Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Shopper takes on Wal-Mart over 27 cents

Roswell, Georgia - Susan Asher isn't someone you want to rile.

The freelance PR specialist and writer recently went to war with Wal-Mart over 27 cents and didn't stop her assault until the corporate giant waved the proverbial white flag and offered an apology.

The war began when Asher whent to buy a four-pack of headbands in late July during the state's annual back-to-school tax-free holiday.

A cashier and a store manager at the Wal-Mart in Roswell said the headbands were not on the state's tax-exempt list. Asher left the store fuming — and without the headbands.

That's where the story would end for most. But Asher wanted the 27 cents she would have saved and wanted to prove that she was right.

She began quietly, placing a call to Wal-Mart's headquarters in Arkansas. A company spokesman followed up, insisting that Wal-Mart was correct. So like most great field commanders, Asher changed her tactics and contacted the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs. She followed that up with a letter to the governor and then called his office.

A receptionist told her the governor wouldn't read her letter but, just when it seemed the war might be lost, Asher was put in touch with the state's Department of Revenue.

Officials there agreed with her that the headbands should have been excluded from sales tax. They contacted Wal-Mart.

"The Department of Revenue told them headbands were tax-exempt and they admitted they were wrong and I was right," Asher said.

Ah, sweet victory.

Consumer advocate Clark Howard, who frequently hears from disgruntled shoppers, praised Asher's tenacity — and her approach.

"You have to keep trying different tactics until one of them works," he said. And do all of this quickly.

"Bad news never gets better with age," said Bill Cloud, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs.

He suggests that unhappy consumers file their complaints with both his office and the Better Business Bureau. Both groups deal with such issues and — most importantly — search for multiple complaints.

Howard said he was amazed Asher won. The only misstep she seemed to make, he said, was in not deciding ahead of time what she wanted the company to do to resolve the issue.

"Ask for something, but don't be unreasonable or greedy," he said.

When Asher told a Wal-Mart official the company should compensate her for all her time, the executive offered a $5 gift card.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said the problem was caused by a coding error.

"There are many, many items in a tax-free holiday and all of them have to be hand keyed in," Weber said. "This one just fell through the cracks. ... We were wrong on this and we did apologize to her."

See also our collection of cultural-defining Wal-Mart moments.


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