It wasn’t that long ago that the Sears name actually stood for quality, service and all those other buzz words you hear in TV commercials. When people ask “What happened?,” it’s easy to point to the growth of big-box competitors like Walmart and Target, but that doesn’t paint the full picture of why the once-iconic Sears brand is now considered second-tier by many shoppers.
That’s where first-hand stories, like this one from Consumerist reader Alex, fill in the details, showing just how badly Sears has slipped in recent years.
See, Alex had bought a Craftsman lawnmower at Sears last August and used it four or five times before draining the fuel and putting it up for the winter.
Last Saturday, he went to do his first mowing of 2012, only to be greeted by a lawnmower that would not wake from hibernation.
“I tried 3 different plugs, including a trip to the store for a new one, and checked over the filters and hoses for dirt,” writes Alex.
After a couple of hours of fiddling did nothing to resurrect his relatively new lawnmower, he made the 25-minute drive to the Sears repair center.
This weekend, he went to pick up the mower and that’s when his day of banging his head against the Sears wall began.
The Sears repair center was an “absolute mess,” says Alex. “There are probably 40-50 people packed in a small space waiting and people are getting nasty with each other since the room is too small to form any sort of a line… There are 4 people behind the counter who are working their asses off, but the phone is ringing nonstop while I’m there and it’s not answered once.”
He eventually got up to the front and was told to back his truck up to the loading dock, where there are only two slots for customer pick-up.
As soon as the Sears employee brings out Alex’s mower, another customer gets the staffer’s attention over some dispute involving bad service and a desired refund.
“Knowing I wasn’t going to get help loading my mower, I loaded it myself, and knowing I was in the only spot at the pick-up dock likely to open up anytime soon, I left,” says Alex.
At home, he unwrapped the mower only to find the ignition key had gone missing. The
pull cord still works so Alex was at least able to confirm that the repairs had been made.
But he’d paid for a key-start mower and how difficult could it be to get a replacement key?
Alex’s timeline of the rest of his afternoon shows you how complicated it is just to find out if he could get a replacement key:
12:15pm – 12:45pm – I try the phone at the repair center at least 10 times, getting either busy signals or endless ringing.
12:45pm -I try the Sears 800 number. They suggest I contact the repair center directly. Very helpful.
12:55pm – 1:05pm – Since there’s a Sears location closer to my home than the repair center, I figured that I might just buy a replacement key to avoid further hassle. I get on sears.com to see if I can find out the price of a replacement key and whether or not it might be in stock at the nearest sears. I determine the website is utterly useless, since “lawnmower key” brings up a million results for items not actually sold by sears…
1:05pm – I try calling the closest Sears. The computer-based answering service asks me what I want. I say “lawnmowers” and a minute later, I’m connected to the washing machine department. The woman at washing machines tries to transfer me to lawnmowers, and somehow I’m transferred back to washers. The second time she attempts to transfer me, the call is disconnected.
1:15pm – I try again. This time I say “lawn and garden” but after the computer system, I’m put on hold and after about 5 minutes and the call is disconnected.
1:20pm – I try a third time. This time I ask for customer service. I get forwarded to the 800 number somehow, and the person that picks me up does manage to connect me to the customer service desk at the store.
I explain my story briefly and the woman takes down my phone number and says she’ll walk right over to the mowers and find out my answer and call me back right away. I’m still waiting for that call 50+ hours later.
1:30pm – After not hearing back from the local Sears, I try the repair center again a couple more times with the same results. I finally resolve myself to driving back over.
2:00pm – I’m back at the repair center, and fortunately the line has died down, so I’m at the counter in 5 minutes. I am told they can only file a claim with a home office and eventually my key will be mailed out to me.
I expected no more, but if only a technology existed where I could have a conversation with a person at the repair center without having to drive over and talk to them face-to-face…
2:15pm – On the way home, since it isn’t much out of my way, I stopped at the local Sears. I walk to the lawnmower department (which amazingly does exist), and the person there couldn’t be more helpful. I walk out with a 2 pack of keys for $5.
“It’s a shame, because a few specific employees seemed to be perfectly decent and knowledgeable people, but the company as a whole is fundamentally broken,” says Alex. “Their phone system and website are not even remotely effective on any level, and their repair center is grossly understaffed, not to mention not at all a repair center. All work is sent out – none is done in house, and they stock virtually no parts based on the many
conversations I listened to while in line of people trying to buy $10 parts, only to be charged $12 shipping on top of the part price and to expect their part in 10-15 days.”
Alex’s problem should have been easily resolved with a single phone call. At the very least, when he showed up at the repair center, he should have been able to buy that two-pack of keys there. The fact that so few employees know how to deal with a simple request — or apparently how to transfer a phone call — is indicative of systemic problems that do not bode well for a retailer struggling to compete against everyone from Amazon to Walmart.
UPDATE: Alex writes in with the following postscript to his tale:
A Sears social media representative replied with a comment to contact them in the comments for my story yesterday afternoon. I sent in an email and the Sears social media case manager just called me about the lawnmower fiasco. He listened to the whole story and was very apologetic and said the store will be contacted about the phone problems. I am going to be reimbursed for the key I had to buy Saturday, and the warranty on my lawnmower will be extended for 2 years.
I’m happy I was actually able to get my story through to someone who can possibly make a difference in regard to these problems, because I know I was not the only person frustrated with the repair center, and I know other people are obviously going to have problems with their phone system problems, since I did multiple times over. It was nice to have *someone* be accountable in the Sears organization.