Worst Company In America Round One: Walmart Vs. Sears/Kmart

Just judging by appearances, this match-up has the feel of a strapping young heavyweight going up against a past-his-day bruiser who is clinging on to memories of his days as champ. But you never know if that elder fighter might have packed some bird shot and ball bearings in his boxing gloves.

Where to begin with Sears? What used to be the name associated with American retail is now struggling in every department.

Buy an appliance there and maybe it will get to right address. Need it repaired? Maybe they can do that. But one thing you can be sure of is that they will try, and try, and try, to sell you an extended warranty.

And then there’s Walmart, which has gone from replacing mom and pop stores to replacing chain grocery stores. It’s the nation’s largest retailer and it’s also the one that customers are the least satisfied with.

The biggest complaint from Consumerist reader who nominated Walmart was the mind-bogglingly awful customer service.

“No one there seems to know thing one about any of the store policies,” writes Amy about why she’s voting for Walmart. “If a price comes up wrong or if a item doesn’t scan, the cashier just stares at the machine. The manager will just say there’s nothing they can do about it and nobody cares to make an effort to fix the problem.”

Speaking of which, the last time we checked Walmart was still not handling returns and refunds for items that had gone down in price since being purchased. The retailer keeps saying it’s fixed the issue, or denies the issue exists, but customers continue to get screwed out of cash.

Oh, look — there’s a sale on voting in Aisle 23…
(Voting for this poll will close at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 16)

This is a post in our Worst Company In America 2012 series. The companies competing for this honor were chosen by you, the readers. See the entire WCIA 2012 bracket and schedule of match-ups HERE.

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  1. elangomatt says:

    This should be a landslide for Walmart, but since this is Consumerist I bet it is going to be a close battle.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      I hate both Walmart and Sears for many varied reasons, but in my opinion the consumer experience is slightly better at Walmart, even though I have been boycotting them for years for reasons unrelated to customer service. Sears, on the other hand, has done nothing wrong except fail the end consumer, but it has done so in epic fashion.

      • Tegan says:

        Very well-put, that’s pretty much exactly how I feel. Thanks for saying it well enough for the both of us :)

      • tbax929 says:

        I voted for KMart/Sears based on one thing: I still shop at Walmart on occasion. Granted, I go either really early in the morning or really late at night, when I can get in and out with a minimal of fuss. Also, none of the Walmarts in my area do the whole receipt-check thing, so I don’t have to deal with that either.

        I do not shop at Kmart/Sears. Ever. They are just so full of fail that I can’t be bothered to do business with them. The only time I go into a Sears is when I’m at the mall. Ours is so empty that it’s the best place to park.

  2. dulcinea47 says:

    It seems to me that Sears is more actively malevolent, whereas Walmart just doesn’t give a bleep.

    • longfeltwant says:

      Agreed — vote for Sears!

      Sears fired me (for very good and appropriate cause) in 1998. I’ve been waiting for them to crash and burn ever since.

    • Yacko says:

      But Sears will be out of business long before Walmart. So that makes Walmart inherently more evil because it will have more time to screw up and screw over.

    • kenj0418 says:

      “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”

  3. Cat says:

    Walmart many be bigger, but it didn’t get – and stay – that way by screwing up. People don’t like Walmart because… well, just because. They’re smug, and all “I’m too good to shop there”. Yea, some of the people that shop there are sometimes low-lifes, but you’ll see them everywhere. Oh, and sometimes they ask people for their receipt. Boo-fuckin’ hoo. Yea their products are made in China, and they pay shit. So does everyone else.
    Haven’t you got anything else, people?

    Sears / Kmart, OTOH, has failed so many people so many times in so many new and imaginative ways we never thought possible. They invent new ways to fail on a daily basis. And, surprisingly, Sears is worse than Kmart.
    That’s really sad considering who Sears USED to be.

    So Sears it is.

    • SecretShopper: pours out a lil' liquor for the homies Wasp & Otter says:

      I agree for the most part, but Walmart treats some of it’s employees a little
      worse than others, and straight up cheats even more. I’m not old enough to really remember when Sears was the “gold standard” for American retailers so the fact they suck now doesn’t disappoint me as much as you seem to be.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Walmart has toned down a bit, being more annoyance than corporate behemoth monsters.

      Sears continues to find new and creative ways to utterly fail the consumer.

    • Tyanna says:

      100% agree. The petty gripes people have with Walmart pale in comparison to the epic failure that is Sears.

      Sears has a brand and customer base that is decades old, and a business model that would have been PERFECT for the internet age. And yet they manage to screw up their online processes and are turning long time customers off of their products and services by just being so inept it makes me wonder if they have someone on staff who’s only job is to thinks up ways to fuck up.

      For this reason, Sears gets my vote.

  4. Smilodon says:

    I’m really surprised that Walmart is considered worse than Sears/Kmart by anybody.

    • Dallas_shopper says:

      This. Sears is mind-blowingly awful. Wal-Mart is simply unpleasant in comparison.

    • OutPastPluto says:

      It’s a lot easier to ignore Sears. This is true whether you are a consumer or a supplier.

      They aren’t going to push your favorite merchants or suppliers out of business because they are big enough to push nearly everyone else around.

  5. dolemite says:

    Walmart has some bad practices (like receipt checking, paying low wages, etc.), but Sears is just simply terrible. Their inventory/ordering system is completely screwed up, and they do not seem to care and will not do anything to make things right when customers come in.

  6. Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

    Walmart is fucked up in some ways, but Sears truly goes out of its way to screw you.

    Let’s hear it for Sears! Yay!!

  7. consumed says:

    I actually kinda like Sears, because they carry some good men’s clothing brands with good sales/clearance prices sometimes. But I voted for them because a few weeks ago I took my car to the Sears Auto Center for an oil change and wiper blade replacement. And also to check 2 low tires.

    The technician didn’t switch out the wiper blades, and they didn’t check the correct tires even though I told the guy at the counter 3 times specifically which tires to check. The service order paperwork stated to check the opposite tires.

    God only knows if they even changed my oil or maybe they just put a sticker in the corner of the windshield.

    Every time I go to Walmart tire/lube center they’ve gotten my oil change and tires done right, so I’m starting to trust Sears a little less after that happened.

    • BigDragon says:

      Sears Auto got on my “never again” list for telling me I needed fluids flushed when it wasn’t necessary. They fooled me, I learned about what they did, and now that $80 is the last bit of money they’ll ever get from me, period. It’s been a decade now since I’ve been to the automotive department there. Every experience at Walmart’s auto center has been pleasant.

  8. Cat says:

    All these comments about seas sucking, yet Walmart still has a lead, WTF, people?

  9. Starfury says:

    I haven’t had a bad experience shopping at Sears including ordering kitchen appliances and a washing machine/dryer.

    Wal Mart…well I hate shopping there so they get my vote.

  10. ThinkingBrian says:

    This one should be Sears all the way. I admit that Walmart does make mistakes, the Sears is hands down the worst out of these two companies. Just think about deliveries or lack there of, out of stock, bad warranties, I’m just saying…

  11. BigDragon says:

    Walmart doesn’t bother me. The people who shop there do.

    Sears/Kmart does actively bother me and so do the other people shopping there. It seems every time I’ve tried to buy something from Sears/Kmart the price at the register is wrong. The employee can’t fix the price, calls a manager, 10 minutes later someone shows up, swipes their card, reverts the price, gets upset when I complain they still entered the wrong price, we all walk over to the sign, confirm numbers, go back to the register to call for more help, and maybe 30 minutes later the transaction might be complete. How many Sears/Kmart employees does it take to ring something up right? At least half a dozen or more because last time I tried to buy something there I gave up. Their website is also a complete mess.

    Sears/Kmart all the way.

  12. GoPadge says:

    Walmart is an American business success, built on the backs of their employees and cheap Chinese products. K-Mart is virtually irrelevant and Sears is a hell hole of outdated stores, employees and systems with overpriced products and no clue on customer service. (Hell, Sears is the DMV of the retail world!)

  13. gman863 says:

    Voting for Walmart over Kmart/Sears? C’MON PEOPLE!!!!

    Both are far from perfect; however at least Walmart has some decent +1’s over Sears/Kmart:

    * Walmart invented the $4 generic drug program (now copied my almost every other major pharmacy chain). Even if you don’t get prescriptions filled at Walmart, they are the only major company in America who has been successful in lowering health care costs.

    * Compared to Sears/Kmart, Walmart stores are immaculately clean.

    * Although Walmart now offers them, they don’t spend 10 minutes trying to shove an extended warranty down your throat like Sears does.

    * One trip to Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart) easily saves me more than the $40 annual membership fee on OTC meds and office supplies versus CVS and Office Depot.

    Give blame where blame is due. Vote for the REAL worst company, Sears/Kmart!

  14. IGetsAnOpinion says:

    Ex 10 year Sears employee here. It’s been 13 years since I worked there, and I think I may have been in the store maybe 5 times since then – only to get gift certificates for tools for my brother or father as they like their tools. There is no other reason for me to visit the store.

    I always hated when inventory said we had 3 in stock, and I could never find even 1. So much wasted time for both me and the customer who had to wait for me search high and low for whatever it was they wanted.

    Walmart sucks too. Which to choose…

    • Firevine says:

      I worked at Sears right about the same time ago. The inventory system would show X number of an item in stock, sales rep would sell one without double checking, and us MPU guys would search our asses off trying to find items that aren’t there. Then of course, since the customer waited more than five minutes for their item, it was our fault for not having it, not the sales rep who sold them something we didn’t have.

      A few years down the line, I was desperate for some extra cash, since my main job wasn’t cutting it, and applied again for a part time position. The hiring process took TWO MONTHS! In the interim, I found a different job. I then got a termination notice in the mail from Sears for a job I gave up on getting.

      Backwards as hell company,

  15. Hartwig says:

    Its hard to do but i gotta vote Sears over Walmart. Walmart may have been bad for the US and Employees, but Sears is the worst store for consumers.

  16. Bent Rooney says:

    Walmart likely has a bigger negative impact on the world and economy, standard of living, etc. But since we are focusing on the consumer here, Sears just seems to try harder…at being awful. Sears it is.

  17. Cat says:

    I suspect that in a few days we’ll hear that Sears is paying people to come here and vote for Walmart.

    There just isn’t any other explanation for these results.

    • Tegan says:

      Yeah, I’m waiting for the leaked internal memo now.

    • framitz says:

      A lot of us have a conscience and can’t be bought.
      Vote Sears

    • dark_inchworm says:

      I voted for Walmart and am happy to see it in the lead. Sears may be worse for the consumer and perhaps is more deserving of a vote between the two on a consumer-oriented website, but the impact Walmart leaves wherever it roams leaves a taste in my mouth so wretched that I must strike against them.

  18. PhilFR says:

    I’ve always disliked Walmart, and because of that I’m more disappointed by Sears’ decline and fall. I vote for Sears for letting me down.

  19. Netstar says:

    Kmart? IMO. they only exist in name.Their stores are time capsules that looked like they closed down a long time ago but someone forgot to lock the doors, turn off the lights, and remove the merchandise.

    I vote for Sears based on the frequency of complaints I’ve seen on this website. It’s not fair for me to comment on my personal experience with Sears since it’s been at least 10 years since I walked into a Sears store. See Kmart comment for Sears future outlook.

    I do shop quite often at both Walmart and Walmart.com and I never had a bad experience.

    Sears/Kmart wins this match!

  20. Maz says:

    SO works at Walmart, though not as an associate. Culture is screwed up.

    They pay people wages, but the managers have no qualms about people working overtime to meet whatever goals exist in said manager’s head.

    But the corporate overseer system will notice they worked overtime and note it, if not outright confront them, on that.

    So they have to burn the OT off somewhere and that assumes that does not conflict, again, with whatever the manager’s thinking about.

    It’s actually quite schizophrenic to be told you worked too many hours, but then when you are about to leave early, you are being requested to report to the floor.

  21. framitz says:

    Walmart has never screwed me over. I seldom go there anyway.
    Sears has, but only once, they won’t get another chance. I haven’t seen a K-mart in years in my area, I thought they went TU a long time ago.

  22. mrvw says:

    Sears gave me the wrong snowblower last year. I bought a $700 one and they loaded the $1200 model into my truck.
    Even with that, I’m still voting for them because they had me drive to the store 3 times to pick up my snowblower as ‘your item is available for pick up’. The first time I got there the kid at the pick up area had no idea what day it was, let alone how to do his job. He took my info and went to the back to bring out my snowblower. 20 minutes later he was still missing. A new employee came up and asked to help me, I said the blonde kid who was back here went for my snowblower and she replied ‘really? He left for the day’.

  23. mbz32190 says:

    Hard to pick here. I only go to Walmart when I have to because a.) They remodeled the store and made it mostly groceries. Most of the time I can’t find anything I need and I’m not driving 6 miles to the real Supercenter, and b.) Only if I know the product will be significantly less there.

    I’ve never had any real problems with Kmart personally, and actually has a much better selection than the local Walmart. Plus I can have almost the whole store to myself without getting hit by carts.

    I’m not really sure the purpose Sears serves anymore though. Probably haven’t been in one in 10 years.

  24. ThunderRoad says:

    Voting doesn’t seem to work in Firefox. Comes up fine in IE and Chrome, but no voting window in FF.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      THANK YOU! I thought I was doing something wrong and no one answered my question about it yesterday!!

      Um, Consumerist, can you fix that pls? Thanks.

    • D007H says:

      Maybe it’s one of your addons in firefox. I can see the voting box just fine. I have ghostery and “polldaddy.com” is one of the things blockable. If I block that, the poll disappears.

  25. SamuraiOccupier says:

    Walmart, no contest. Watch that documentary “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices” They actively prevent employees from forming unions,screw them out of benefits,& practice discrimination,& they conspired with the Supreme Court 2 throw 1 million female employees under the bus. Not 2 mention what they’re doing 2 the environment. I have a relative who works at Walmart, she just had a baby and just like the last baby she’s only gonna get one month maternity leave.

  26. exscind says:

    Actually I have a higher opinion of both of these companies than I did,say, a year ago.

    Used to hate K-mart but they’ve partially won me over by introducing their awesome gamers club/blog; lots of good day-one deals.

    Used to hate Wal-Mart too but lately they just seem to be putting off a better vibe.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      The Gamer’s club is gone now, Sears/Kmart let the guy go who originally started it. If you haven’t noticed already there are no more offers or Gamer Coupons. Hooray for doing something to actually HELP the company, then getting fired for it! The Blog on facebook is gone too, or it will be gone soon.

  27. Outrun1986 says:

    Really tough one, but Sears/Kmart is much worse. Their workers are incompetant and the stores are completely disorganized, they have outdated food on the shelves and their stores are dirty and haven’t been renovated since the 70’s. Trying to buy anything at a Sears/Kmart store is a lesson in true patience and dealing with incompetent workers and a store with a POS system that probably runs on an Apple II computer. The aisles at my Kmart weren’t wide enough to accomodate a wheelchair when I worked there and all the workers struggled to push the chairs through.

    I haven’t seen such problems at Walmart, other than them being big and the fact that everyone hates them, the Walmart here is a fairly pleasant and very clean place to shop, mainly because its a newly built super walmart.

  28. Professor59 says:

    Haven’t been to a KMart in years only rarely to a Sears. Last time was when my girlfriend bought an air conditioner there, and we opened it up to find a missong knob.
    We went back to the Sears store, eventually found a human who worked there, and explained the problem. He reached down to the display model, tore of the knob and handed it to us.
    Screw the next guy, i guess.

  29. Slader says:

    I stopped shopping at Sears when they closed down the customer service area of the store. I could go there and pay my bill, praise of complain about something at the store and speak to a manager if necessary. At least at WalMart, they still have customer service.

  30. Serrinatta says:

    I think my favorite moment at Walmart was the only time I tried to work there. I got fired in less than a week because no one would clock me in on time and I was told to sit and wait. Then my manager fired me for tardiness.

  31. courtachino says:

    I voted for K-Mart/Sears. EVERYTIME I walk into a K-Mart, there is only one lane open with 10 people in it. The prices are INSANE there and I just feel like my soul is being sucked from my body when I step foot in one.

    Wal-Mart, I also hate. But the prices are good, there are always registers open, and my greeters don’t act like receipt checkers.

  32. Sarge1985 says:

    Only voted for Sears/Kmart simply because of the fail that is Kmart in this area. Sears at the mall still has some semblance of life, just don’t be between the sales floor and the door at closing ;). However, our local Kmart can’t seem to pay attention to the customer in front of them and would rather chat up the loiterers. I shop at Sears, but avoid Kmart with a passion.

  33. ThatCatGuy says:

    I’d have voted for Sears…but, my last experience with them (buying a washer and dryer) was totally and utterly shocking:
    I had a salesperson who knew what she was doing.
    Who didn’t try to upsell me.
    Who pointed out an advantage of a less expensive model.
    Who didn’t try to jam extended warranties down my throat.
    Who worked with me to find a good delivery date…
    AND then….
    The installers showed up on time, with the correct models, and installed them properly and even had me verify that they worked before they had me sign off on the paperwork.

    Just like the Sears of old….

  34. JLyles says:

    The clear choice here would be Sears/Kmart since they cannot provide the service, services or prices that Walmart can provide.
    One of the only real reasons to choose Walmart would be the fact that when they move into your area, many of the smaller stores that sell the same items eventually go out of business because the smaller business cannot compete with the Giant.

  35. phaseunbalance says:

    Sears always offers a fair price on merchandise, if not the cheapest. I like Sears customer service. I’ve bought a lot of expensive products from Sears in the past few years, and I’ve been satisfied with every purchase. Unfortunately, Sears is done. I’ll be sorry to see Sears go out of business, but it’s only a matter of time. Until then, though, I’ll continue shopping there.

    I can’t stand shopping at Walmart. The customer service is awful. Walmart doesn’t stand behind its merchandise. The only low prices are on the low-end junk that I wouldn’t buy anyway. When I eventually find the mid-range items I want, the prices are the same as those offered by every other retailer. Walmart does nothing for my community except drive small businesses out of business.

  36. JLyles says:

    The clear choice here would be Sears/Kmart since they cannot provide the service, services or prices that Walmart can provide.
    One of the only real reasons to choose Walmart would be the fact that when they move into your area, many of the smaller stores that sell the same items eventually go out of business because the smaller business cannot compete with the Giant.

  37. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    Being from the Great White North, it’s been awhile since the last Kmart shut its doors around here. But then again, Kmart has since sunk its weakened fangs on Sears, who still operate up here. Now saying that, Sears has never impressed me as a consumer, and likely never will with their overpriced crap. How they still exist around here amazes me to no end. Wallyworld, however, may be evil in the extreme, but I personally have no ill feelings toward them. If I find myself in one, it’s usually a “I need, I grab, I go” type of experience, with no receipt checking (oh I’m waiting for when Worst Buy comes up in the voting, trust me!) I really have had no qualms about shopping in Wal-mart. Sears, OTOH, is a different kettle of fish. So I voted for Sears on this one.

  38. sahovaman says:

    K-mart for me. In my area, our k-mart looks like a ghetto, their prices are on avg 20% higher than other stores in my area, and their electronics section is abysimal, I’m not paying $600.00 for a 37” 720p tv!!!

  39. Zolcos says:

    It seems Walmart has a pattern of trying to force its employees to work off the clock. Just in this thread we’ve had “we need you to work more but you have too many hours reported” and “you will not be clocked in on time but must start working immediately”. I heard similar stories elsewhere that go more like “your checkout team is in jeopardy for having the lowest transactions per clocked hour”. In all three cases, the obvious solution is to work off the clock so you can meet your “responsibilities” without causing any other problems. Everyone wins, except you! They make sure that they never actually have 1 person literally telling you to work for free, that way you are doing it “willingly” so you have no recourse, but if you don’t take it, then you get the boot.

  40. Thorzdad says:

    Honestly, I’ve just not had any grief with Sears. Their hardware and appliance areas are actually pretty good, and their online shop works damned well, especially the service and parts area. If you’re a homeowner who prefers to do your own repairs and keep your stuff running as long as practical, you can’t do better than Sears.

    As for Walmart…meh.

  41. xanadustc says:

    At least I can buy envelopes at Walmart without them trying to sell me a credit card!! i vote Kmart/Sears as worst, by far…after all, you also can not see the ingrates at those stores, which you can at walmart, and that adds a level of entertainment to your Wallyword trip!

  42. HomerSimpson says:

    Fact of the matter is they BOTH don’t give a damn about customer service. Kmart is already accepted as hopeless so no unrealistic expectations to begin with. Walmart on the other hand. Between constant out-of-stocks on many things (so much for that 21st century logistics), prices that come up wrong, and keep coming up wrong months later, and terminally messy and unkempt stores (“immaculate”? HA!), expectations are somewhat higher for them but they fail at it.

  43. Latentius says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever had any problems with either, really. Even though I come from a small town, there never really were any stores that offered the same kind of products as these that were put out of business.

    All the same, my vote goes for Wal-Mart, not so much for the store itself, but for the customers. They make visiting the store like going to a circus freak show. Heck, there are even websites dedicated to the people of Wal-Mart.

  44. tape says:

    Walmart is singlehandedly destroying the fabric of American society, so Walmart.

  45. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Sears seems rather irrelevant these days, and Walmart has policies that are more customer friendly than just about any other large retailer. I guess I’ll abstain from this one.