Misleading Target School Supplies Lists Led Parents Astray

One area mom says Target should refund money for supplies the company falsely claimed local kids needed.


The following guest column was submitted by a mom in Albany. Patch wants to know if readers have experienced anything similar in the Milpitas area:

This year for each of the individual grade levels for elementary and middle schools. They were on a kiosk in their back-to-school section at stores around the whole Bay Area. 

I can understand how this would seem like a great marketing strategy in theory—get copies of the supplies lists that schools are requiring and place them next to the school supplies aisle—it’s convenient for parents and ensures that kids show up prepared for their first day. 

Unfortunately, it appears that many school districts never give Target lists, and the store does not draw from the supplies lists published on school websites.  Instead Target publishes school-, grade- and brand-specific lists that are completely made up, and then insists that they got them from the schools.  

Because of this, parents who are already financially strapped are wasting money that could otherwise be spent on supplies their children and the schools actually need and have space for.  

Unfortunately, I learned this too late and have been unable to remedy the problem after multiple conversations with Target management. I am concerned for other parents who may be experiencing the same. 

As a parent of two children, I saw these lists a few days before school started when I happened to be in Target. These lists are deceptively specific—they were labeled with specific school grades and had really explicit item details, such as:

  • 1 pkg. Expo Markers (No Low Odor)
  • 1 inch Hard-back binder with side pockets (no Trapper Keepers)
  • (3) Vinyl 3 Prong Folders with Pockets (Solid Colors)
  • (4) 24 Count Crayola Crayons (No Rose Art) 

Like other parents, I dropped them off at the classrooms on the first day of school. But on subsequent days I discovered that they were completely unnecessary and even unwanted. In one of my children’s classrooms the teacher informed me that there was no list of required supplies, but by that point a volunteer had already gone through the bags and put them all away.

She mentioned that it was frustrating to try and find places to put all of these unnecessary supplies people were bringing, and motioned to a large pile of Target’s UP brand plastic bags and tissues. She offered to give me back a stack of eight First Grade Primary School Tablets that had been on the Target list totaling $30, but which she said they could not use and did not have room for. 

In the other classroom, the teacher emailed me her list, but when I compared the two it didn’t match Target’s at all—only six of her required 16 items were on Target’s list, and even those had incorrect quantities or specs. The next day I discovered a suggested donations list by grade level on the school website. For my child’s grade level, only three items on Target’s list are actually required out of 18 items, and Target’s lists have larger quantities. 

Once I explained the situation, this teacher was very accommodating and said that, if I brought my receipt and Target’s list to her, she would do her best to try and give me back the incorrect supplies so I could exchange them—but she emphasized that this would be difficult because so many parents had brought so many supplies. I must say that this was an awkward start to getting to know my child’s teacher. 

Multiple conversations with Target about this proved to be fruitless, and I was surprised at how they prevented me with talking to upper management and refused to acknowledge the problem. When I called the Target store on Eastshore Highway and asked to talk to the store manager, I was instead routed to Nicole, Front Office Manager for the Front Lanes. She insisted to me that Target gets its lists directly from the schools, which is clearly not true. She said she could not do anything about the incorrect supplies that I could not physically return to the store, and she refused to transfer me to the store manager. Only after multiple requests would she tell me that the store manager’s first name was Ashley. She referred me Target Relations at 1-800-440-0680. 

I called Target Relations and spoke with Jasmine, who put me on hold to see if she could find a solution. A supervisor named Peggy came back on the line. She said that, because I had dropped the items off at the classroom and the supplies had been distributed throughout the school, she couldn’t understand what the problem was. She said that they would refund any items that I could return “new and unopened” to the store. She apologized for my experience but said she couldn’t help me. I asked her if Target was going to stop publishing and distributing these lists or even put a disclaimer on them, and she refused. She refused my contact information so that someone could follow up with me. She refused to transfer me to her supervisor, claiming that her supervisor didn’t take calls. She said she was the highest person I could speak with unless I wanted to write a letter to a P.O. box in Minneapolis.

I have since read on Patch the on Aug. 24 urging parents to save their receipts, and her multiple attempts to address this issue with the Albany Target. The problem is that I have my receipts but the items are gone and now I have another, correct, list that needs to be filled, and no way to exchange the two. Few parents will be willing to ask teachers to rummage throughout the school’s closets and dig through piles of supplies to try and find everything on the list to return to the store.

In my case that would entail finding 65 items that were taken to two separate classrooms and possibly beyond—a time-consuming prospect daunting for anyone. These supplies cost over $138 total and only three of them were what a teacher actually requested. I clarified with all of the Target representatives and with my children’s teachers that I am happy to give money to the schools, but I am not happy to waste money. 

I would really like Target to refund all the money for the unnecessary supplies that are returned to the store by parents, as well as the supplies that could not be recovered. Most of the records should be available if parents saved their receipts or used a debit card to purchase the supplies. Target could write these returns off as a donation to the school district, since that is what they are—surplus donations, not required supplies. I would really like Target to stop publishing false lists. If they want to publish suggested lists, they should add a large, clear disclaimer and encourage parents to check with their child’s teacher before purchasing supplies.

Unless Target remedies this, I will not be shopping there again.

Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via email at jacob.bourne@patch.com.


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