Sears, Where “5-Minute Guarantee” Means “We Guarantee To Stop The Clock Before It Reaches 5 Minutes”


Consumerist reader Anna says years of unpleasant experiences have soured her on shopping at Sears. But when she saw the store was selling a 20-inch toolbox for only $9.99 with free in-store pick-up — and a guarantee that she would get that order within five minutes of showing up at the counter of get a $5 coupon — she decided to give the once-great retailer another shot. Oops.

It was easy enough to place the order on and within minutes she had her confirmation e-mail and a notice saying her toolbox was ready to be picked up.

A bit later in the day, she arrived at the Sears store and checked in out the counter, where her name went up on an LCD screen, along with a clock counting the amount of time she’d spent waiting.

A poster near the counter bragged that the store was able to fulfill all customer pick-up withing 5 minutes, and that this Sears had a 99.1% success rate for the month.

If those stats gave Anna any hope that she’d be able to get her toolbox and get out sans hassle, it was soon deflated.

Writes Anna:

Suddenly, as my countdown passed 4 minutes, a store employee emerged and told me that the item I was told is ready for pick-up is not ready for pick0up and he has to go to the store floor to get it.

He then took me off queue, which stopped the ticker at 4:24 and marked my pick-up as complete.

Another 5 minutes elapsed and he finally returned with the toolbox.

Okay, so she had been rooked on the 5-minute guarantee, but at least she had her toolbox, right?

Well, yes and no:

The box had a piece of chewed-up gum stuck to it. When I opened it I noticed that the tray insert was missing. I returned to the merchandise pick-up counter and brought this to the attention of an employee.

At first he denied the existence of a tray until I pointed to him that the label on the front clearly lists it.

He then informed me that it was the last item in store and inquired what I wanted to do about it. I told him I don’t want an incomplete item and want a refund.

He took the toolbox and brought me a 2″ x 2″ receipt which he said I needed to take to the tools section on the other side and different level of the store to get my refund.

Once I got to the tools area, I saw an empty store with a group of 4-6 Sears employees hanging around the register area. One of them asked me why I wanted to get my money back and then even said “Show me where you got the toolbox.”

After explaining for the nth time that I am not going to go through that again and simply want my money back, she began the return process, all the while the group of young and obviously bored Sears employees proceeded to stare at me.

The employee helping me finally punched in the last numbers, pressed print and said “uh-oh.” Apparently, the register had run out of paper and she couldn’t print the receipt. Not only that, but apparently, replacing the paper reel does not permit her to reprint.

The group of employees became lively. Some went to the shelf to try and see where the infamous toolbox once stood. Others began giving suggestions on how to proceed with the register, including but not limited to: printing a ledger, writing a handwritten return receipt, calling an assistant manager, and doing an even exchange for a larger toolbox.

She chose to call an assistant manager, who finally showed up after several store intercom calls. He was not in a good mood and, after complaining about the employee who called him and then about the registers, left without resolution. Another assistant manager was called, not in the least happy about the call, he finally printed the receipt and left.

Of the approximately 10 Sears employees who were there last night, only one offered an apology, and only for the register mishap. It’s despicable that instead of the 5 minutes it should have taken to pick up a simple $10 toolbox, it took me almost an hour to get a crappy store demo with missing pieces and then jump through hoops to try and get my $10.

After this ordeal, Anna tells Consumerist she is finally done with Sears: “It is not worth the aggravation and they have managed to screw up 100% of the orders I have ever placed with them. They even have a clever plan to rig the stats on the 5-minute pick-up guarantee.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    I admire Sears for finding new and inventive ways to not sell people things.

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      Seriously. Sears seems to always be lowering the bar for customer disservice.

      • UberGeek says:

        “Customer Disservice: Because we’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied.” I just love that phrase (from

    • Spaceman Bill Leah says:

      I think it would be amusing, given enough free time and money, to see exactly how many ways Sears can fail at commerce.

      Like, give 10 people enough money to all buy the same thing from Sears and see what happens.

      • bigTrue says:

        Would you mind if I stole this idea? I could do a whole series with major Department stores doing the same thing over and over, showing who was the hardest store to find the item, to get help, to make the purchase online and in person and then do a return with or without a receipt.

        • Spaceman Bill Leah says:

          Knock yourself out. I have neither the funds nor the patience to deal with the nitwits. Of course I expect a cut of any book deal you may get :)

      • frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

        Two thumbs up for your homage.

      • incident_man says:

        That’d be easy: They’d all walk out with nothing.

  2. That guy. says:

    So did she get her $5?

  3. Jimmy37 says:

    I noticed the same thing, too, regarding stopping the clock. They had me sign for it before they brought it out, which stopped the clock.

    • TVGenius says:

      It’s not that uncommon. Fast food employees clear orders all the time when they’re still waiting on one item so as not to hurt their average.

      • iesika says:

        Or, at certain Jack in the Box locations, ask the customer to back up their car to trigger the drive through sensor and pretend to be a new customer while they wait for their delayed order.

  4. samonela says:

    Death watch 2012.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Sears has long been an undead zombie, IMO

  5. TuxMan says:

    Sorry consumer. Considering it’s a $10 item, you just walk away from and never go back. Your time is just not worth it.

  6. u1itn0w2day says:

    Sounds like a floor model with employees more worried about a completed order statistic.

    • DerangedKitsune says:

      Of course they are. Because corporate is more worried about the order times. It’s a new plan, one they can monitor, so they’ll be sitting right on top of it, waiting to ream anyone who does not meet the numbers.

      Fudging the numbers to look good is the most logical thing for stores to do in such a situation. Why bother with the hassel of angry corporate gods?

  7. eldergias says:

    Note to OP for future situations: buy with a credit card and do a charge back if the store is giving you a hassle. You win, the CC wins, and the store loses.

  8. bdgbill says:

    “she is finally done with Sears”

    Welcome to the club Anna! At our next meeting we will be discussing the possibility of merging with the “Done with K-Mart club”

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      K-Marts still exist?!

      • TrustAvidity says:

        Not only that but they’re keeping a WalMart out of my hometown. The city won’t let both be in at once.

        • Conformist138 says:

          Oh that’s great. Only thing better than a shitty big box retailer is a shitty big box retailer with no competition.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          …gonna go out on a limb here and guess the K-Mart is the lesser of those two evils…

      • valthun says:

        Not only do they still exist they control SEARS. Somehow SEARS bought out KMart but KMart took over. And well you see what happened.

        • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

          This is like a fungus being overgrown with mold.

        • rainyday says:

          Its the other way around: Kmart bought Sears in 2004. It then created the name Sears Holdings Company because folks thought Sears had a classier reputation than Kmart. The venture capitalist Edward Lampert first bought Kmart and then used it as leverage to buy Sears.

    • subliminal plastic says:

      Is this club like the Babysitter’s Club?

    • incident_man says:

      Sears…..K-Mart……it’s all the same thing anymore :/

  9. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    Sears just needs to stop trying and accept fate. If we want incompetence, we’ll shop at Wal-Mart.

  10. Golfer Bob says:

    Countdown until the helpful Sears Customer Service-tron monitoring social media posts an “I can help” response to Consumerist…3…2…1…

  11. timwoj says:

    I’m guessing that Sears ties some sort of bonus to that time metric, which causes employees to care about nothing other than meeting the metric.

    • Snapdragon says:

      Obviously. That’s why metrics seem to exist… :-/

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        Good metrics should represent happy customers and good sales. Sears has niether. Typical corporate employee behavior.

        • Velkyr says:

          NPS is a great way to tell custom satisfaction. When I worked at logitech, at the end of the call, if you hadn’t received a survey in the last 30 days, they would receive one. Then, upon completion, it goes not only to corporate to be reviewed (if it’s low), but also my direct supervisor who reviews all of them at the end of the month.

          Because i’m an awesome guy that reads consumerist, my 3 month average was 100% with 30+ NPS surveys/month.

          Then I got laid off as Teletech (Third party call centre that did RMA’s for Logitech) said “Hey, why are we giving these guys like… 11.50/h when we can give the fillipino’s $5/hour instead?” and laid everyone off in May.

          Ah, call centres. Gotta love em

          • incident_man says:

            Same thing happened to me with Dell, only they replaced us with El Salvadorans doing the same job for $1.70/hr. I’d say Logitech got ripped off.

    • Caffinehog says:

      Or more likely, a penalty for NOT meeting this metric. This seems to be a tactic for companies on the way out.

  12. timwoj says:

    I’m guessing that Sears ties some sort of bonus to that time metric, which causes employees to care about nothing other than meeting the metric.

  13. Coffee says:

    The employee actually saved the OP…after five minutes, the walls slide down and the killing robots come out to ensure that the store’s percentage remains unblemished.

  14. c152driver says:

    Note to managers: This is what happens when you punish your employees for not meeting your made up metrics.

    • retailriter says:

      You’re wrong, the company does not reward those employees for meeting the metrics.

      It punishes them for not meeting the metrics.

      The employees are just doing what they have to do with what little they have to work with.

    • retailriter says:

      You’re wrong, the company does not reward those employees for meeting the metrics.

      It punishes them for not meeting the metrics.

      The employees are just doing what they have to do with what little they have to work with.

  15. El_Cheapocabra says:

    Consistency: It’s only a virtue if you’re not a screwup.

  16. Blueskylaw says:

    Corporate executives should be required to work undercover at a store for at least 3 months before they come up with policies that don’t work in the real world. They need to learn that human nature is involved in all decisions and it’s this human nature that should be taken into consideration when making storewide policy.

    • Bort says:

      Unfortunately this is not enough to fix the problem, they need to work at the store for 3 months after every new policy change, because in my experience the higher up you go, the quicker you forget how reality works. This would also prevent new policies springing up every week since the executive would not be able to handle being on the the floor 365 days a year.

    • Sarek says:

      Sears would never participate in “Undercover Boss.”
      1. CEO doesn’t care.
      2. Sears would be shown in such a bad light that their 3 remaining customers would stop buying there.
      3. Undercover Boss at least pretends that Boss does care and will take steps to fix the company’s problems. Such a program would show the CEO laughing at screwed customers, high-fiving indifferent and incompetent employees, and probably napping instead of working undercover.

  17. dolemite says:

    Oh this reminds me of the time I bought a weight set on Sears online and…nah, I’m not going to repeat that story. I’m sure everyone is groaning “Not the ‘Dolemite weight set at Sears’ story again, which is 99% identical to the OP’s post, and he repeats every time there is a negative Sears story involving online orders picked up at the store.

  18. some.nerd says:

    I wonder why this chain is going under?

  19. HeySuburbia says:

    I love the comment about the 4 – 6 Sears employees just standing around. EVERY single time I’m in a Sears I see the exact same thing.

    • Gorbachev says:

      What else are they going to do? Nobody’s visiting the stores (other than masochists).

      • incident_man says:

        I wouldn’t exactly say that. Before the one near me closed down, I used to visit it solely for a source of humour. Granted, I didn’t buy anything. I didn’t have to; all I had to do was stroll around and observe.

    • Costner says:

      Me three.

      What is even better is that there is a line of customers wanting to actually buy things, and the three men behind the counter cannot collectively figure out a way to operate both of the registers in that particular area. I have witnessed this so many times – I’m just waiting for Aston Kutcher to jump out and tell me I’m being Punk’d.

      That store is a joke. At this point I’m putting them neck and neck with Best Buy as to who has the worst customer experience of all big box stores.

      • icerabbit says:

        So, I’m not the only one who’s had two or three staff members try to operate a register??? Needing to do things over and over?? Then call, try again, … come up with some kind of override … all to buy something on sale? Or pick up an internet order?

    • Daggertrout says:

      I don’t think I’ve even seen 4-6 employees at Sears total. They’re worse than Home Depot.

    • BBBB says:

      “…4 – 6 Sears employees just standing around…”

      My local Sears must be an exception. While we have the 4 – 6 Sears employees just standing around, when you need service they are actually helpful and polite.

      Unfortunately, they cannot fix the Sears corporate problems so they usually end up apologizing for the inconvenience. I’d love to support the local store, but the corporation makes that impossible.

  20. Such an Interesting Monster says:

    Poor Anna, how will she ever go on?

  21. Zclyh3 says:

    You know I shop at Sears many times as I buy lots of tools from them. I’ve had this EXACT situation happen to me on many occasions.

    I had a worker at the Southland Mall store stop the clock at 4 minutes when he was still assisting another customer since he had to load up an item. I then had to wait 3-4 more minutes until I actually got the product.

    The 5 minute guarantee should be simple: You can only stop the clock once I have the item IN MY HANDS. Until then, you have no right to stop the clock for ANY reason until I have the product.

    Even if that means you have to run through the entire damn store, you have 5 minutes of my time the SECOND I scan my order for pick up.

  22. Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

    Well, it’s definitely a 5-minute guarantee for pissing you off.

  23. shufflemoomin says:

    I get the feeling she’ll go back. She did it this time, so how long before she sees another offer she wants and is stupid enough to go back for more? I bet she doesn’t last 12 months.

  24. Hollasa says:

    What happens if people request to be put on queue again? “I’m sorry, you’ve just stopped that clock but I don’t have my product. Please turn the timer back on again.”

  25. rick1172 says:

    Why bother going online to place an order for in-store pickup ? I was there in the hardware dept. yesterday considering that very same toolbox – they had plenty of them . What’s so difficult about just going to the hardware dept. , grab sale item , take to register, pay ?

    • George4478 says:

      I got a garage door opener through in store pickup. It was about $40 cheaper than just grabbing it off the shelf. Same shelf, same box, lower price.

    • George4478 says:

      I got a garage door opener through in store pickup. It was about $40 cheaper than just grabbing it off the shelf. Same shelf, same box, lower price.

  26. coldwatersrundeep says:

    Three cheers for Sears. I would go to the top of the food chain in Sears and see what the new CEO thought about this, since he once worked at Apple.

  27. Bort says:

    This is the kind of thing that happens when you believe that customer service can be optimized by an imposed system instead of understanding a script or system can’t account for every variable in the real world, and punishing your employees for living in that real world.

  28. DrPizza says:

    Hmmm, if I’m bored, I might attempt this and videotape the entire transaction on a smart phone. Then, when they stop the clock prematurely, take them to small claims court for my $5. (Even though I’d lose out on the fees to file against them.)

    • ColoradoShark says:

      If they lose, they also have to pay all the fees associated with your filing. So, go for it!

  29. frankrizzo:You're locked up in here with me. says:

    I’m sorry but I must’ve hit the Daily Double. I’ve had nothing good to say about both Sears AND Best Buy.

  30. jpdanzig says:

    This latest Sears screw-up is simply pathetic, as is their obviously meaningless 5-minute guarantee. The company really needs to die sooner than later…

  31. icerabbit says:

    Been there done that. You’re guaranteed to get help in 5 minutes. The last time I did it, it took 5 min for someone to show up and a half hour before I left the place with my order, due to needing extra staff & a forklift etc.

  32. ja says:

    I’m not surprised Sears tried to change the definition of “on time.” because years ago I couldn’t get a product repaired or replaced under warranty. So I asked for a refund under the famous Sears guarantee of satisfaction or your money back, but the dept. manager refused, claiming I was satisfied with the product.

  33. Mark702 says:

    Lesson: don’t shop at Sears. Ever.

  34. Zclyh3 says:

    I’m at Sears right now and I have a great follow up to this story with pictures. This should be fun.

  35. nearly_blind says:

    I tried ordering online from Sears for store pickup only once 2 years ago and learned my lesson. Ordered, recieved email that item was ready. Went to store, item was not ready and not really in stock. From what the manager said the “ready” notification doesn’t mean that the item is set aside for you, only that their system thinks the store should have one, and when you go to pick it up they will look for it.

  36. jeffpiatt says:

    well the system would work if only the staff weren’t allowed to cheat. they get punished for letting the timer run out so they will stop the clock early if they know it will take longer.

  37. CalicoGal says:

    This reminds me of the story I saw (probably here) a while back about Burger King and their high service level at the Drive-Thru when what they did was to stop the clock and close out the order after sending the customer over to the “Wait Here” parking spots…

    • drjayphd says:

      That happens all the time. I’d like to think that back in high school, when I worked at Boston Market, I was the only person in recorded history to not try that tactic, as I only asked people to pull up when we were actually in the process of cooking whatever they wanted.

      (It probably didn’t hurt that the drive-thru lane was about 1.000001 cars wide.)

  38. DriveByLurker says:

    As another Consumerist poster explained in another thread, Sears is now an elaborate anti-capitalist/absurdist guerilla theater prank dedicated to making a mockery of traditional notions of commerce. Once you understand this new guiding principle, the seeming chaos become a coherent scheme, and you can understand exactly why your transaction is never going to be possible.

  39. ToddMU03 says:

    Did he say: “Death is but a door. Time is but a window. I’ll be back.”

  40. mcshaggin says:

    I love their 5 minute policy. The two Sears near me have signs that say call this number and tell them what spot you’re in. So I tried calling one day and it just rings and rings. The sign under says do not leave vehicle or it may be towed. I went in and would have sued them if they towed my car.