I haven’t been inside a Sears store for more than 10 years, until Thursday, June 22. And, wow, did I learn a lot.
Mainly, I came away with a better understanding of why Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) is closing an additional 20 stores on top of the 245 it already planned to shutter. And why it has failed to turn a profit in 29 out of the last 37 quarters and seen same-store sales decline in 11 of the past 12 quarters.
I observed alienating treatment of a loyal customer at the store in Jersey City, N.J., which was also messy and uninviting inside.
When I came upon customer Stephanie Rosso, a resident of Jersey City, she was struggling with four employees to get a simple return transaction completed for a dryer she’d bought and sent back to the warehouse that day with the delivery man. Normally, getting a refund takes about two minutes tops.
But Rosso spent 20 minutes getting the runaround from Sears staff, some of whom gave her incorrect information about store policy. That meant she’d have to come back to the store the next day. Who has time for that?
“No, that’s not my address. No, that’s not my number,” said Rosso to the employees as they tried to find her order. “Why don’t they get new technology here?”
At the store, employees said they couldn’t issue Rosso a refund on the dryer until the warehouse staff verified that the appliance had arrived. As I observed, when Rosso asked one of the employees if she could call the store the next day to get the refund, she was told no.
That wasn’t so, it turned out. One employee later told TheStreet that Rosso could, in fact, call to get her refund by phone.
This was a woman who needed that appliance fast. Because of what Rosso had been told, she also agreed reluctantly to charge a second dryer.
“I’ve been coming here for years, and it’s gotten worse and worse,” Rosso said in an interview with TheStreet later.
Sears spokesman Howard Riefs did not return a request for comment for this story.
On Thursday, the same day Rosso was grappling with getting a refund, things up north in Canada were falling apart for the Sears brand. Sears Canada (SRSC) filed for bankruptcy in Ontario. Although Sears Holdings and Sears Canada operate as separate entities, the encounter I witnessed at the Jersey City store was telling. The fundamental issues Sears continues to face hint that it may not be long before the U.S. retailer follows its Canadian brother.