DISCLAIMER: The following story develops with each new page. Be sure to read it through for all the facts, including Walmart’s official response.
If someone were to think up a store where there are a wide range of products including brand names and everything is at a discounted price, they might have just thought of Walmart. For many families around the world, Walmart is the perfect store to get all of their household items that does not break the bank. The store was founded in 1962 by Sam Walton, a man whose aim was to sell his products at the lowest prices he could manage.
The business was an almost instant success and by the 5th year of Walmart’s existence, Walton was bringing in around $250,000 per year. Over the years, the store has undergone many changes such as its name, which used to be Walton’s until 1969. The store has also expanded to a worldwide operation with chains in 28 countries and more than 11,000 Walmart stores internationally. The company is the biggest employer in the world with over 2.3 million workers!
Nowadays, Walmart is such a huge chain that other retailers such as Target, K-Mart and Sears are struggling to keep up with the chain. The average family in America spends around $4,000 a year at Walmart, which contributes to their net worth of well over $200 billion.
While most of that money comes from people buying their food items but Walmart customers can not only look forward to buying groceries and toiletries at the store but also more extravagant items like jewelry and electronics. All of these many items require a lot of space to house, which is why Walmart owns enough commercial retail to cover all (and a little more) of the city of Manhattan!
Sam Walton opened his first ever store in Arkansas and the company’s headquarters is still located there to this day. Little did Sam Walton know that Arkansas would be the state where a controversy broke out over the store decades later. The Walmart executives were not expecting the actions of one woman to go viral and potentially put the success of all Walmart stores in jeopardy.
This woman knew what was going on behind closed doors at Walmart and she was determined to expose what was happening and let the public in on the story. But what could have been so surprising that the police had to get involved in the most successful business in the world? Read on to find out…
The success of Walmart
Walmart has been in business for more than 50 years and they seem to bring in more customers with each passing year. The amazing success of Walmart is understandable since they offer commonly used items at lower prices than many other chains. The company is constantly bringing new brands to sell at the store and opening new branches around the world. Walmart has really become a place in which people love to shop, knowing they can acquire many types of items in one place, without spending as much as they might have somewhere else. This is why people were so puzzled to hear about something negative occurring at the company.
Going to Walmart
It was another ordinary day in Arkansas during the summer of 2017 when a local woman, Sharon Bufford headed down to her local Walmart to do some grocery shopping. She shopped without incident and did not notice anything unusual before proceeding to the checkout. It was only when Sharon heard the price of all her items that she realized something was not right. She could not comprehend how much she had to pay, as the bill didn’t quite add up to what she had calculated she would have to pay while she was shopping for these items. However, not wanting to make a scene in the store, she took her items and went home.
A big discovery
Sharon drove home and was trying to understand what had occurred at the checkout. When she got home, she looked at her receipt and realized that she had been overcharged for her groceries. Sharon made the same purchases on so many occasions and she knew how much everything was supposed to cost. When she looked over the receipt, everything seemed to add but but upon close inspection she discovered that there was an unidentified item.
Not wanting to be charged for something she didn’t buy, Sharon went over the receipt a number of times until she finally figured out what occurred. It was clear that there was an item on the receipt that Sharon did not purchase. An item called “JAJKET” appeared on the bill at the cost of ten dollars. This was obviously a mistake and in addition to the odd name of the item, there was an unusual barcode beside it.
Looking for answers
While others may have missed this charge or simply not cared about such a small amount, Sharon knew this was unusual and she wanted answers. She knew that she had not made a purchase that matched what was on the receipt and she called Walmart to explain the situation. She told the employee on the phone that she was watching the cashier while she was scanning her items and that when her butternut squash was scanned, it appeared on the register as $10. Sharon did not put the two incidents until she got home.
A $10 squash
Sharon later explained in an interview that at first, the squash showed up on the cash but after a few moments the price changed to $10. She recalled that she could not understand why the squash was so expensive but she did not think much of it. Then the cashier rang up a different squash and when she returned home, Sharon realized that the mysterious charge was on the receipt between the two squashes.
She wanted an explanation
Sharon had been a loyal Walmart customer for years and although it may have been a small amount, she wanted her money back and demanded to know what was going on. She checked over her receipt so many times and she knew that the cashier had made a mistake and charged her for something she did not buy. Sharon kept pushing for answers, however, she could have never imagined the answer she was about to receive.
A phantom item
The answer Sharon was given from customer service seemed like it was something out of a spooky novel. According to the representative on the phone, the item that Sharon was charged for was a “phantom item.” This means that even though no item called ‘JAJKET’ was scanned, the code still appeared on the bill and Sharon was charged. Sharon was not satisfied by this answer and she wanted to know more.
Charged for nothing
As anyone else in this situation would have done, Sharon asked to be refunded the $10. Walmart agreed with her and explained that her money would given back if she went back to the store the next day to return the item. Sharon thought that this was the end of the story but little did she know that she was about to reveal things about Walmart that no one had ever discovered before.
As it turns out, Sharon is not the only Walmart customer to have complained about the service at Walmart. The chain has received a number of complaints from customers claiming that people have tampered with products or the prices of products at Walmart. Some have even gone so far to say that customers leaving the store should not show their receipts to the greeters because it goes against the rights of the customer’s confidentiality.
Possibly affecting other customers’ views
Sharon was about to find out about a hidden fact at Walmart that would change other customers’ perception of the store. Sharon could almost not believe it when she heard that the phantom code revelation was something that was going on at Walmart for nearly a decade. It can be assumed that these phantom codes were appearing on other customers’ receipts but no one had said anything about it. But was Walmart aware of the situation?
A mysterious code
Although the customer service representative said that the money would be able to be refunded, she was then told that the store could not remove the barcode from their computer system. This meant that customers in the future would be susceptible to getting charged more. Sharon started questioning the store and she believed that this could have been a scam that others were falling victim to. Did any other Walmart goers notice extra charges on their receipts?
Sharon decided to take matters into her own hands and reveal what was going on at Walmart to the public. She wanted to make sure that other people were not experiencing the same situation and also to warn others to be careful at Walmart. She even emailed the corporate office of Walmart to let them know about the incident. In addition, Sharon took to social media and made a Facebook post with a picture of her receipt and an explanation of her story.
It seems that Sharon was not the only Walmart customer to have experienced a phantom barcode. Her post went viral and Walmart shoppers across the country shared their outrage about the $10 charge on her receipt. Other’s added that they too had experienced this type of charge and that they believed Walmart was trying to take extra money out from under their customers’ noses. New about the alleged scam was spreading quickly on the internet and Walmart had to contain the problem.
After the story went viral, internet users began coming up with theories about why Walmart was allegedly taking money from unsuspecting customers. Some believed that the store was aware of the phantom codes and they were doing it for more revenue while others claimed that the cashiers must have been doing it in order to pocket the money for themselves. Some said that since there was a ‘k’ on the receipt, it meant that the cashier put the extra charge in themselves.
While some were suspicious of the cashiers and even Walmart itself, others were not as quick to judge and they believed that the code may have been unintended. This group of theorists claimed that the number of an item may have been entered into the system incorrectly and it messed up the barcode. If a barcode is not on a product, it needs to be manually entered which leaves room for human error.
Employees save the day
Since Sharon’s post went viral, some employees and cashiers at Walmart began commenting about their experience with situations like this. Some said that the phantom code occurred when the cashier typed the number 1 instead of entering the barcode whereas other people believed that they were entering a quantity. This meant that only the number and not the price was entered, leading to the wrong code. But who was right and was the problem ever solved?
Barcodes have become commonplace in stores today as more retailers use computers to keep track of their inventory instead of handwriting information. While barcodes may seem confusing when you first look at them, there is really a high-tech system behind them. A register will recognize exactly what is being scanned according to the lines and numbers on the barcode, however, it can sometimes lead to technical mishaps such as in Sharon’s case.
Before the barcodes
Most of us will not remember what stores had before barcodes were introduced but if you do remember, you will know that going to the grocery store was much more of a hassle than it is today. Cashiers used to have to physically keep track of how much everything was and every time an item was added to the register, it would make a dinging noise. That is how the phrase “ring it up” was introduced into common speech.
When Sharon Bufford brought her story to the attention of Walmart, they were quickly on the case and they made a public statement saying that customers should not worry about being overcharged. The head office debunked the myths going around on the internet but unfortunately for them it was too late and people were already talking. Although they acted quickly, the story quickly spread. So how did Walmart solve the issue?
Walmart quickly dispelled the rumors and in fact, they solved the mystery the very day that Sharon made her complaint. The retail chain discovered that the rumors about the cashier entering the wrong barcode were true. They believed that the cashier made an error that resulted in the appearance of the extra $10. Sharon got a full refund from the store and she though the story would disappear from the headlines but she could not have been more wrong…
New claims were made
Although everything was sorted out for Sharon, the same was not true for the rest of Walmart shoppers. In fact, Sharon claimed that the company told her that they were aware of the issue prior to her discovery but they had not done anything about it. Was Walmart trying to cover up the fact that cashiers were taking money? Were the Walmart executives knowingly taking money from their customers? All is about to be revealed…
A puzzling problem
The case got even more curious when Sharon deleted her Facebook post and she never mentioned the issue again. Now there were new questions arising. Was Sharon intentionally covering up for Walmart or was she hiding something more sinister? It was clear by her first social media post that her claim was valid based on the receipt but why was she now removing evidence of what became a public concern?
A television station caught wind of Sharon’s story and they decided to further investigate her first social media post and why she took it down. It was through their reporting that they found out a twist that no one was expecting. Even though Sharon made the claim that the phantom codes was happening to other people for years, her claim was the first to appear on Facebook and she was the only person to provide evidence of the alleged scam.
While Sharon originally intended to stop the same thing from happening to other people, she now had the threat of a lawsuit for libel over her head. After she went public with her story, she gained a lot of attention and Walmart had reason to sue her since she was making negative claims about the company. Walmart could have sued her based on the fact that she was ruining the store’s reputation and this could have been the reason why she took down her Facebook post.
When Sharon made her story public, Walmart immediately started looking into the problem further and they assured their Arkansas shoppers that this would not happen to then. They stated that it was an isolated incident and that, “Our customer experienced to an incorrect product barcode that one of our cashiers entered as she was checking out.” They went onto say that the issue was being resolved and that they were training employees to make sure it never happened again.
While Sharon’s situation was rather benign, Walmart has been involved is some much larger controversies that reached an international scale. This time it wasn’t just a $10 mistake but rather, an alleged issues involving the Mexican government, a large amount of money, four different continents and even potentially crooked employees high up in the ranks at Walmart. This story gained attention from Walmart shoppers around the world and it did not portray the company in a good light.
It was reported in 2012 that the Walmart branch in Mexico was engaging in bribery. In a very short amount of time, thousands of Walmart locations were popping up all over the country. And we mean shorter than was thought to be legally allowed. Because of this, allegations began to arise and the CEO of the Mexico branch of Walmart was accused of giving suitcases filled with cash to Mexican government officials in order to build more Walmart stores.
Going to the press
The head of the Mexican branch was accused of hiding the bribes has legal fees on invoices so that he could not be traced. However, a whistleblower in the company revealed the scheme and prompted an investigation into the claim. The investigation was quickly stopped as it was alleged that officials attempted to hide the story but not before the whistle blower went straight to The New York Times.
Over the years, there have been more reported cases of Walmarts around the world engaging in giving bribes to government officials. The same claims that were made in Mexico have been made in Brazil, China and India but some claim that in order to get things done in countries such as these, bribery may be necessary. However, since Walmart is based in the US, Walmart must abide by American regulations and laws making bribery a big taboo.
Making a settlement
These alleged bribes caused a lot of legal implications for the company and they did not want their name to be dragged through the mud. Because of this, they negotiated with the US government to come to an agreement about how much money they should pay in fines. The government originally asked for $600 million but eventually settled for $300 million and a plea of guilt from Walmart. Walmart also claimed that they would work alongside the government to try and prevent future corruption.
Small vs. big business
Another controversy that Walmart faced when they were first becoming successful was small business owners claiming that the chain was causing other business to close their doors. In some cases, when Walmart showed up in a small American town, other businesses would lose money as people flocked to Walmart. Owners of business were unable to compete with the giant chain and they had to close up shop. However, Walmart does not agree with these statements.
Walmart in competition
While some claim that Walmart is causing small businesses to close, Walmart itself is hurting too as much of retail is now moving online. More people are turning from shopping in physical buildings to shopping online on websites such as Amazon. Unlike Walmart, Amazon does not have to pay as much corporate tax since they are located on the internet. This has resulted in a drop in Walmart’s stock.
Preventing another problem
In light of Sharon’s story, Walmart made an effort to ensure that nothing like this would happen again. They issued a statement saying that the cashiers had undergone training about how to properly enter barcodes and how to look at a receipt and check for errors. The company assured the public that every store would have similar training so this problem would not become widespread. It certainly would not be good PR for Walmart if other stores experienced the same issue.
Since this event occurred in the summer of 2017, Walmart has been trying to combat the backlash. They reassured the public that this isolated problem was not some sort of national scheme and that they should not be worried about shopping at Walmart. After a lot of research done by reporters, it seems that Walmart is correct and that customers should feel comfortable shopping at Walmart. This story reminds us all to check our receipts twice.