Instead of refunding my money for a defective DVD, Target lied to me about “copyright law”

I originally shared this story about attempting to return a defective DVD to Target back in 2008 on the personal finance site Get Rich Slowly. However, at some point this year the original post seems to have been deleted by the site’s new owner QuinStreet.

You can still view a copy with all its original comments on the Internet Archive, but I decided to also republish my story here for posterity.

One way our family keeps the entertainment budget slim is by not buying new release DVDs, but waiting to buy movies until they drop below $10.

About a month ago, my wife purchased the DVD movie “Never Been Kissed” for $5.50 from the discount shelf at our local Target. A few weeks after buying it, we tried to watch it, but after trying multiple DVD players it became clear that the disc was defective. On our next trip to Target we brought the DVD and the receipt back to exchange the disc for a working copy.

There were no copies of that movie in stock, so we waited another week and tried again. Unfortunately, this time not only was the movie not in stock, but an employee looked it up and informed us that Target no longer carries that movie at all. (Well, they carry it, but now it’s in one of those double-feature disc sets.)

I figured that this was no big deal, that since they don’t stock it anymore, they would accept a return for cash or store credit for the defective product they sold me.


The employee informed me that Target does not under any circumstances accept returns on DVDs, CDs, or video games. I asked to see the manager, who affirmed the policy and told me that he cannot override it, because of “copyright law.”

I know my rights as they pertain to copyright law, and I know that there is no provision in Federal law or Washington State law that prohibits a retailer from giving a customer their money back for a defective DVD. In fact, I verified with Costco that they are glad to issue refunds for DVDs. (Their return policy contains no exception for disc-based media of any kind. [2015 addendum: I have since successfully returned DVDs to Costco on two occasions. Once a disc was defective, another time two of the three discs were completely missing. Costco staff was friendly and helpful both times, fully refunding my money without question.])

Unfortunately it seems that this “copyright law” excuse is being fed to Target employees from the top. An internet search revealed multiple accounts of similar tales across the country. It’s a store policy — nothing more. I can understand the rationale behind such a policy, but it’s pretty lousy that they give people with an actual defective product the shaft like that.

So, thanks to Target’s lousy DVD return policy, instead of a “cheap” $5.50 movie, we’re now stuck with a rather expensive $5.50 coaster.

The moral of this story is something that seems to be a good deal at the time can be turned into a complete waste of money by a lousy policy and stubborn or poorly trained employees. I’ve learned my lesson that it is important to be familiar with store policies and know your risk when assessing apparent “deals.”

Here are some other pieces I wrote for Get Rich Slowly. Some have been deleted, and others are still live. I don’t know why no one at QuinStreet bothered to mention to me that they were deleting my stories.

1000Bulbs vs. Amazon

1000Bulbs vs. Amazon: A Tale of Two Orders

The Need

1000Bulbs vs. AmazonAfter 3,723 hours of service, the lamp in my projector literally exploded one Friday night (01/25) a few weeks ago in the middle of 30 Rock (okay, technically I think it actually imploded). With just over a week left before my annual Groundhog Day party (02/02), I needed to order a new lamp right away, so I got online immediately and began the hunt.

The 1000Bulbs Experience

Fortunately (or so I thought) I found a great deal on a replacement lamp at a site called 1000Bulbs—just $115 shipped. I placed the order before going to bed, assuming it would be sent to me from their warehouse first thing Monday morning and delivered well before the following Saturday via standard ground shipping.

Monday came… and went. By early Tuesday afternoon (01/29) I still had not received a shipping notification from 1000Bulbs. With just four days until my party I was getting nervous, so I emailed them to ask when my lamp would be shipping. Here’s their response, in part:

Unfortunately the product you ordered is currently out of stock. Occasionally our vendors experience product demand that conflicts with our goal of providing our customers with speedy delivery and we apologize for this inconvenience. It is estimated to ship from the factory on or before February 3, 2013.

Well that obviously wouldn’t work, since I needed it for Groundhog Day. This revelation was especially annoying to me, since the product page for the lamp I ordered did not indicate anywhere on it that the item was out of stock.

The Amazon Experience

So I headed to Amazon to see if they had the right lamp. Luckily I was able to find the right lamp for my projector, and although it was from a third-party seller, it was “fulfilled by Amazon,” so I was confident that it was actually in stock. I paid the extra $10 for 2-day shipping and called it good.

By the end of the day Tuesday my Amazon orders page still said “shipping soon.” Wednesday afternoon it still said “shipping soon.” Okay now I was starting to get worried. But then Wednesday evening (01/30) it said “shipped.” Not only that, but when I checked the FedEx tracking number, I discovered that they had shipped it “FedEx Standard Overnight” even though I only paid for 2-day shipping.

Sure enough, the new lamp arrived Thursday (01/31). When I got home from work and put it in the projector, it worked like a champ. It cost me a little more to get a new lamp than I originally thought it would, but it was worth it since Amazon came through with even better service than they promised.

The Continuing 1000Bulbs Experience

Back to 1000Bulbs… Since their lamp was so cheap, I decided to leave the order open, figuring that I would use the second lamp as a backup for next time. But, the same day FedEx delivered the lamp I had ordered on Amazon (01/31), I got another email from 1000Bulbs:

Unfortunately the product you ordered is currently out of stock… It is estimated to ship from the factory on or before February 12, 2013.

What?!? Okay fine, whatever. I don’t need it right away anyway.

Guess what email 1000Bulbs sent me on the following Wednesday (02/06).

Unfortunately the product you ordered is currently out of stock… It is estimated to ship from the factory on or before February 18, 2013.

Okay seriously. Forget it. I responded to the email, asking them to cancel the order. It is also worth noting that the product page for the lamp I ordered still did not indicate anywhere on it that the item was out of stock, despite the fact that it had apparently been so for at least 13 days.

By Friday (02/08) I had not heard a peep back from 1000Bulbs confirming that my order was canceled, so I called their customer service number. When I asked to cancel the order, they informed me that it had already been canceled. Great. Thanks so much for letting me know.

The Scoreboard

Let’s check the scoreboard:

  • 1000Bulbs: Deceptive product page with no indication of zero stock, slow communication, repeated delays in promised delivery, no confirmation of order cancellation.
  • Amazon: In-stock product shipped via a faster method than promised, less than 48 hours from order placed to product in-hand.

Gee, I wonder why Amazon is taking over the world of online retail.