Why I’m Not Shopping at Sears Anymore

Sears at the Desoto Square Mall, Bradenton, FL 1977

(Image courtesy the Manatee County Public Library Historic Photograph Collection, via Malls of America.)

Lori and I both grew up in households where Sears was the only place you would ever consider buying appliances. Associates were friendly, and sold you these heavy duty Kenmore appliances that were so sturdy, they rarely needed more than routine maintenance. To my knowledge, a dryer that we bought in the late 1970s is still plugging away at our old house in Darby.

When we moved back to Philadelphia and needed new appliances for the house, our first instinct was to shop at Sears. I see now why the stores are shadows of their former selves. When I went to a mall location to price out refrigerators, eager sales sharks swarmed me. I heard a lot of pressure to take something home right now. When I told one associate that I wanted to check in with my wife about some features, he reminded me that I’m “the man of the house” and I should bring home that fridge “right now.” So, no sale.

I wrote off that location and visited a Sears Hardware store farther out in the suburbs. It was a little more low key, and the associates there seemed more willing to talk to me. The store’s assistant manager showed me a floor model that had a few more features than the units in my price range, and she was willing to drop $300 off the price to get it out of the store. She even threw in “free delivery,” which was actually a rebate on the delivery/installation services. A few minutes of furious typing on her Soviet-era POS system, and we had a fridge.

Here’s where things get complicated.

To get the fridge from Sears Hardware to my house (a distance of under five miles), it must actually travel to a centralized distribution hub (about 25 miles away). Then, a truck that aggregates deliveries by neighborhood picks up your fridge, your neighbor’s oven, and anything else bound for your zip code. (It’s the appliance delivery version of flying AirTran. You can go anywhere you want, as long as you fly through Atlanta.)

Delivery day came, and I got a frantic call from the driver. He couldn’t figure out what is was he was supposed to deliver. Turns out the truck that goes from the store to the hub only goes out there every few days. I could have “next day delivery” if I had purchased a brand new item, but it seems my fridge missed its connecting flight. No big deal. We rescheduled.

It arrived a few days later and the crew who installed it, Angel & Moon, were awesome. They’re like the Laurel and Hardy of appliance delivery guys. Even with the delivery issue, I felt like Sears was taking care of me, so I went back and purchased a brand new dishwasher. Not the fanciest model they sell, but not the cheapest. Again, delivery goes fine. Angel & Moon drop off the machine, and Mike comes by to connect it up. Easy.

Months later, I get an e-mail from Sears that they are “unable to process my rebate.” They asked me to check their website to ensure that I have entered all of the data correctly from my receipt. It looks fine. I resubmit. Another month goes by, and I get an e-mail from Sears declaring that my rebate is invalid, because they have no record that matches my salescheck number.

When I contact the store, they explain that this happens frequently. To reschedule a delivery, a Sears associate must actually refund your appliance and resell it to you. Therefore, my original receipt was void. Because I never received a revised receipt, I never had the right salescheck details to enter into the rebate form online. However, because my purchase was made more than six months ago, the rebate offer has expired and I can’t get my delivery rebate.

The rebate process is designed to fail. By the time you receive notification that your receipt does not pass muster, the window for re-submitting the rebate has closed.

I took the loss as a lesson learned and moved on with my life.

Then, my ceiling collapsed:


We came home from our trip to Charlotte to find the kitchen floor flooded. Water pooled out from beneath the dishwasher, leaking through the back of our cabinets into the crawlspace below. When the ceiling tiles couldn’t handle the load, they started popping off. The tiles that didn’t fall out are stained and warped, and about 1/3 of the basement ceiling will need to be replaced. There’s a futon underneath that hole with a soaked (and now mildewy) cushion.

(Yes, our finished basement has paneling. Remember, I’m Irish Catholic.)

Our handyman came by, since we feared a pipe had ruptured. Instead, he showed us how all the water was coming from inside the dishwasher.

You can’t seem to find a service phone number on Sears’ website. They’ll sell you plenty of things, and they’ll even schedule service for other companies’ appliances. But, if you want to get any information about warranty service, there’s a form you can fill out and submit. Therefore, I called the store, where an apologetic associate supplied me the number for warranty repairs.

Is it my “former call center supervisor” coming back to get me that each of the associates I spoke to read from a carefully prepared script? (“OH! I can see where having your ceiling collapse would be very frustrating. Allow me to transfer you to another department.”)

I escalated all the way up to a Sears Customer Solutions representative who told me that she would “force” a service call into a technician’s schedule for two days into the future, compared to the nine day wait offered by another rep. She also provided me contact details for a claims adjuster who she said would help work out the issue of my property damage.

Technician Walt arrived, as promised. As soon as he saw my dishwasher, he remarked, “yup. One of those. We’ve been having problems with those. They shipped them with shields that fall apart after a while. It happens so much that they gave us a special service flash and a set of parts we can order.” Without the shields, the dishwasher can’t keep water from filling up inside the unit.

He was surprised that he had one of the repair kits on his truck, so he popped the dishwasher out of the cabinet and set about installing them. It took just a few minutes. He ran water through the unit, assured me it was fixed, and left.

Not so fast.

The next morning, Lori woke up to another flooded kitchen floor and more dripping in the basement. Whatever Walt fixed wasn’t really the problem. He was already so disappointed in how the Kenmore unit was built, he assumed that the “service flash” fix was the only thing wrong with it.

I called Sears Customer Solut
ions again, and waited on hold for about thirty minutes while a supervisor tried to book me an appointment sooner than nine days out. He came back on the line and told me that he couldn’t, because the dispatch center closed at 5pm in my time zone.

So I asked him if it wouldn’t be more efficient to just replace the machine. It only cost about $400, and if they have to repeat a service call, that might cost them more money. They could have an installer to my home in 48 hours instead of making us wait nine days. He replied, “your unit does not meet the criteria for replacement,” and told me that if it had failed in the first ninety days, I could request a new unit. Now, I’m just stuck waiting on repairs.

As a customer service professional myself, I know that it can be frustrating when a customer asks about a “known problem.” Often, store employees just don’t know about “known problems.” But most of the Sears associates I have spoken with have shrugged off the Kenmore 587 dishwasher as a problem child that routinely sneaks away from boarding school.

It’s one thing when a known problem might cause a minor annoyance. If the dishwasher simply failed, I’d be annoyed. But when a known problem causes property damage and associates act as if this happens every day, it’s disturbing.

In summary:

  • Sears associates used a rebate to close a deal, knowing I probably wouldn’t get it.
  • A Sears associate re-rang my purchase without providing me a revised receipt.
  • Sears associates know about faulty products, but are unwilling to issue formal recalls or to schedule preventative maintenance.
  • Sales and service divisions are so far removed, associates are happy to transfer problems to other units without warm transfers or explanations.
  • I can get a new dishwasher delivered tomorrow, but a warranty repair takes nine days.

Lest you think I’m a spoiled brat, I’m fine with hand-washing dishes for nine days while I wait for a repair. I just can’t fix the gash in my rec room ceiling until I’m sure the dishwasher’s not going to leak.

With service like this, Alvah‘s probably happy they took his name off the door.

P.S.: It makes me even more sad when I see Felicia Day in a Sears uniform.

UPDATE (Aug. 22, 2009): This post caught the attention of the “VIP Blue Ribbon” team, thanks to the folks who manage the @searscares Twitter account. Unfortunately, the technician scheduled for Friday morning got caught with a longer than expected job on the other side of the city. Gabriel from @searscares has assured me that this will all be resolved by Tuesday.

UPDATE #2: Lori’s posted her own thoughts about Sears on her blog at Daisyclub.com.

UPDATE #3: The new dishwasher arrived.

Posted via web from Joe Taylor Jr.’s Blog


Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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