Walmart Managers Turn Away Wannabe Secret Santa

The biggest trend this holiday season appears to be people who have some money doing something nice for those who might need it by anonymously paying for layaway purchases. But when a woman in Houston attempted to do this at two of her local Walmarts, managers at both stores turned her away, citing a nonexistent company policy.

When KPRC-TV got a hold of the story, they spoke to a regional VP at the retail behemoth who confirmed that there is no policy preventing people from secretly paying for another person’s layaway purchases, and that Walmart has already accepted several similar anonymous donations this season, including one for $9,500.

“I was really disappointed that we didn’t handle it right,” the veep tells KPRC. “There’s no reason we don’t support this. It’s the customers in Houston taking care of the customers in Houston.”

The executive reached out to the woman and asked to her to come back to the store, where she was able to hand over her $300 to help pay for other shoppers’ items. To make up for the goof, Walmart matched that with $300 of its own.

“It just came at a time that I really needed it,” said one recipient of the woman’s generosity. “I had a tossup, you know? Pay the light bill or get these gifts and you know, I just had to get one thing and came here and ended up leaving with everything.”

Walmart turns away layaway donor [ via]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

    I’m sure Target would have helped him out, assuming he called ahead.

    • Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

      Unless it was a group of children.

    • jeni1122 says:

      You are being sarcastic, but you make a good point about calling ahead. Why not just place a call to explain the situation beforehand with the store manager? Let them know that you want to pay for someones layaway and see what they say.

      • ChuckECheese says:

        In my life’s experience, it’s usually easier to just do something than try to get permission first. You give somebody in power a chance to give you permission, they too frequently say ‘no,’ even when they don’t have a good reason for doing so.

    • flipflopju says:

      Target doesn’t have Layaway.

  2. Cat says:

    I don’t understand why any store wouldn’t allow it. Free “good” PR is priceless.

    • HalOfBorg says:

      Yeah, it’s not like you’d have a stampede of people laying things away hoping for help, or a stampede of people helping (which would probably be great for the store).

    • nugatory says:

      the only thing I can remotely think of is something to do with customer privacy.

      Then again, your not asking for the persons name or address. Your not even asking what Items that person bought. So privacy is a real stretch.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      Maybe they are worried that it’s some sort of scam to get the personal information of the layaway customers?

      That’s just a wild guess, though, and there are some obvious flaws in that logic – but the customer service folks might be using flawed logic. I agree that it doesn’t make sense.

      • Me - now with more humidity says:

        I didn’t get any info at all. They’re filed by account number, not name, and I didn’t even get a receipt because it went to the person whose account it was.

    • The Lone Gunman says:

      Potential returns. Someone helps out with a $100.00 donation, which pays off the layaway.

      Person returns layaway item for cash, and is enriched by $100.00 dollars that they did not actually pay.

      While aware that the idea is (to) give someone a gift, I don’t think the idea was to give them cash–if it were, they could simply have given cash directly.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Would that matter much? In theory these people are short of funds – any windfall is still a windfall.

        • The Lone Gunman says:

          The idea behind layaway is make merchandise available to people who have no wish to charge it at interest.

          Having worked at businesses that had layaway, I can tell you that people often used them as non-interest-bearing fee-free savings accounts instead. At some point, they cancel the layaway for the cash. Add the windfall aspect of that donated money, and the program is subverted even more.

          Add in the costs associated with maintaining a layaway program, and you begin to see why many of them vanished over the years.

    • FatLynn says:

      The system may not be set up to find a layaway account without entering a name or phone number. Certainly, this is not a “use case” likely to come up in testing.

      • Damocles57 says:

        Part of “the system” to which you refer is the physical room where the items are – laid away.

        Part of the store’s process could be to walk into the aforementioned room, read some of the identifying information on the tags attached to the laid away items, use the newly found info to find the account(s) in the computerized system, and then use the cash offered to make a payment toward the owed balance on the laid away item(s).

  3. Starrion says:

    So in the end, Walmart did make it right.

    Try “Walmart managers turn away Secret Santa, Walmart Regional manager does not. “

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      Try “Walmart managers turn away Secret Santa, Walmart Regional manager does not…after media shaming. “


      • pythonspam says:

        The only “making it right” was this:
        “To make up for the goof, Walmart matched that with $300 of its own.”

      • The Porkchop Express says:

        Regional may not have known until the media got involved. MAY not have known. wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but benefit of the doubt and all.

  4. Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

    I love this, I put some stuff on layaway with some kids toys thrown in to entice someone to pay it off. Cmoooon xbox 360!

    /s (But you know it’s happening now)

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      Unfortunately, I am guessing this is happening, or going to happen next year. I really hope it doesn’t, but there are plenty of people out there that are as awful as you can imagine people to be.

    • JennQPublic says:

      I’m sure *someone* has tried it, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all common. Try not to be too cynical this time of year, geez…

  5. Nunov Yerbizness says:

    “I had a tossup, you know? Pay the light bill or get these gifts…”

    Really? That’s a tough call?

    “Hmm, go without electricity and light, or get mah keeyidz some cheap, overpriced, Chinese-slave-labor-made schlock.”

  6. FatLynn says:

    An earlier story here said the same thing. WalMart wouldn’t allow it, so they went to KMart. That one said something about privacy concerns. Perhaps their system is not set up to allow someone to view a layaway balance and its items without providing a specific name.

    • Me - now with more humidity says:

      It is. The layaways live within a certain sequence of account numbers. When I went to WalMart, the clerk was able to check numbers within that set until she found one that met what I wanted to do. Took her no time at all. This is not brain surgery, people.

  7. CosmosHuman says:

    Wal-Mart, shame on you! I would not have turned anyone away, they are doing a mitzva! There are 613 Mitzvot; which are Commandments. No matter how hard things suck in my life I always try to help others. I may not have much cash right now, but I have kindness and goodness in my heart.

    • Jules Noctambule says:

      Tomorrow my husband and I are filling the back of our car with toys, food, clothes, hygiene products and baby items to take to a local shelter. We like to mark the start of Hanukkah by spreading joy, and tomorrow I’ll keep you and Cosmo in my thoughts while we do.

      • CosmosHuman says:

        Thank you Jules. I’m really trying hard to make it and have a few good leads for employment. Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

  8. PLATTWORX says:

    Damn how corporate Public Relations departments must hate, hate, hate the internet. 5 years ago this woman would have been turned away, gone and done her good deed elsewhere and silence would fall over the valley.

    Now, a slip up (these managers were idiots to quote a policy that doesn’t exist) and Walmart is all over TV, the stores are named, it hits the web and the content is picked up by site after site and newspaper upon paper and turns into a national embarassment.

    I would really want to shoot myself if I worked in the corporate offices of a chain retailer these days and have to take calls and spin the media from sunrise to sunset as each of these new fires burst. Ones that never got a peep not long ago. LOL

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      Only the clueless PR departments do. The savvy ones love real-time media and viral spread. ;)

  9. Flik says:

    Try KMart. My wife paid off two layaways for two women this past weekend. The people at KMart were very nice and helpful, and had a list of people who had been paying off their layaways a little bit at a time. She was able to see their layaway list to determine who was buying within reason and sensibly for their kids and who was just asking for an XBox. It was strictly anonymous, except for the person’s first name. (We remained completely anonymous – i.e. “Santa’s helper.)

    I really liked this option of giving — it seems a little more personal to me, and you know that 100% of the proceeds are going to help.

    • rlkelley says:

      The only problem is, last time I checked, the closest K-Mart to Houston was in Amarillo. That is a 10 hour drive, at 2 AM breaking the speed limit most of the way.

    • wkm001 says:

      I would be willing to chip in too if those conditions were met. The gifts would certainly need to be more need based rather than want based.

  10. Traveller says:

    This trend is going viral and it’s awesome. There was a story here in Colorado about a family that went into a K-Mart and paid for lay away items.

    While there was some criticism of lay-away it seems to be a good strategy for those with challenged credit to secure items that may otherwise not be available when they have the money fully saved up.

  11. coffee100 says:

    Is anyone else distressed by this trend in modern-day America where any attempt to do anything except swipe a credit card at a cash register results in a minimum of 30 minutes of litigation with a retail manager?

    “Hey could someone at the bank mail me a deposit slip?” “Oh, I’m terribly sorry sir but that violates section 1119 of your customer agreement. According to the ‘Take your Deposit Slip and Ram It Act’ we are required to obtain the consent of the state department of ramming it before we can mail a deposit slip unless you have completed form 27-A…”

    It’s as if employees have been trained that customers are “always wrong” and furthermore, they all have an angle. They’re all trying to diagonal their way in and grab a register drawer before they make a run for the parking lot.

    I honestly think the only solution is to just calmly gather all the relevant information and file a lawsuit the next day for each and every obstructive company policy. Just immediately sue. No talking. No posturing. Start issuing subpoenas, scheduling depositions, filing discovery motions, etc. After a couple thousand lawsuits and forced settlements, hopefully reason will return to customer service.

    • Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

      Customers believe they are always right, so companies are proactively making policies and rules to enable managers and employees to “apologize profusely, but explain that they are helpless” for commonly exploited situations.

      Of course with that protection comes the unintended consequence of killing any discretion allowed to your employees.

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      I am sitting here at work (it’s slow today) and just read your comment, and I can’t stop giggling because of the, “Take your Deposit Slip and Ram It Act.”

      I work at a financial institution.

      Thank you.

    • jebarringer says:

      I think instead of ranting against corporations, you should be ranting against the dumbass consumers who actually do try to pull crap like “angling for the register drawer” and thus ruin it for the rest of us.

    • pythonspam says:

      This is part of true free-market capitalism that the fre-marketers want to ignore. Often, they feel that companies will “do the right thing” for the customer because it is the only way to stop customers from going to competitors.
      The 2 problems nowadays are:
      Corporations are getting so big that the only competition they have is other big corporations and they all use the same tactics and set the same prices.
      Companies are forcing binding Manditory Arbitration on all the customers so the legal avenues for true abuse are no longer available and the arbitrators have no motivation to rule against the company that hired them.

  12. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I hope next year I can do this. Maybe I’ll have a little extra cash by then!

  13. momtimestwo says:

    I was raised by my grandmother in the 70’s. She was in her 50s and widowed when she got me at 3 years old. She worked 2 jobs to support us, and I remember her always having something on layaway at Montgomery Ward’s. It was always a pair of shoes or a coat or some other kind of clothing that was needed. If she were alive today (she would be 99!) she would be shocked that people would actually even think of buying toys before paying the electric bill.

  14. Jedana says:

    Maybe the woman should have done like this guy did, and buy McDonald’s gift cards. Less hassle, apparently.

  15. Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

    Seems that the store managers do not enough about retail business in general if they both made this call. Just because you are the best at folding the clothes and your drawer was never off does not mean you have the higher level thinking skills needed to run a retail business.

  16. cspschofield says:

    I think the key to this is the phrase “citing a nonexistent company policy.”. In my experience on both sides of the retail counter, that means “I was asked to do something non-standard, don’t know how to do it, don’t want to think or make an effort, and don’t want to be The Bad Guy, so I’m going to say ‘no’ and blame Corporate.”. I’ve seen it. I’ve even DONE it, although I eventually got brave enough to simply say “There should be some way to do what you want, but I don’t know what it is, don’t know how to find out, and don’t really want to deal with this issue on a bust Saturday. Can you come back when we don’t have a line 12 deep?”

  17. Me - now with more humidity says:

    I did it here in Florida. Just don’t involve a manager. Go straight to the layaway counter. I was in, out and done in 5 minutes.

  18. Alessar says:

    I think it’s nice that Walmart matched her charity money.