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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Know Because I am a Law Student!

Well, since I received a response to yesterday's post I suppose while I am sitting here proctoring this CrimLaw midterm I will post my own ridiculous story . . .

One evening during the first semester of my 1L year I was working on a project, or an outline, or something that needed to be printed out and used the following day. Realizing the ink cartridge on my printer was bone-dry, I decided to make a quick trip to Wal-Mart to replace it. This trip was uneventful and I returned home with my $30 print cartridge.

But the cartridge, after successfully installing it according to the on-screen instructions, would not work. I took it out and reinstalled it several times. Thinking I may have gone crazy, I switched back and forth between the new and old cartridges twice to make sure I was installing the right one. Then I spent 30 minutes attempting to run diagnostics only to find that -- while the new cartridge was full of ink -- it wouldn't print anything but chinese symbols and gibberish as the old one printed a badly faded copy of my work.

So I shoved the new cartridge back in its box, grabbed my receipt and one hour after leaving Wal-Mart, I returned. Once the Tammy Faye Baker look-a-like at the front door put a sticker on it and pointed me to the customer service desk (I guess that is what passes for the old and/or mentally-challenged in Lubbock these days), I found a place in line and patiently stood there.

Upon reaching the front of the line, I was told I could not exchange the printer cartridge because I had opened the box. I asked why. She said it was an electronics item. I pointed to the giant 6 ft x 8 ft blue sign behind her outlining the return policy and read to her where electronics could be returned within 45 days with receipt and in the original packaging.

Okay, so maybe the reason wasn't because it was an electronics item. No, she said, it is because it was a computer item.

Funny. Because the giant blue sign doesn't say anything about "computer items." It does mention "software" but even with software you can return defective software for an identical item. And that policy is based on the copyright laws.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't because it was a computer item afterall. But after this I got the pleasure of speaking with the head of "customer service" and of hearing her excuse.

New policy, she reported. Because people can purchase printer cartridges and return the empty one in the packaging, the manager in charge of electronics changed the policy regarding their return.

Okay, I replied. Then how come this "new policy" is not posted on that big blue board? Or printed on the receipt with the rest of the special return information. Or posted in the electronics department. Or how come your manager hasn't even taped up a sheet of paper above the printer cartridges notifying any future unsuspecting would-be purchasers of your printer cartridges that if the printer cartridge is defective they have just pissed away THIRTY HARD-EARNED DOLLARS??

I will get the manager on duty, she said.

So up to this point I believe I had remained fairly controlled. I had not mentioned my superior career prospects or my advanced knowledge of the law. I had merely pointed out to both women what should have been obvious if you worked beneath the ominous shadow of the big blue sign each and every day of your life.

Then I met the "manager," although I am still not quite sure he wasn't one of the cart-getter-guys. He was dressed in jeans, an old polo, and topped off by a grey zip-up sweatshirt. Of course he did have the "asssistant manager" badge hanging from a lanyard around his neck. So I suppose this should have demanded my respect . . .

He began touting the same line I'd received from the head of customer service. And my reply was the same. I would not have taken on the risk of purchasing a non-returnable, potentially defective $30 printer cartridge for the dollar discount I'd receive over Staples price had I been notified of this "new policy."

And he stood like a brick wall.

So I laid down the law.

You see, I explained to him, what occurred when I handed your cashier the $30 for this cartridge and she handed me the cartridge and a receipt was the creation of a contract. The terms of this contract consist of those included on the receipt, on the big blue board behind you, and the expectations that have arisen over a lifetime's course of dealing with Wal-Mart and its products. According to the receipt I am currently holding, the big blue board towering over your head, and our course of dealing . . . if I purchase a defective item from your store and return it promptly in the original packaging and with the receipt upon discovering the defective character of the item, then you must exchange the defective item for one of an identical nature. If you refuse, then I have a legally actionable claim otherwise known as breach of contract.

And I know this . . . Why?


Because I am a law student. (Oh, and by the way, you work at Wal-Mart and obviously are not.)

You have heard -- I am sure -- the phrase, "If looks could kill . . ."

Well . . . need I say more?

I stopped to catch my breath after that quick recital of basic contract law. He grew beet red from his neck up, his eyes narrowed, his jaw clenched, and he reached across the desk and swiped the receipt I'd previously been waving in front of him from my fist.

Listen to me, he growled, I am going to refund your money. But you don't ever come in my store again mouthing off about being in law school, boy. (And, yes, he punched that word "boy") Because you don't know nothing and this is my store and I can do whatever I want and run it the way I want and I ain't having no loud mouth student come in here and tell me how to do things. I am going to give you your money back. But I don't have to, I want you to remember that. And you don't ever come back in here threatening me with you knowing what the law is ever again.

And with that he handed the receipt to the first girl, told her to refund my money, and stormed off.

Of course I was extremely irritated with the way he'd just talked to me. But I decided to cut my losses -- which amounted to little more than some chipping away at my pride -- and take my $30 and leave.

So I smiled at the girl. I protested, with feigned innocence, "I just wanted to exchange it." Then I commented, "I am surprised your own lawyers haven't said something . . . you really should post a notice of this new policy."

And I signed the receipt. And she handed me my money. And I left.

I worked retail several years for a large company. And the most basic lesson taught to me by the powers-that-be in the various stores I worked at operated by this company was this --

A returning customer is worth more than a $30 refund. No matter how much it hurts, you just smile and give them their money and charge back the merchandise and let them spend their $30 on some other item the company bought at wholesale for $1.25.

Most of the time, I would just give the refund without wasting time on management. It was only if the customer pissed me off would I call a manager . . . and not because I thought for a second the manager would refuse the refund, it was just to annoy the customer while having to wait.

I have never purchased another printer cartridge from Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart has never posted a notice.

I wish I could say I haven't been back to Wal-Mart since. But that would be insane. Wal-Mart is an angry beast, and I must feed it.

Not to mention sooner or later we'll be able to buy the morning-after pill there, as well.


Blogger Steve said...

Ahh the joys of having legal education and using it on control-freak people (which is what all three of the people with whom you dealt sound like from this post). It's always fun.

I'll have to come back to check out some of your other posts.

2/22/2006 5:08 PM  

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