Millions of Walmart customers could be eligible for refund after major self-checkout error led retailer to overcharge

If you’ve visited Walmart recently then you might be in luck, because a technical glitch in the company’s self-checkout system means millions of customers could be owed a refund.

It’s not so good news for Walmart itself, as the error was reported to have begun on 19 March and lasted for multiple days.

According to files reported by Bloomberg, the company suffered an internal system failure which prompted self-checkout stands to show prices that were sometimes higher or lower than listed.

The issue affected everything from food to clothes and appliances available in the store, and was still ongoing two days after the failure took place.

Mischa Dunton, a spokesperson for Walmart, said the problems were caused by some product information failing to update in the system that powers self-checkouts in ‘select stores across the country’.

Dunton did not say what caused the failure, but assured that Walmart’s traditional checkouts and online store weren’t affected.

On average, the ‘potential overcharge’ was 1.88% of the ‘total basket size of the customers who used self-checkout in an affected store’, Dunton said.

Technology staff at Walmart worked on fixing the issue and it was eventually resolved, but the impacts were far-reaching as it affected 1,600 Walmart stores in the US.

More than 80 percent of the customers who were overcharged were reimbursed after the incident, but legal experts cited by Bloomberg have warned that the company could still be in breach of state and federal consumer protection laws.

Christopher Peterson, a former attorney with the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said that if the overcharges are verified they would be ‘clearly illegal under the consumer protection laws of just about every state and the federal government’.

“Because Walmart is such a large retailer, even a small mistake like this can cause millions and millions of dollars of illegal overcharges,” Peterson said, adding that the company could still be exposed to legal or regulatory action despite reimbursing customers.

Walmart did not take any action with regard to the customers who had been undercharged for their items during the failure.

Only the self-checkouts were affected. (Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Dunton commented: “Our business is strong, our infrastructure is industry-leading, and we work hard to maintain the trust of the millions of people around the world who rely on us every day.”

Bill Kovacic, a professor at George Washington University Law School and former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, told Bloomberg that state and federal authorities are likely to consider two factors when deciding whether to take action.

First, they’ll want to see Walmart making a ‘good-faith’ effort to refund those who were overcharged, and secondly they’ll expect to see a ‘rigorous examination’ into the cause of the issue.