What happened after I emailed Sears

Earlier today, I posted about what I went through with ordering a vacuum cleaner from Sears.com.  My first inclination was to just call the store.   But I wanted to make sure that I got everything down and with as little emotion as possible.  I can do that better with email than over the phone.  I wasn’t 100% successful with keeping my emotions out of the message, but I think I accurately conveyed the experience that I went through.

After a little bit of searching with Google, I found the email address of the CEO of Sears, Aylwin Lewis.  I figured if I sent it there, the executive assistant that would handle the email would send it the right person at the store.  That’s not exactly what happened.  Mr. Lewis did read it and took action on it.

When I came home from work, I had a message from the district manager for Sears.  He called me back later in the evening and it was a very positive conversation.  He apologized for what happened with Sears.com and for what I went through with the salesman.  He told me that Mr. Lewis had forwarded my message to the nine regional vice-presidents.  They were concerned over the melt-down at Sears.com, and they wanted to address the problem with the sales staff.  They were well aware of the Sears.com melt-down, but having their own sales people bad mouth their Internet portal was something they were not aware of.

I was bit shocked by all of the attention, but I think it shows that they do care about the customer experience.  From what I saw and was told, the Sears.com site was unable to handle the load from the holiday shopping.  That’s the easy problem to fix.  Their site just didn’t scale.  You can fix that with more hardware or by tuning the existing hardware and/or software.

The other problem was the one that really bothered me and is why I sent out the email.  That was the experience that I went through when I tried to buy a vacuum out in the appliance department.  That’s a harder problem to fix, but the district manager (Mark) made it clear that he was going to personally look into it.   I have to give credit to Mark, and the people he works for.  They did listen when I complained.  And he did offer me a small gift to make up for what I went through.  It wasn’t necessary, but I do appreciate it.  I really think they intend on fixing the problem with the salesmen.

How not to handle Black Friday: Sears.com

On Saturday I was vacuuming when I noticed a burning smell coming from the vacuum cleaner.  It wasn’t the burning rubber smell you get when the belt gets caught on something, this was coming from the motor.  This was the Saturday after Black Friday, so if an appliance is going to go, this would be a good day to replace it.

My wife wanted a Sears Kenmore canister vacuum, so I loaded up Sears.com and started searching.  They had the one she wanted for $100 off.  I had the option of ordering online with in-store pickup.  Great!  I could avoid the crowds and just show up at the merchandise pickup counter.  When I placed the order, they took 10% off the sales price for some on-line promotion that was due to expire in a few hours.

While placing the order, I was notified that I would receive an email within two hours.  The email would have a barcode that I could use at the automated station that Sears uses when you pick up an order.  I could also use my credit card to pick up the order.  Two hours seemed like an excessive amount of time, so I took the kids to Five Rivers (a local nature preserve) for a few hours.  On the way back from Five Rivers, I stopped at the house and checked my email, nothing from Sears.  I decided to head into Sears anyway to pickup the vacuum.  Before I left, I printed out the order confirmation page for the vacuum.  My daughters (5 & 7) came along for the ride.

Before I left my house, I dialed the 800 number for Sears.com to check on the status from my cell phone. I left the phone on speaker more and headed to Sears.  I was on hold for the 20 minutes it took to drive to Sears.  When I pulled into a parking space, I finally got a human being.  He asked me a couple of questions and put me back on hold into the general hold queue.  At that point, I hung up.

I went into the Merchandise Pickup area and waved my credit card into the scanner.  Nothing came up.  One of the employees came over and asked if I needed assistance.  I explained what I did and he took my printout over to Kevin, the Merchandise Pickup Manager.  Kevin explained that Sears.com was having problems and no one else who had place orders for pickup through Sears.com had received their confirmation email.

Kevin tried calling Sears.com to see if he could get order information, but he was unable to get through.  Since they had plenty of the vacuums in stock, he suggested that I buy one while I was in Sears and then cancel the order when the conformation email finally came in.  He gave me his direct cell phone number and promised to expedite the order cancellation.

We walked over to where they sell the vacuums and I saw the one that I wanted.  Within seconds a salesman came over and started telling how good that model was.  I explained that I had ordered that model through Sears.com and the order was stuck in the system.  I tole the salesman that I would like to buy another one for the same price and I would have the order cancelled.

At that point the salesman had a serious attitude change.  He told me that I had wasted my time on Sears.com and I should have bought the vacuum here at Sears.  He then told me that I would not get the 10% off because he didn’t have the authority to do so.  I suggested (politely) that he should get someone with that authority.  He waved a manager over, all the while still telling me how wrong I was for buying the vacuum online.  Usually I tune that kind stuff out, but my kids were clearly bothered by it.

The manager came over and took my confirmation printout and started punching some buttons on the register.  While he did not say much to me, he was not cordial and I felt very uncomfortable.  The salesman made one more crack about my wasting time on Sears.com and I decided to end the process right there.

I told the manager and the salesman that I had had enough and I was not buying the vacuum.  The manager pretty much ignored me and continued to put the order into the register.  I walked up to him and asked for my printout back.  He made a dismissive comment that he was almost done.  I reached for the printout from his hand and he refused to let go.  At this point I said that I was leaving and please let go my printout.  At that point, he finally let go and I walked out of Sears with my young daughters in tow.

This Sears is one the anchor tenants of the Colonie Center mall and since we were already down here, I decided to make the most of it.  The girls had fun looking at the Christmas decorations and I bought them some hot pretzels.

The way back to our car was through Sears and we had to walk past the Merchandise Pickup department.  I figured I would give it another shot, since we were going by it.  I waved my card by the machine again, still no sign of my order.  Another employee came up and offered to look up my order on their computer.  I explained what I went through earlier and that it wasn’t worth looking it up.  A manager came over and they mentioned that I could buy another one and then cancel the first order.

I then explained what happened with the salesman that they were shocked.  They said they could ring up the order right on the spot and at the price I paid online.  Then they asked for details on the salesman that I spoke to earlier.  They promised to look into that for me and I got my vacuum and went home.

The next day I called Sears.com and after 20 minutes on hold, I spoke to a representative.  I gave here my order number and she said that the order was now canceled and gave me an order cancellation number.  I figured that we were done.

The next day (2 days after the placing the order), I get an email from Sears.com notifying me that my vacuum was ready to be picked up.  I called Sears.com and after 15 minutes on hold, a representative took my order number and then hung up on me.  I called back and 10 minutes later, got yet another representative.  She explained that Sears.com could not cancel the order, it had to be done by the store where the pickup was scheduled.  I gave her my cancellation order number and she told me that it just means that I have requested an order cancellation, but they couldn’t cancellation.  I asked her what the point was with the issuing of the cancellation number, and she told me that was to keep track of the cancellation request.  Basically, they could take and log the request, they just were not going to do anything about it.

I called the number that Kevin (the merchandise pickup manager) and within seconds I was speaking with Kevin.  I gave him the information from the confirmation email, and after a few minutes of struggling with the computers on his end, Kevin was able to cancel the original order.   While Kevin was trying to cancel the order, an email comes in from Sears.com.  It included the following text:

Thank you for shopping at Sears.com. We are experiencing a delay in sending order confirmations due to the volume of orders received during the Thanksgiving holiday. Please be assured we have received and are processing your order.

An hour later, I got another message stating that the order had been canceled.  I was amazed by what I went through.  I had placed the order for pickup through Sears.com because I thought it would save time.  It was Thanksgiving weekend and I though the salesmen would be very busy.  The staff working at the Merchandise Pickup counter were polite and helpful.  I can not say the same for the sales staff or the people who answer the phone at Sears.com.   I doubt that I will ever use Sears.com again.

[Update]

After posting this earlier, I decided to email this text Sears.  It did get a reaction, and it appears a positive one.  I wrote about it in the post that comes right after this one.

Digital versus paper books

Charles Petzold has a good point about the digital versus paper books debate.  Digital books are great when you first get them, but how are you going to read them 25 years from now?  How many people reading this have computer gadgets from 1982 that still work?  Can you read the disk from 1982 circa IBM PC?  I know I don’t have any 5.25 in floppy drives anymore.

Even if you still have the e-book on a CD-ROM in 2052, good luck trying to read it.   The CD-ROM format should still be readable 25 years from now because the size of the disc seems to work for most people.  The problem will be that nothing will be able to handle the DRM encoded in the e-book.  Google pulled the plug on it’s Internet-based DRM system last August, after a year of use.

There are times that I liked having an e-book reader.  A few years back, I got a Viewsonic V37 Pocket PC as part of a MSDN promotion.  One the applications that was pre-installed was Microsoft Reader.  I was able to find a large variety of books in the Microsoft LIT format and it was easy to create Reader files using a MS Word plugin.  When we went to China to adopt Laura, I had a bunch of books on my V37 to read and it took a lot less space to pack.  But that was the exception, not the norm.

On the other hand, you have to deal with battery life, not a problem historically associated with printed books.  Battery life on my V37 was pretty horrible, 3-5 hours of sustained Reader usage.  That’s not very useful on a 9 hour plane ride.  I managed to find a little gadget that would power my V37 from a 9V battery, that basically tripled the battery life.

Reading at the beach is something I like to do.  You just can’t do that with a digital book reader.  First of all, you can’t read one of those screens in bright sunlight.  You also have to worry about dropping it into the sand (not a good idea) or into the ocean (warranty killer). 

How many times can you drop a paper book before it breaks?  I no longer use my V37 because it was not immune from the effects of gravity.  My daughter dropped it and the fall from the height of a three year old (at the time) was enough of a shock to permanently shut off my Pocket PC.

What would be a great use for an e-book reader would be being able to rent from one from the local library and fill it up with books from the library.  If I was going on vacation, I would pay $15 to $20 to rent one for a week with 5 to 10 books in it.  It’s not much different than getting a bunch of books on cd audio from the library and ripping them to your iPod (except the e-book rental would be legal). 

Sony has been trying to play in this market for years with their Reader Digital Book.  I have yet to see one of the Sony devices out in the wild.  Amazon has the resources to sell a huge number of Kindles to libraries at greatly discounted prices.  They would make it over time with the e-book sales.  Plus it more people will use one if they can try it for a small fee.  They cost $400 now.  For that kind of money, you can get a cheap laptop and Adobe Acrobat Reader on it.  Come on Amazon, you know what you have to do. 

[thanks to Julie for her post about Petzold]