Saturday, July 22, 2006


Here’s another reason to shop local, or at least to stay away from buying online — and another one of those customer-service nightmares that seem to happen only to me (although I know that cannot be true). It’s also, finally, a warning for anyone buying from

I made that mistake and, following instructions on the back of my receipt, went to the Sears at CambridgeSide Galleria yesterday to return my online purchase, a swimsuit, and get my credit card reimbursed. The instructions were simple: Bring that credit card, the receipt, the swimsuit and packaging. No problem. The swimsuit never even came out of the packaging.

At Sears, though, I was told there was a problem. I was required to bring a printed e-mail holding a confirmation number — something not mentioned, obviously, on the return instructions on the receipt. I pointed this out more than a dozen times over the course of the next hour or so as I climbed the hierarchy of sales clerk, manager and, via telephone, Sears and representatives and their respective managers and managers’ managers.

The conversations all began with a Sears worker explaining that this e-mail — back home on my computer — was necessary to the reimbursement process. I would read them their own return instructions from the receipt sent me with the swimsuit. They would reply, “Yes, but we need the confirmation number on the e-mail.” I would repeat that the return instructions said nothing about this. They would reply, “Yes, but we need the confirmation number on the e-mail.” The warning about the return process is also visible on the Web site at some point, I was told, but this proves or resolves nothing. If Sears really wants an e-mail confirmation number, it can say so on its receipt instructions as well as online or in an e-mail.

After all, consider the process: I go to, find item, buy item, wait for item to arrive in the mail. When the item arrives on time, I have no reason to go looking back online or in my e-mail. When the item arrives with return instructions printed on the back of the receipt, I get a brand-new reason not to go looking back online or in my e-mail. If I had, isn’t it just as reasonable to conclude that the paper instructions are correct and the electronic wrong as it is to assume the electronic instructions are correct and the paper wrong?

“Yes, but,” they said, “we need the confirmation number on the e-mail.”

Finally, a Sears representative offered a way out: The store could give me a gift card for that amount.

This is retailers’ favorite way of dealing with complaints: “We’re sorry eating our product poisoned you, causing you a week of severe gastric distress. Here is a coupon for more of our product.” But I wasn’t eager to go shopping at Sears again. I insisted that a gift card was an inadequate and unacceptable response to my problem. Another impasse.

Finally, I asked if the store could cash out my gift card. The Sears representative on the telephone said yes, if the store agreed to — never mind that the store manager had called this representative looking for a solution to the impasse. But the store manager agreed to cash out the gift card. Problem solved, in much the same way Jack Nicholson almost got his wheat toast in “Five Easy Pieces,” by ordering a chicken salad sandwich with no chicken salad.

We went upstairs. The Sears manager processed the gift card and an immediate gift card reimbursement. She put the reimbursement, it turns out, on my credit card.


eric said...

Drive to Freeport in the middle of the night. Works every time.


Michael Scott Moore said...

E-mail trouble -- including a problem with your cambridgeday address, Marc -- is keeping me from announcing this to my friends in Boston, so I'll do it like this for now:

Radio Free Mike has moved! Change your links:

Anonymous said...

Maybe this you should title this "Brought to Sears"?

Anonymous said...

Or, "Bored to Sears"?

Scape7 said...

Those are excellent, although the experience was far from boring. Come to think of it, I did feel a sharp pain boring its way through my skull. It was, in fact, a sharp, Searing pain.