Buyer beware: Watch out for packaging that has been opened and retaped | Poulsbo Beat

BROWNSVILLE — Last night, my wife and I bought a designer electric heater at the Walmart in East Bremerton. With visions of a toasty evening spent sipping hot buttered rum while watching it snow outside, we took it home and opened the box.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that what was inside was not our brand-new Mission-style pedestal, quartz infrared state-of-the-art heater. Instead, we discovered what we had bought was an old, beat up heater.

The wood top was chipped and scratched. Some child had drawn on the side with crayons. The buttons were damaged. To add the ultimate insult to injury, the darn thing didn’t even work.

A call this morning to John, the assistant store manager at Walmart, found him to be most helpful and apologetic for our experience. “There are people who do that sort of thing, unfortunately,” John said. “Just bring it back and we’ll exchange it for you. We want you to be satisfied.”

Being a journalist, I was naturally interested in how often things like this happen, what the store did to try and catch “heater cheaters” and what advice John had to help other customers avoid having a similar experience.

“I’ve worked for Walmart for 20 years,” said John, “and this kind of theft seems to be getting worse. The criminals are always trying to stay one step ahead of us. We had one guy who tried to return a big TV set; it turned out the box was full of wood two-by-fours.

“Our associates try to check every return that has been opened, but sometimes the bad guys are pretty clever.”

Certainly that was the case in our experience. The bad guys had put the junk heater — which was an old model of the heater we thought we were buying — back in the plastic protective sleeve the new one had come in, replaced the Styrofoam corner protectors, and then slid the junk heater back in the box upside down. So when the associate checked the box, all he or she saw was the bottom; the damage was all hidden.

So what can customers do to avoid a similar experience? John’s advice is that if the packaging or box looks like it has been opened and resealed, ask an associate to open it and check the product for you before you buy it. This is especially important for high-ticket items like appliances, electronics, and, yes, heaters.

— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at