Category Archives: Shopping

The Consumerist

The Consumerist linked to and summarized my treadmill saga with a typically pungent headline, Sears Annoys The Crap Out Of Customer For Weeks, Still Doesn’t Deliver Treadmill.

[Next Installment: Final Sears Treadmill Delivery Disaster Post]

Posted in Blogs, Shopping | 1 Comment

The Grand Finale (Probably)

At about 9am, a big truck pulls up outside my house.

The other truck is AWOL, but the guys on this team decide to go it alone. Four guys wouldn’t fit on my staircase anyway, one of them says.


A bit after 9:30 the other team arrives. Apparently they had to go back en route to pick up an extra mattress, and didn’t get the call from the first team not to bother showing up.

So everyone pitches in and is busy screwing things in.

One piece goes in backwards at first, but they quickly get it right.

And by 10am….I have a treadmill:

I haven’t gotten a new bill yet, though, so perhaps this isn’t quite the last chapter….

[Next: The Consumerist]

Previously:

Posted in Shopping | 4 Comments

A Quick Dispatch from the Treadmill Front

Where is my treadmill?A different Sears bot called last night to say we should expect delivery of our treadmill between 8am and 9am today. Last night we moved the dining table and the heavy sofa to clear a path to the staircase; this morning we made the bed so the room would look nice for the delivery people.

Yesterday I also got an email from Sears.com telling me they were refunding my payment.

Dear Sears Customer, 
 
Thank you for your order with sears.com!
 
In regard to order number ##########, a credit in the amount of $#####.## was issued to your account today.  This credit was issued because of your cancelled order.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. 
 
This credit should be viewable by your financial institution within 72 hours.  If you have any questions, please contact your financial institution after that period to verify receipt of the credit to your account. Please note, your financial institution may have processing guidelines for posting credits that may impact the time it takes for the credit to be reflected in your balance.
 
If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail us at order@customerservice.sears.com or call us at 1-800-283-6940.  We hope you visit us again soon at www.sears.com. 
 
Sincerely, 
Karla G.
Sears Online Customer Care

(It’s odd that no one at Sears seems to have last names.)

I took this to mean that Sears has no other way to book what it sees as an ‘exchange’ of my non-existent treadmill for an actually existing one – that thing the rest of us call ‘delivery’. And I presume that I’ll have to sign a new credit card slip for the new treadmill when they deliver it.

This morning around 8:10 – just about when the other bot used to call – a human phoned to say they’d actually be here between 9am and 9:30.

I’m still hoping that the end may be in sight.

[Next installment: The Grand Finale (Probably)]

Previously:

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Citizens Insurance Wants to Turn Me Into ‘Take Out’

Apparently, there’s still some chance to block Citizens Insurance company’s $350M part-loan part-giveaway program that involves a subsidy plan to use my premiums to pay private insurers to take over its policies. On the other hand powerful figures in the state GOP are lining up to support gifts to their friends.

My experience suggests the program isn’t necessary: although the program is not operating yet I’ve gotten my first letter of the post-hurricane season from a new, small, (fly-by-night?) insurance company called Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty (HCI) that has got me on its menu as “Take Out”.

“Take-out” is how Citizens refers to the policies cherry-picked by private insurance companies. And perhaps because I live relatively far from water and thus face less flood risk, I’m the cherry.

These letters follow a form. They have threats about how awful Citizens will be, threats founded in fact if skewed to the worst case. They are opt-out only: do nothing and I will be transferred to the new company about which I know nothing.

When I got the letter, HCI didn’t even disclose the terms of the policy they are offering me. Although the letter contains vague language about covering “other structures,” like gazebos, that I don’t happen to have, and mentions some “coverage options”, the real meat was supposed to be online. I was invited to go online to view financial info and see “a coverage comparison”. There is some financial information about HCI at Citizens’ “Take-out Companies” page, but when I visited last week, there was nothing about policy terms there. Checking back today, however, I find that there is now a summary coverage analysis document. Bottom line: very little difference — for now.

And of course there’s no reason to believe the premiums will be any less with any given company than with Citizens': HCI is required to keep my policy for at least 10 years (unless they go broke first), provide “substantially the same coverage” as Citizens for the first three years, and limit rate increases to 10 percent per policy per year. Such comfort.

HCI’s homepage is not much use to me either. They tell me they are rated “A Exceptional” by Demotech, which is the rating agency for insurance companies too small to get a rating from AM Best. Looking at Demotech’s site, I find that “Exceptional” is only the third-best rating (everyone is waay above average here!), and means that according to some model (about which we are told nothing) Demotech thinks that 97% of the companies with this rating will be solvent 18 months from now. An A rating puts HCI in the top 70% of companies rated by Demotech. Yes, top 70%! (Not surprisingly, the Demotech ratings have been accused of being inflated.)

A little Internet searching tells me HCI just recently doubled in size by taking over policies from HomeWise, a failed insurance company. Was that before or after they got their rating?

Given that Governor Scott’s team, gripped by anti-government ideology, seeks to destroy Citizens Insurance by continually raising premiums and cutting coverage even though Citizens now has the $6+ billion reserves we always were told it would need to be solvent, I might actually be prepared to consider opting out some day despite my earlier reluctance. But I’d have to know what I was getting, and to have more confidence about the company I was going to than HCI has been willing or able to provide.

The track record so far for these insurance startups is sort of what I’d expect:

The granddaddy of onetime Citizens’ takeout companies, Poe Financial Group, was swamped with hurricane payouts and fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2006 after storms caused more damage than it could cover. To pay for Poe, the state assessed everyone in Florida who buys homeowner or auto insurance. Lightning struck again with Magnolia Insurance, which was the biggest participant in a Citizens takeout program in 2009, the year before it went out of business. Another takeout firm, HomeWise Insurance Co., failed in 2011 and its policies were assumed by Tampa-based Homeowners Choice, which is the single-biggest takeout company participating in this round. Scott Wallace, the past president of Citizens Property Insurance, is now president of Homeowners Choice.

Looks like I’m opting out of this one too.

Update (10/11): Great article on some of the pros and cons of opting-out of Citizens from Tampa Bay Times. Where is the Miami Herald on all this? Fun fact: 30% of Citizens policy holders opted out last time letters went out — that’s a lot for an opt-out program. Citizens is cranking up the propaganda to reduce that number.

Posted in Econ & Money, Florida, Shopping | 6 Comments

Sears Feels the Power of the Press

Where is my treadmill?Over the weekend a reporter from a major national newspaper got interested in my treadmill saga. He called Sears to get their side of the story. And in no time at all, on Monday Shirley from Sears corporate offices in Hoffman Estates, Ill. — the real corporate offices as opposed to the “executive offices” that house Stephanie — was on the phone to me sorting things out.

Yesterday Shirley called to tell me I’d have a treadmill by Monday — the “2013 model” — which was presented as a great favor because it has a larger LCD screen (like I care? My plan is to be walking at a constant pace, listening to my podcasts or maybe in the future watching DVR’s Daily Shows and Colbert Reports). Supposedly the 2013s too are currently on ‘backorder’ so getting one to Miami by then is an exceptional event.

Given that the Sears.com web page currently promises delivery to my zip code of the very same Sole F80 by 10/06/12 — Saturday — I’m not as impressed as Shirley might wish. Either this great favor isn’t a great favor or, at least as likely, the web page is misleading people. I asked Shirley about the delivery info online and she blamed the manufacturer, who she says loads the availability data directly onto the Sears site and, she seemed to imply, says goods are available when they are not. If that’s true, it seems an awesome failure on Sears’s part not to write contracts that would penalize suppliers for creating circumstances that pretty seriously trash Sears’s customer experience and brand. But what do I know, I teach law not marketing. No doubt the wizards of Bain could explain why this is really good business because it saves on an employee somewhere.

Shirley clearly has real power, though: the Sears bot did not call today. What a shame Sears cannot or will not empower its call center people to turn off the calls too. After all, if Sears will let an arms-length manufacturer write direct to the database that runs its web sales arm, why won’t it let its outsourced call center employees control the robocaller?

More importantly, why does it take the threat of unfavorable national publicity to get a company to honor its promise in what should have been a fairly routine consumer transaction? I would love to hear someone at Sears explain what went wrong in not just in their supply chain but more importantly in the delivery and post-sale customer support networks — and especially what they plan to do about it. Otherwise, it sounds like time to short Sears stock — surely no firm can survive doing business like this?

If the article appears, I gather it would run onNEXT Sunday. I’ll be sure to link to it if does.

[Next installment: A Quick Dispatch from the Treadmill Front]

Previously:

Posted in Shopping | 6 Comments

Sears Treadmill Saga Notes

Where is my treadmill?Three asides while we wait (and wait and wait) to hear about the fate of our treadmill:

1) My wife has weighed in on her blog regarding the Sears treadmill saga. She focuses on accountability failures and the larger context of worker/management relations:

If we ever do get a treadmill from Sears after the weeks of waiting, getting up early to wait some more, being woken up early just to be reminded that we are still waiting, it’s pretty likely that we will get another robocall asking us how the delivery went (unless it is easier for Sears folk to disable follow-up calls than reminder calls that tell us we’re still waiting). And here is what is to me the worst part of all this. The people we can manage to speak to are limited by the scripts they are required to follow – they have almost no agency in any of this by design. The only people we may be asked to evaluate in any of this are the people who perform the scripts and not the people who write them. The people without power are made accountable rather than the people with power. But if you only choose to ask customers how they were treated by the script-followers you won’t get real feedback about the consumer experience. The systems may be designed that way on purpose, but if that is so it’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

2) I had a brilliant idea. Why don’t the Sears bot and the folks from Independent Voter Research just call each other?

3) The Sears bot only called once this morning, just after 8:00am. Was it something I said? Can I say it again?

[Next installment: Sears Feels the Power of the Press]

Previously:

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In Case You Were Wondering

As I’ve noted previously, the Sears robot has been calling me daily at 8:04 (or 8:03) and 8:34 in the morning to tell me that (I may be slightly paraphrasing here) “delivery of your item has been delayed” (like I don’t know this???) “and we need to speak to you to reschedule” — except it turns out when I call them that they are not in fact ready willing and able to actually schedule anything. The Sears Bot called on Saturday and Yom Kippur.

But, you may be wondering, does the Sears robocaller phone at a different time on Sunday? Does Sears vary the routine on the day most Americans are likely to be sleeping a bit late?

I can now reveal the answer: Yes.

Instead of calling at 8:04am or 8:03am, today — Sunday — the first call was at 8:02am. I can be precise about this because bedside I have a so-called ‘atomic clock‘ that synchronizes to the official time by radio signal.

The second call was 30 minutes later.

But then there was another variation in the routine: we got a third call at about 8:45am. I can’t be exact about the time for this one, I had already lost hope of any more sleep and was up.

[Next installment: Sears Treadmill Saga Notes]

Previously:

Posted in Shopping | 6 Comments