RFC: Problems with in-person Staples Visa gift card activation

While ordering PIN-enabled Visa gift cards from Staples online is no picnic, I had never had a problem buying such cards in-person until yesterday. I'd like to share my experience and see if readers have any of their own stories to share that might shed light on the best way to handle this situation if it occurs again.

Staples receipts should show the serial number of activated Visa gift cards

When you buy Visa gift cards in-store, the receipt shows the complete serial number (the second block of digits that are exposed when you peel back the small cardboard perforation). That makes it easy to check immediately whether your cards have been activated or even if (heaven forbid!) your clerk swapped them out for some dummies hidden behind the counter. Stranger things have happened.

My Staples receipt showed the product number, not the serial number

The first block of digits exposed when you remove the small cardboard perforation is identical on all $200 Visa gift cards, and that was the number printed on my receipt — the same for all the cards I purchased. In other words, it was impossible to tell which card corresponded to which item on the receipt.

Concerned at this discrepancy, I pulled a card out and called the phone number on the back to check the card's balance. Rather than a reassuring $200, the phone system told me the card had not been activated and instructed me to return to the store where I purchased the card.

Staples is able to refund unactivated Visa gift cards

In my conversation with the store's general manager, he explained that when a purchase receipt shows that Visa gift cards sold in a transaction haven't been activated, the store is capable of processing an immediate refund (my understanding is that other gift card merchants, like CVS, are also able to either process refunds or manually activate unactivated cards, though I don't have firsthand experience).

My receipt, however, indicated that the gift cards had been activated, and the general manager didn't have the option of processing a refund by simply scanning my receipt's barcode.

I lucked out with an accommodating manager

After explaining the situation to first the assistant, then the general manager at my Staples store location, the general manager researched the issue for 15-20 minutes and finally decided to process a manual refund of my purchase amount. That is to say, he generated a dummy transaction for the opposite of my purchase amount and refunded it to the credit card I used to make the original purchase.

That's highly irregular, and is clearly not the standard operating procedure when a Visa gift card fails to activate properly. Which leads me to:

Request for comment: what do you do when Staples Visa gift cards fail to activate properly?

With the hundreds of thousands of these cards folks have purchased over the last 2-3 years, people have no doubt experienced similar situations before. So I'm curious: what IS the correct procedure for having incorrectly activated Visa gift cards refunded or manually activated, either by Staples or Blackhawk Network?