Monday, November 15, 2010

Today I am pausing from my normal blogging to rant against Sears. I have never had a particularly positive or negative impression of this retail behemoth. I used to think it was a place to buy underwear or athletic socks and appliances and yard tools. I never was that impressed by the clothing they carried and never was a big Sears customer but was aware that as a rule, people thought it was a pretty responsible retailer with whom one could do business and be confident that you wouldn’t get screwed.

Well, that ship has sailed. Starting three years ago, I have bought several very expensive appliances from Sears and have been dealing with the consequences of their appalling attitude toward customer service ever since. I won’t elongate this post with a description of their failure to stand behind a very expensive built-in refrigerator that was defective the day it was installed. I will just concentrate on my recent experience.

Today’s disappointment, and the one that will permanently keep me out of Sears stores, occurred this morning. In my neighborhood, when I bought my house, the only source of gas was private propane tanks, one of which was already installed in my back yard by the home’s previous owners. In July of 2009, in anticipation of moving into my house in August of the same year, I bought several new appliances from Sears, one of which was a Kenmore Pro Series dual fuel freestanding commercial style range. These babies, for those of you unfamiliar with them, are competitors of Wolf and DCS in residential use commercial style ranges and while not as expensive as those brands, are still somewhere north of $4,000 by the time you get them home and installed. In my case, I had to pay for delivery, installation, and removal of the old range as well as a conversion kit from natural gas to propane. In addition, I had to hire a plumber who is licensed to work on gas lines and propane to come and do the conversion since Sears installers either can’t or won’t.

After some false starts due to a broken gas line inside the cooktop at the time of delivery, I succeeded in getting the thing up and running a couple weeks after I moved in and was pleased that I finally had at least one big burner for, among other things, boiling large quantities of water for pasta. The cooktop portion of the range has 5 burners. Three can be used separately or together and are 9,000 btu each. One that has a true simmer setting is a 5,000 btu burner and the big one in the right front is 17,000 btus. Everything was fine until PSNC, our local gas utility, announced that they were installing natural gas lines in my neighborhood and that installation would be free if you committed to converting at least one appliance to gas within 90 days of the line being run.

After some checking, I determined that natural gas rates are close to 50% of the cost of propane and don’t require a truck coming around periodically to refill my tank, so I decided that in spite of the fact that I would have to pay to have pipes run from my new service to the range, and also to have the range converted back to natural gas, it was a good idea to go ahead.

On July 30th, after seemingly endless phone conversations with a variety of Sears Customer Service personnel (and what a misnomer that is) I successfully ordered a set of 5 new orifices for the 5 burners to the tune of about $70. While this seemed expensive for 5 tiny brass fittings, it was unavoidable if I wanted to use the range with natural gas. The parts arrived a couple weeks later and I set an appointment date with PSNC to do the installation.

This morning, when the installers arrived, I handed them the envelopes containing the orifices and left them to their devices. After a couple hours, they told me they were finished but for one problem. The orifices Sears had sent me for the 5,000 btu and 17,000 btu burners were identical. Needless to say, when you turn on a burner whose gas supply is restricted to 29% of its correct volume, what you don’t get is much of a flame. It was obvious that they had sent the wrong part, so with the two installers standing in my kitchen and participating in a Sears Customer Services ordeal, I spent the next 47 minutes being apologized to by a series of impressively incompetent staff, each of whom eventually passed me off to another. In the end, the advice I received was that since they couldn’t supply the correct part, perhaps I should buy a new stove.

I was a little shocked by this attitude and asked the woman offering this advice if she had spent over $4,000 on a new range 16 months ago and the only thing standing between her and being able to use its most important element was a brass fitting less than ½” long, would she want to ditch the appliance and buy another? Needless to say, I got another apology but no help.

Unfortunately, at this point, my phone was losing its battery power and I knew that after 47 minutes, our very unsatisfying conversation would be coming to an end. She took my email information and said they would do some research and get back in touch with me, and was in the middle of still another apology for what all Sears employees persist in call an inconvenience, and was cut off in mid-sentence when the phone, mercifully died.

I certainly have no expectation of ever hearing from them again. Sears doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their customers once a sale is complete. From the outset, the employees all insisted that they had no responsibility to do anything about the fact that they had sold me unusable parts because it was more than 90 days since the order. While it is true that 108 days have elapsed since I placed the order, it seems a bit unreasonable to say that if the customer doesn’t discover that Sears has screwed up within the 90 days they no longer have any responsibility to resolve an issue they created. Ironically, their in-house manual still says that if someone calls to order this conversion kit, they will be sent the same incorrect parts that were sent to me. They will do this to other people. What they claim is that the company that made these parts no longer makes the one that is needed for the large burner. I find this particularly interesting in view of the fact that Sears is still selling the range with the exact same specifications for the burner outputs.

In the end, the two guys from the gas company, who had dutifully stayed through the whole 47-minute ordeal with customer disservice (I had the various morons at Sears on speakerphone), said that they could probably find out the correct diameter for the orifice to be to provide 17,000 btus of output, and just rebore the orifice Sears had sent. It took one phone call to their supervisor and about 3 minutes to drill a new hole in the defective part. In another minute it was installed and the flame is up to what it should be. Thank God for competence at the gas company. Sears will never own up to this and I’ll be damned if they ever get another penny of my business.