WILL happen, and the managers are under a lot of pressure to keep their return numbers low.

    Try buying from a specialty retailer next time.

    This would never have occurred in my store as we don’t resell decks that have been opened at all and have staff intelligent enough to tell if the seal has been broken, and if in doubt process it as damaged back to the manufacturer.

    This is why I have never once had a situation like this.

  52. wdnobile says:

    I think the person… and in fact all consumerists should POST THE ENTIRE NAME of the bad service personell they encounter. Nothing says “take that!” like knowing some idiot is gonna get called into the office because his manager just got reamed by corporate.

  53. GrandizerGo says:

    Thank you, I have seen this done as well, so I don’t understand the problem…

    Dreamcasts were the same…

  54. maggiesmommy says:

    This is the OP – I’m currently working on a letter I plan on sending to Target praising Ryan and mentioning the… less then positive experience I had with Y – who I referred to by his full name in my e-mail. I totally understand that Consumerist doesn’t necessarily want to be responsible for any backlash of posting his name on the site, considering I gave his job title and the location he works at.

    I learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience – I’d rather look crazy by check check double checking my merchandise then look dishonest when attempting to remedy a problem.

    And CCdude – you’re right. Snarky comments in my email were unnecessary and… well… snarky. But I was all sweetness and light to Y – you catch more flies with honey, and all that good stuff.

  55. Imakeholesinu says:

    I purchased my PS3 at the end of January. I’ve been reading consumerist religiously since January of last year and when I read a similar story prior to buying my PS3 from target, I made sure the serial numbers matched on my receipt and the box before I left the store. Yes I did get some funny looks at the electronics counter, but knowledge is power.

  56. eblack says:

    Why on earth wouldn’t you give your name or the full name of the manager?

    Idiots deserve public ridicule, not anonymity.

  57. benjimandodd says:

    If you would get that GSTL’s name, wait the next day and talk to A. an Executive Team Leader or B. the STORE team leader and give him a rundown of what happened you could possibly get that kid fired, or at least get some sort of compensation.

    I worked at Target for 2 and a half years. If I found out one of my Team Leaders did that, he would have been gone. He had no right to refuse that return to you no matter what he may have said.

    Oh and he lied to you. NEVER would a GSTL be on duty without at least an Executive in the store. They aren’t the managers they just run the front end. You could have told him he was lying to you and if he didn’t get the leader on duty(always an executive) you would call corporate.

  58. arilvdc says:

    @idip: The PS3’s do NOT have a window on the box. We had to return ours because of a blu ray glitch, and the check out girl had to take it completely out of the box to scan the console. She even commented to us how much easier it was to take back the stack of xbox360’s behind her because she could leave them in the box.

  59. Anonymous says:

    This just happend to me. I bought mine at Costco and tried to take it back. The manager just said that he can’t do it and said it was me trying to return an old PS3. I can’t beleive this would happen to me on my birthday! I can’t believe a holes that cheat the system get away with it, while people like us have to pay for it. I WILL NOT stand for it!

  60. Daniel Thiemann says:

    As a security officer at Target, I do feel sympathy for your situation, but you have to understand it from our perspective. The PS3 comes in multiple memory configurations, from 40gb to 120gb. Unscrupulous customers were buying 120gb PS3’s and taking the memory core out of them, and replacing them with the nearly worthless 40gb cores. (Imagine taking the engine out of a ferarri and selling it…and replacing putting a ford engine in it’s place and trying to return the car)While it sucks that you had difficulty returning the product you bought, Target can not return PS3’s to Sony if the serials don’t match, causing huge losses to Target. Technically, the GSTL Ryan who granted you the return bent the rules and should be written up for causing Target a loss, as should the idiot who processed the original return without checking the serials first.