The bad news: Sears has started channeling the Geek Squad, pre-optimizing all merchandise in stock before customers have a choice in the matter. The worse news: they’re failing at it terribly. Ron tried to purchase a gas grill on sale at Sears. He placed his order online for instore pickup, only to discover that all of the grills in stock were already assembled. Fine, except an already-assembled grill won’t fit in his car. The only bright spot for consumers: unlike Geek Squad, Sears doesn’t even have the foresight to charge for the optimization service.
Last weekend I caught what seemed like a good price on a deal website: $61 for a Char-Broil 2-burner gas grill purchased online and picked up at the store (Sears). I pulled the trigger Saturday night and got the confirmation email Sunday morning that my grill was ready for pickup.
The pick-up process was less than ideal (there was no mention in the email that we needed a printout so I had to go to an HR office inside the store to get a receipt after bouncing between an onsight warehouse and pickup center that really didn’t have a clear handle on who had what), but all in all the staff was friendly enough that after a four-stop runaround, I still wasn’t annoyed. Yet.
Upon returning to the warehouse, we learned that someone had opened up and assembled all of the grills in stock, including the one we purchased. To me, this is the key point: the item wasn’t something I wanted to buy but couldn’t; it was purchased, confirmed, and charged, and Sears decided to open my box and assemble it without my consent. Since I can’t fit an assembled grill into my car, I’m sent back to the HR office for further runaround. I’m told that all boxes were indeed opened and assembled, and that more should be arriving during the week.
As we’re at the one-hour mark for what was guaranteed to be a 5-minute pickup process, I ask if Sears would be so kind as to make the experience not completely wasteful, and I’m given 10% off of a $30 grill-cover for my time. I’m thinking Sears can do better than $3 an hour, especially since they’ve effectively shanghaied my grill to try and squeeze an additional purchase out of it by putting it on the floor, so I email their SVP of eCommerce. Someone related to that office gets back to me quickly and informs me that while there’s nothing they can do to further accommodate me, that my order is now ready and I can return to Sears to pick it up. I do. No grill.
Now all the assembled grills have been sold save for one that was damaged, there are still no boxes in the warehouse, and the item has made the jump from coming “during the week” to being on backorder with none expected in anytime soon. I’m asked if I’d like to purchase another grill instead (read: more expensive), but decline the bait-and-switch in favor of a refund.
Like I said, the staff on the ground was decent enough, it’s really that Sears as a whole didn’t seem ready for primetime when it comes to this sort of thing (ironic, considering their roots). If it had been a failed purchase, as in I wanted to buy it but it wasn’t there, I would have let it go; but the moment I got the confirmation letter, as far as I’m concerned somwehere in their warehouse one of those grill boxes now belongs to me.
I would have walked away from the deal with an hour and a half to spare if it wasn’t already “mine.” If I’m buying something online for pickup, then someone at the store needs to slap a label on the inventory, otherwise all the retailer is saying is that their idea of customer service is nothing more than moving the impulse-buy to my living room and having me hope for the best when it comes time to settle up.
If a retailer is using Web-to-store pickup to get their customers purchase-committed then they have a greater obligation when it comes to inventory management, and when they fail like Sears did, then they show their understanding of the new economy to go no further than that of a shiny new gimmick.
I always looked at Sears as the place where my grandparents shopped, and now having dealt with them directly, it’s a mindset that’s only further reinforced. They’re not the worst company in the world, just not good enough for my time–and since they wasted it so cavalierly I figure the least I can do is write it up and share with others.