Five local CVS stores and the Watergate Safeway permit students to buy gift cards using GWorld, employees at the stores said. But such purchases are in clear violation of GWorld policy.
The merchant contract between GWorld retail partners and BbOne, the company GW contracts to handle off-campus aspects of the GWorld program, stipulates that merchants may not permit cardholders to buy any stored-value gift cards, alcohol, tobacco, firearms or obscene materials, said Nancy Haaga, managing director of campus support services. The GWorld Web site states only that students cannot purchase alcohol or tobacco with their cards.
Of the nine CVS stores listed on the GWorld Web site as retail partners, employees at five of them said they allow students to purchase some types of gift cards with GWorld cards. The E Street CVS and the CVS on 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue allow purchases of all gift cards except for “Green Dot,” cards that act like debit cards and permit online shopping and ATM withdrawls.
The discrepancies in store regulations show that not every employee is aware of the restrictions, and if employees do not stop students from buying gift cards, the transactions, take place without consequence, Haaga said.
She added that the GWorld card program conducts secret-shopper visits to evaluate compliance with the terms of the contract, but that this is the only way the University can determine whether merchants are following the rules. Merchants who violate the terms risk suspension from the GWorld program, but its difficult to catch them in the act.
“It makes sense that we should be able to buy what we want with our money,” sophomore Emily Alexander said, “but at the same time the whole point of GWorld is to be able to eat, not to buy gift cards and then be left without money for food.”
Alexander, who joined a Facebook group last year called “I Can’t Buy a Potato on GWorld,” said buying gift cards was a bigger issue when there was no supermarket on GWorld. She circumvented the system to buy Safeway gift cards she used for groceries.
A Hatchet reporter was able to purchase a $100 Visa gift card at the Wisconsin Avenue Safeway. When asked about prohibited items, an employee told The Hatchet only alcohol and tobacco products were not available. Alice Hickman, manager of the Watergate Safeway, said the transactions could occur because GWorld acts as a credit card.
Though she said no one had tried buying a gift card while she was working the cash register, she said as long as a student has money left, the GWorld card will go through and the purchase can be made.
A sign at the Watergate CVS alerts students that they cannot purchase Visa gift cards, American Express gift cards or Green Dot cards with their GWorld cards. The Watergate CVS does, however, allow students to purchase gift cards for restaurants, movie theaters, retails stores, hotels, spas, bookstores and electronic stores with prices ranging from $25 to $200.
Employees at three of the CVS stores in the West End, those at 21st and L streets, 20th and K streets, and 2240 M St. N.W., said they do not allow students to purchase any kind of gift cards with GWorld. The CVS on MacArthur Boulevard, by the Mount Vernon campus, also does not allow students to purchase any type of gift card. An employee from the CVS store on 17th and G streets said students can use GWorld to buy any type of gift card at the store.
Junior Jonathan Chuck said he just wished he could have bought gift cards everywhere for grocery shopping last year, when Safeway did not accept GWorld.
“I would have liked for them to make an exception last year, but that problem has been solved,” Chuck said. “For now, that’s irrelevant.”