This is why Sears’ problems are a customer service disaster

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By Christopher Elliott

The end of Sears is a customer service disaster. Sears’ problems are piling up faster than I can answer them as the once-dominant retailer heads toward a possible liquidation.

In case you missed it, Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October and has accelerated the pace at which it’s shutting down stores. The outlook is not only grim for the company but also for its customers.

I know because we hear from them every day. We’re getting hammered by requests from Sears customers who seem unaware that the retailer is closing down many stores and may not survive. They’re calling customer service numbers that are not answered, and they are having problems with warranties and merchandise.

Bottom line: buying from Sears is like shopping at a flea market. Here today, gone tomorrow. This is a customer service disaster waiting to happen. (Related: Can I get a refund for this Sears gift card?)

Customer service disaster #1: That’s not a Christmas tree!

Consider what happened to Heather Williams when she bought what she thought was a plastic Christmas tree from a Sears store that was closing down.

“Today, my son opened the box and there was no tree — just a bunch of shoes and clothes,” she says. “When I called the customer service they told me they could not do anything. All sales are final.”

Williams just wanted her $128 back or an actual Christmas tree, but Sears wouldn’t help.

True, Sears has a generous return policy for items bought in its stores. But when a store goes out of business, it hires a liquidation specialist that tries to get top dollar for the remaining merchandise. These specialists operate under a different set of rules, which it discloses with the “ALL SALES ARE FINAL” signs.

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Sadly, there was nothing my advocacy team could do to get a tree or a refund for Williams. The store and liquidators were long gone by the time she asked us for help.

Lesson learned? Always, always inspect the merchandise before you leave the store.

Customer service disaster #2: Should I cash that check?

Here’s another cautionary tale, which comes to us by way of Gregory Popp. He bought a Kenmore refrigerator from Sears in 2016.

“In July, it stopped working,” he says. “A couple of weeks ago, after numerous visits by technicians, and roughly $1,000 in parts and labor, they finally determined it was unrepairable.” Does this sound familiar?

Sears blamed “the factory” for the problem. It sent Popp to the warranty division, which offered a paltry $500 voucher for his troubles.

“They will not budge from the ridiculous $500 voucher they are offering me to replace the refrigerator, which I assume is only good at a Sears store,” says Popp.

What to do about this Sears problem? (Related: Why do these Kenmore washer lids suddenly shatter?)

Well, assuming Popp wants another Kenmore refrigerator (and that’s a big “if”) then now is the time to grab it. If Sears goes under, the $500 voucher will be worthless.

That applies to any compensation offer made by Sears. If you’re holding a check from the company, cash it now. If Sears liquidates, it won’t be worth the paper on which it’s printed.

Customer service disaster #3: Sears runs from its customers

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, Sears seems to be hiding from its customers as it dies. We list the executive customer service contacts on our site. They’re updated frequently by our research director, John Galbraith, and his team.

So it came as a surprise that we received an email from someone purporting to represent Sears — and I say “purporting” because she contacted us through a generic email address — informing us we had the wrong guy.

“You have Michael Coon listed as the point of contact for handling customer complaints,” she wrote. “This is not correct.”

“Not sure who provided you with this information,” she added. “You are creating misdirected emails to a person who does not handle this type of feedback.”

I realize I’m repeating myself, but we list all of the executives in charge of customer service on the site. Coon is the director of Sears’ contact center customer experience and optimization, according to his LinkedIn profile.

“I would like to provide you with points of contact into [sic] Sears for who members may escalate into [sic],” she added. “Members may reach out to contact us through – Customer Service. We have teams in this group that specialize in assisting members in resolution.

“Please remove Michael Coon, Rob Baker and Greg Ladley; and list me as the point of contact,” she said.

Yeah — no.

We may add the mysterious Yahoo person if we can verify her identity. But we cannot — and will not — allow the Sears execs to delete themselves from the internet. Not at a time like this, not ever.

So, to recap: Sears stores are selling shoddy products (if you can even call them that), and its vouchers and checks may soon be worthless. Its executives are running for the hills.

You know what they say about a customer service disaster like this? Avoid a Sears problem. Buyer beware!

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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