On Aug. 27 I ordered a treadmill online from Sears.com. It seemed like a pretty good deal for a Sole F80.
Ironically, given what was to follow, I picked Sears because of its delivery policy: for a $100 extra, Sears would carry the treadmill up one flight of stairs and assemble it. There were better or equal prices online, but not from companies that did their own delivery (I wanted one company responsible for the whole transaction), or would do stairs; one other company would sell me the same model for the same price, but wanted more than double for the install. So Sears, at least on that day, offered the best deal. Consumer Reports liked the model, and I figured it would pay for itself in a couple years of gym memberships, and be far more convenient too.
I wanted the treadmill in my upstairs bedroom, but the same heart condition that makes a brisk walk the only exercise my doctor permits me also means I can’t lift up anything heavy. So I needed the delivery and setup. We scheduled delivery for the next Saturday ($10 extra) so I wouldn’t have to risk missing something at work. Although I have some flexibility in my day, Sears won’t promise a particular delivery window more than a day in advance and there didn’t seem to be any way to choose one. I didn’t want them to pick a time I had a class or a meeting. The next day Sears charged my credit card for the treadmill, for the delivery, and for the Saturday delivery supplement.
A few days before the Sept 1 delivery Sears robocalled me to confirm someone over 18 would be home on Saturday. The robot said it would call me again on Friday night to tell me what time the delivery would be. That’s not ideal – it means you can’t plan to do anything else all day, but I did want the treadmill. And on Friday evening the robot called back to say delivery would be between 9-11. We got up early to move the dining table and the heavy sofa to clear a path to the staircase and to make the bed so the room would look nice for the delivery people. That’s a bigger issue than it sounds – we have to get up at 6:15 on workdays to get our son to school, and we really really like to sleep a bit later on weekends. Ever since my operation I find that it’s much more important to get that extra sleep, or I really don’t feel as good or work as well. But I wanted the treadmill.
Eleven o’clock on Saturday, Sept. 1 came and went. I called Sears to find out what was happening. The truck is running late, I was told, but it will be there soon. And indeed, a few minutes later a truck pulled up and two friendly guys, one of whom even spoke English, came in the house to survey the route to the bedroom where I wanted the treadmill, where a rubber treadmill mat awaited. Looking at the stairs, the delivery guys announced that it looked like a tight fit, and it would be better to open the box outside the house, take up the two big pieces separately, and then assemble the treadmill upstairs. I was fine with that. They lowered the large box on the truck’s tail lift and opened up the box. The treadmill was all smashed up, as if someone had taken a giant machete to it front and center, or maybe dropped it from several feet.
Having read many online horror stories about how hard it is to schedule treadmill repair, and generally believing that it would be nice to have the new and undamaged unit I’d paid for, I told the delivery guys that I would not accept it, and to please take it back and bring me an undamaged one. They called dispatch, and a very annoyed lady made me recite all my personal information – name, phone number, address, zip code – even though they were delivering to me, and their delivery guy had called her from his phone – before asking peevishily why I wouldn’t take the damaged treadmill. I explained it was smashed.
She offered me $100 to take it and schedule repair. I refused. Although she sounded quite offended and surprised by my decision, she grudgingly agreed to schedule a new delivery. For some reason – I almost wondered if it was to punish me for not taking a perfectly fine smashed treadmill in lieu of a working one – the next Saturday wasn’t available, so we agreed it would be delivered on Saturday Sept. 15. After the truck left we moved the dining table and the heavy sofa back into their normal positions.
A few days before the Sept 15 delivery date Sears robocalled me to confirm someone over 18 would be home on Saturday. The robot said it would call me again on Friday night to tell me what time the delivery would be. That’s not ideal – it means you can’t plan to do anything else all day, but I did want the treadmill. And on Friday evening the robot called back to say delivery would be between 11-1. That evening we moved the dining table and the heavy sofa to clear a path to the staircase; the next morning we made the bed so the room would look nice for the delivery people.
This time the delivery guys were a few minutes early. One of the very businesslike delivery guys came in the house to survey the route to the bedroom where I wanted the treadmill, where a rubber treadmill mat awaited. Looking at the stairs, the delivery guy announced that it was “a four-person job” — because it was a tight fit, and because we had wood stairs, the two-man team would not be able to do the job. I was a bit surprised, since the previous two-man team hadn’t suggested this would be an issue (or even that four-man teams existed). Couldn’t you open the box out here, I asked? No, this guy said, it would be too hard to assemble that way: it’s better to have all the pieces to hand. So again we called dispatch, and rescheduled for Sept.22, for a four-man team. This time the treadmill never even made it on to the tail lift. We moved the dining table and the heavy sofa back into their normal positions.
A few days before the Sept 22 delivery date Sears robocalled me to confirm someone over 18 would be home on Saturday. The robot said it would call me again on Friday night to tell me what time the delivery would be. That’s not ideal – it means you can’t plan to do anything else all day, but I did want the treadmill. And on Friday evening the robot called back to say delivery would be between 9-11. The night before we moved the dining table and the heavy sofa to clear a path to the staircase. Then we got up early to make ourselves presentable and to make the bed so the room would look nice for the delivery people. I didn’t like getting up around 8am on a Saturday … but I wanted the treadmill.
Around 8:45 a live person from Sears called. There was a problem: they did not actually have our treadmill. Could they reschedule delivery for Monday? I found this hard to believe: why would Sears robocall me twice in the week if they didn’t actually have the goods? I asked to speak to her supervisor. “I don’t have a supervisor,” she said. “I am a specialist.” I said I would need it on a Saturday, not a Monday. We set delivery for the following week.
Suspecting something was odd about this, I called the 800 number for deliveries. The nice person there seemed mystified – the treadmill was in fact in stock. She agreed to call the Miami dispatch office to find out what was going on. After a period in which I was treated to hold music, she came back to tell me that the treadmill was there, but the Miami office couldn’t assemble a four-man team. But not to worry, I could have the delivery on the next day, Sunday. At 7am. My hear sank: I’d have to get up at 6:30 on Sunday? What would my wife say? And I really wanted to sleep late at least one day on the weekend. But I also really wanted the treadmill. Remembering the vagaries of Sears’s actual delivery times, I asked how sure she was about 7:00am … not too sure it turned out. She’d just said that to be safe. Would I hold on again and she’ll call Miami to find out if they could give her a more specific time? I would. And fairly soon she was back with 8am. I’d be the first delivery because a four-man team was actually two trucks made up of two-man teams, and they meet to do the four-man jobs before splitting up. After that call we left the dining table and the heavy sofa where they were, out of the way.
During dinner Saturday night, Sears robocalled to tell me the delivery was scheduled from between 7:45 and 9:45am, and, as the robot had done every time before, asked me to “press 1″ to confirm that I could accept delivery in that window. I did. But this time the robo-response was that I should hold while I was connected to a representative. I wondered if I’d hit the wrong button, but my son, who had been watching, assured me I had not. A human came on line. I went through the laborious project of identifying myself even though they had called me. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. The lady then announced that delivery would be between 7:45 and 9:45am (like the robot had said). I would be the second job of the day. Then she asked a strange question: was I the owner of my home? It transpired that the reason for that question (and perhaps the reason I had been transferred to a person?) was that she wanted to sell me some more home services. Needless to say, by this time I was not thinking that Sears was the sort of company you want to rely on; the call ended quickly after that.
Sunday morning came, and we got up early again. At least we didn’t need to move the furniture. We had breakfast. We waited. We waited. Surely the first job of the day didn’t take more than an hour? Finally at 9am I called Sears’s delivery 800 number to find out what had happened. “They didn’t call you?” the person said. Apparently they should have: My delivery was cancelled. The merchandise was damaged (again? the same treadmill? a different one?). And they would not be able to schedule a new delivery time because the model I’d ordered was discontinued.
Incredulous, I called Sears on its main 800 number, hoping to figure out what was going on and what I should do. After navigating the short phone tree, my call was taken in what sounded like a foreign call center – maybe the Philippines? I went through the laborious project of identifying myself. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. Order number. Having passed the test I asked if they could please tell me how I would get my treadmill, that I’d paid for a month ago. Could I hold please, the lady asked. Yes, I said. First hold music, and then a few minutes later I was listening to the US operator say “If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and try again…” Sears had disconnected me.
Now I was peeved. I called again. Again, after navigating the short phone tree, my call was taken in what sounded like a foreign call center – maybe the Philippines? Again, I went through the laborious project of identifying myself. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. Order number. I then explained that I’d just been disconnected and really didn’t want that to happen again. I promise I will resolve this for you, the earnest woman said. Here is my ID number if anything goes wrong – she gave me a six digit number. Then I launched into the saga of my incredible not-appearing treadmill. She read her script about being sorry and all the rest of it. They could send me a treadmill. But they couldn’t tell me when, because – rather than being discontinued – the treadmills are “backordered”. And the system didn’t tell them when my treadmill would become available. If I had any questions, I should speak to “sears.com” from whom I’d actually ordered it (as opposed to whatever Sears she was representing), and she’d be glad to connect me if I wouldn’t mind being on hold.
And then she disconnected me.
So I called a third time. Again, after navigating the short phone tree, my call was taken in what sounded like a foreign call center – maybe the Philippines? Again, I went through the laborious project of identifying myself. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. Order number. I then explained that I’d just been disconnected by operator ## and I could I speak to her again please so I wouldn’t have to repeat everything. But no. It appears there is no method to connect you to a particular call center operator, even if you have their ID number. So I had to repeat the saga yet again.
This time, when we got to the part about connecting me to sears.com, the operator also gave me the direct number 800 number to call if I got disconnected. But this time we made the connection, without using the backup plan.
I started telling my story to the fifth or sixth Sears employee of the dwindling morning. But I didn’t get very far. My cordless phone went dead – the battery was used up. So I was disconnected again – the sixty to ninety minutes I’d spent on the phone that morning, either talking to them or on hold had taken its toll on my cordless phone.
I got another phone and called Sears.com again. Again, I went through the laborious project of identifying myself. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. Again I told my saga. The customer service rep said they would give me a $100 discount for the inconvenience, which sort of seemed the least they could do at that point. But having suffered four non-deliveries, I was now just a little suspicious. I wanted the answer to three questions: (1) how long I should expect to wait to hear from Sears that the treadmill was available; (2) what I should do if after waiting that long nothing happened and no one called me; and (3) what my options were – in other words, what Sears would be prepared to do for me – if it turned out that they were unable to deliver the treadmill they had promised me and for which they had had my money since August 28th.
I will spare you the details of the unpleasant and unsatisfying 40 or so minutes that followed, as it has a certain plodding and repetitive quality. It turns out, however, that the answers to none of these three questions of mine are in the script that Sears has issued to its phone service representatives, and that they are unwilling to or incapable of deviating from the script. Indeed, one sometimes waits for a considerable period of time in a conversation while call center staff wait for their systems to tell them what to say. At the first level, my questions were parried with rote repetition that the item was backorded and therefore would some day become available but they could not say when. If I did not want to wait, I could cancel the order or choose a different model. My protestations that other models were either not as good or more expensive did not elicit interest or sympathy. After some time on this verbal treadmill, I asked to be transferred to a supervisor.
The request for a higher-level response earned me about 15-20 minutes of hold music, followed by a less mechanistic but equally unavailing conversation with second level customer service. They don’t know when the treadmills will be available. The system doesn’t tell them. They are sure there must be some, since the treadmills are still being listed as for sale at the website. My only options are to wait, cancel the order, or change to a different model. Frankly, their advice would be to order something else. No, they can’t put me in touch with anyone else at Sears who would be able to help me. There are no other phone numbers for me to call. But I should be aware that I probably would be getting automated calls from Sears once or twice a day (for weeks????) until they could give me a date for delivery. “Thank you for choosing Sears.”
So I went out to buy groceries.
When I came back, there was a message on my answering machine from a Sears robot caller. There was a problem with my delivery and they would not be able to deliver my appliance today. I must call this number before 8pm Central to reschedule.
So, fool that I am, I called the number. Again, I went through the laborious project of identifying myself. Phone number. Name. Address. Zip code. They looked me up: and then they gave me the surprising news that Sears could not deliver my treadmill today. And sorry, it’s back ordered, so we can’t tell you when it will be available. Thank you for calling, “we appreciate your business.”
It turns out that using a treadmill is not the only way to go on and on without getting anywhere.
While writing this on the afternoon of Sept. 23, I looked up my treadmill on Sears.com. It’s still offered for sale at the price I paid. The web site says it will be available for delivery in my zip code next Saturday.
Update (9/24/12): See Monday Treadmill Update for the next installment.