Monthly Archives: February 2010

Shopping, Sears and Me

I love to shop. I’m talking about reason to live, first thing you think about in the morning, when can I go again love! I guess that is why I have been a retail analyst most of my adult life. So I consider shopping, retail, the shopping ambiance, the retail experience, whatever we call it these days since the recession, I consider these my avocation and my vocation. I am an expert!

My mother imparted this love to me, as is the case with most girls. It is imprinted on us like little ducks from an early age, this need to gather, to get the prettiest, most current, loveliest shoes, sweaters, pants, skirts, purses, that we can afford. And as a corollary, there are certain shopping rules, again imparted by our mothers. For example, my childhood in an upper middle class suburb of Chicago, taught me that there were only a few department stores where we were allowed to shop for clothes: Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott. WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO STEP FOOT INTO SEARS! Now I know this is deathly un-PC and there were not a boatload of clothes to be had at Sears back then, no “softer side of Sears,” still we were not allowed to step foot into the store on a girls shopping trip.

When I became a retail analyst, that had to change, but I still have the “No Sears” song in my head.  As most of us know, Sears has done quite a bit in the last ten years to deserve my scorn. They have made many decisions, none of them based on being a great retailer. Considering the ruthless competitive landscape in retail, it’s a miracle that Kmart (who now owns Sears) has survived. Tough rivals in the discount segment abound, including WalMart Stores, Target, and Costco. All three of these behemoths have much stronger brands and customer loyalty than either Sears or Kmart. And regardless of whether hedge fund manager and Sears chairman Eddie Lampert is involved — his mere presence often seems to make some investors consider Sears’ future as a hedge fund, not a retailer — Sears and Kmart both lost their brand luster many years back.

Why am I blogging about Sears today? One thing Sears had going for it way back when was its great brand of appliances, ease of shopping for them, great repair service and service contracts. They were vertically integrated. So all of our appliances are from Sears and they are for the most part, work horses. But when they break, it has been a tear-your-hair-out nightmare to get an appointment for service. We had a minor part break on our refrigerator this summer and it took six visits to get it fixed because they kept sending the wrong part or the service man didn’t show up at the appointed time or they had to cancel or some other excuse that never made sense. It didn’t bother me too much because the refrigerator still worked, although it was very funny to receive a white door for the unit when the refrigerator is stainless steel! (Doors are very big and bulky to mail!)

The last appliance to break was the clothes dryer. I called to schedule an appointment to get it fixed and knew it was going to be a nightmare, but we bought the service contract so we are on the hook with Sears. The agent at the scheduling center told me I had to wait three weeks. I told him that was unacceptable, at which point he pretty much told me to go “F” myself, that I could take it or leave it, that they had no complaint department, he had no supervisor and if he was in my position he would just leave it alone. So I called a local service to fix the problem and sent Sears the bill with a letter of explanation, a very rational letter, and enclosed the repair bill. I fully expected nothing, but I felt better doing it.

Two months later, my husband got a call (in fact now 4 calls) from Sears. He referred the first caller to me. They told me they were extremely sorry for the way I was treated, but they had no control over their repair servicing arm, which of course, they don’t. He told me he would be sending a check for $18.75 for parts (the bill in fact was $100) and that they would be sending me a $50 Sears gift card for my trouble. Will this make me ever consider Sears again for anything? This is called “customer mop-up.”

So here I was with a $50 gift card for a store that I now had multiple reasons not to shop. I tried to force myself into our local store three times before I finally made it. So what was my experience this time, with the 2010 “softer side of Sears?”

I was sad to see that Sears lived down to my expectations. With so many category killers doing a superb job in their niche, they just didn’t do anything well. They didn’t own the “cheap chic” category, they didn’t own the “cheap/inexpensive” category, and oh my god, the quality of the soft goods was abhorrent!

So they have stuck with the warning from my childhood, “NEVER SHOP AT SEARS!” The store carried cheaply made goods (soft and hard), mostly unattractive, AND FOR A PREMIUM PRICE!!!! .

Why would anyone shop at Sears?

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