Thursday, June 26, 2008

Is Your Employee Smarter Than an 11th Grader?

I can’t give you the absolute answer to the question posed above, but I can tell you what I think it should be. A store employee should be able to guide a teenage customer toward her purchase—and if that employee falls short, then the store manager certainly should be smart enough to help.

My daughter, who will be starting her senior year in high school in the fall, is working part-time for her dad this summer and, as one of her “gopher” duties, she made a trip to Wal-Mart yesterday to buy $25 gift cards for two of his company’s VIP customers. At the register, she handed over the $50 bill her dad had given her as payment, but was surprised to find out she was $16 short.

The store associate said it would be $66 for two $25 gift cards. Nonplussed, my daughter questioned the $16 surcharge and, when the employee didn’t give a satisfactory answer, my daughter asked for the manager’s assistance. To his credit, he came right over, but he backed up the employee: there would be an $8/card charge.

After a quick call to her dad, my daughter said ‘no thanks,’ went straight to Target and bought two $25 gift cards. She paid $50.

When all of this was reported to me last night, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Wal-Mart is now charging fees—and huge ones, at that—for gift cards? Not quite believing that the world’s largest retailer would commit highway robbery, I called the store this morning, and talked to a friendly, and well-informed, lady in the service department. When I explained what had transpired, she immediately said, “Oh, your daughter must have been trying to buy a Wal-Mart Visa card, which has fees attached to it.” After going back and forth for a minute, she and I decided that was indeed the case. And, of course, the lady confirmed what I had suspected all along—Wal-Mart doesn’t charge a fee for gift cards.

However, Wal-Mart should better train its employees and managers. You would think that, when a teen who clearly wasn’t so clear about what she was buying, expressed surprise that there was a fee attached to the purchase, the employee (and certainly the manager) would have realized (as the lady on the phone did) that there was an issue with semantics, and then would have steered her in the right direction.

—Katherine Field

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