Fear and Loathing at Sears Auto Center

UnknownOnce, at a fancy New Orleans restaurant, we didn’t get bread like other tables. I told the Maitre D’. He shrugged and said, “Sometimes you get bread and sometimes you don’t.”* This has become a family catch-phrase.

Recently my car battery needed immediate replacement. Unknown-1I went to  Sears in Albany, phoning first to confirm availability. After a 15 minute queue, Tim at the front station went to the shelf, and came back saying, “You’re in luck, we have one left.” So we did up the paperwork; he said installation wouldn’t take long.

An hour later, I checked with Tim; he said my car was next. After almost a further hour, enduring daytime TV noise in the waiting room, I asked him what was going on. I might have sounded frustrated. Tim snarled, “You can take your car and leave if you want.” I didn’t reply. A little while later, he finally called my name.

images“We don’t have the battery,” Tim said, without even the word “sorry.” Dumbfounded, I pointed out that he’d told me they had it. Tim denied this.

Sometimes you get a battery and sometimes you don’t.

Luckily my car would still start and I got one quickly at Hyundai. Then I phoned the manager at Sears Auto, Steve, to complain. After several attempted excuses, he finally conceded, “I have no excuse.” But I never actually got an apology.

This was certainly one of my most egregious consumer experiences. I’m still literally incredulous that a major business like Sears would operate like that. Unknown-2But after I calmed down and pondered, I was bemused to consider how minor this was, in the great scheme of things, and how rare even such minor foul-ups are in an advanced country like America. My Sears episode, standing out like a sore thumb, really points up how beautifully our society functions ordinarily. We should be tremendously grateful, not taking it for granted. Life wasn’t always like this, and still isn’t in many places even today.

I was put in mind of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel which I’ve reviewed. After living in several Muslim societies, she washed up as a refugee in the Netherlands; straight off the plane, she encountered a policeman, who helped her, rather than trying to victimize her. This blew her mind; an epiphany in which Hirsi Ali instantly understood that, so unlike all her past experience, here is a society that works.

My car works too now. It only took three and a half hours.

Unknown-3*I whispered to my wife, “Sometimes you get a tip and sometimes you don’t.”

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5 Responses to “Fear and Loathing at Sears Auto Center”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    The beauty of our system is that you have many options other than Sears. They lost you as a customer and many others that read about your incident. Sears is in deep financial trouble and cannot afford this type of customer service. They will be gone before too long.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    Yes. Regulation-by-competition is far more effective than regulation-by-government.

  3. Mark V Says:

    Here in Chicago, the response likely would have been “You gotta problem with that?” Last I heard, Sears stock was a pure real estate play. The business is basically worthless. And no wonder.

  4. Wolfgang Kurth Says:

    What probably happened is that the first guy went to the shelf, instead of checking the stock in the computer. The one on the shelf was probably reserved for another customer (yes, the mechanic reserving it SHOULD have removed it from the shelf, but perhaps was distracted by yet another customer). While you waited, they were probably waiting for a call back from two other stores who were checking their own stock so they could refer you to that store. But obviously, it is a popular size/style, so you were SOOL. But the service manager SHOULD have offered you a gift certificate or such for your troubles. Manure happens, but their attitude and followup were extremely poor.

  5. Wolfgang Kurth Says:

    Oh yes, one more possible thing against Sears-
    My wife went to get the tires changed on her Suzuki.
    After they were done, the mechanic told her she was missing one chrome lug nut. I had just topped up the air on all tires since she has those idiotic pressure sensors on her wheels (don’t get me started on THAT scam) and did not see any missing lug nuts. This does not necessarily mean it might have been missing, but I just overlooked it, but….
    Anyway, I believe that either someone there dropped it and could not find where it rolled, or someone needed one since they seem to be scarce as hen’s teeth (as I later found out).
    I am still on the fence about that one, but I now count my nuts before going to the Sears tire center!

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