What to do with this Sears runaround?
July 31, 2020 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My great aunt is in South Carolina without air conditioning and can't get help from Sears, with whom she has a warranty and protection agreement with. We are at our wits end and want to make sure she doesn't get a heat stroke. It's been almost 55 days. We also are many states away. Any advice is very appreciated.

My great aunt A is 83 years old. She's in hot SC. Her daughter recently had a stroke and is unable to help her. My dad is trying his best to help. He's 70 though and high risk and as much as he wants to drive up and help, he can't. I'm even farther away and located on the west coast.

My dad has been calling Sears every day to help A. He has a case number, her address, her work order, and knows she has a warranty and protection agreement. He calls, tells them she needs a repair, and they tell my dad "Ok, well...we'll send someone." Turns out, she doesn't need just a part, she needs the whole air conditioning unit replaced. It costs much more than we thought, but Sears said they will replace it is covered by the protection agreement and warranty.

Fast forward, and they still have not done this. They keep saying "A part is backordered." But the unit needs to be replaced? "Let me transfer you." Can we talk to a manager? It's been 30 days. "Let me transfer you. Oh, you will need to wait 24 hours for our manager to call you." Never calls. My great aunt buys a temporary AC because Sears says they will reimburse her $250. This has not happened. Her temporary AC unit has now broken. My dad can't afford to replace the whole unit and neither can she. I am so worried for her. I have some money to send her for a portable AC unit but her whole house is out.

I even tweeted Sears and got a response back, but now have gone into the same loop of "I'll transfer you." I'm at a loss. What can we do to get Sears to replace this unit as they said? Who else can we talk to if we've already been transferred to a supervisor who won't call us back? At 55 days this feels like negligence by Sears, if that's even possible. What other options can we have here? I am trying to look at replacement AC units for a discount but not even sure where to start. Any help is appreciated.
posted by socky bottoms to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
As much as it is true that Sears owes her a replacement, in the meantime she is at real risk of heat stroke. If it were me, I would buy a new, cheap window unit for one room and pay to have it installed (obviously, from/by some other entity than Sears). Later you can demand to be reimbursed, and even take it to small claims court if necessary. But for right now, the priority is reducing her risk.
posted by nirblegee at 5:56 PM on July 31 [6 favorites]


Yes, I'm sorry, I should have mentioned this. My dad is going to get her another temp AC unit or window unit. She is trying to refuse it but I think we can push this. (I also will send money for a portable unit too as mentioned above.) In the mean time, I would like to focus on what we can do to get her whole house unit replaced by Sears, if there might be any solution there. Thanks!
posted by socky bottoms at 5:59 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Just order her a new one and have it delivered out of Amazon. Get a local to install, out of senior services. Get a reference. She might have a breaker flipped. If I run my AC while running my microwave, I overload a breaker. I always forget this between seasons. There are senior services who might look in on her, especially since she is 83.
posted by Oyéah at 6:12 PM on July 31


How about checking her local newspaper and TV stations to see if they have a reporter on the consumer affairs beat? This would make a great story right now, and that might light a fire under someone's ass.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:13 PM on July 31 [22 favorites]


Contact her Congressfolks, both House and Senate?

(um, assuming that she is of an ethnicity that they will potentially choose to help based on their party affiliation, which I apologize for having to say but honestly I suspect it will make a difference in their responsiveness at this point in history)
posted by aramaic at 6:20 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


@Oyeah unfortunately it's a whole house AC unit. I don't think we can order that from Amazon. The estimated replacement cost is $4000. Someone, June 8th, was sent out from Sears and this is how she knows the whole unit needs to be replaced. They came out to take a look and said "Yeah, we'll have to replace this unit because there's a part we can't replace."

I just don't understand because I've heard of other folks being helped by Sears. My great aunt is black. Which I'm not sure ties into your comment @aramaic. I'm not sure her Congressfolks would help but it's worth a shot. And the newspaper. Thanks y'all, please keep them coming.
posted by socky bottoms at 6:23 PM on July 31


If the original installation was paid on a fancy credit card, it's worth checking the credit card agreement. Some of them have generous extended warranties on any kind of loss. You can then put your phone warrior skills to use. (As a real-life example, I once clawed back $1000 from my credit card when my DH crashed his bike and needed new parts.)
posted by dum spiro spero at 6:41 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


You probably already know this - every time you call Sears, get a name, title, employee number (if applicable), and log the conversation. When department A says "that's with department B", call department B and say "Department A is BLAMING YOU. What are you going to do about it." Those are very magical words.
posted by dum spiro spero at 6:44 PM on July 31 [11 favorites]


Have you tried going back to twitter to tell them it was a dead end?
If nothing else, this situation with all these details seems like something a lot of twitter would love to retweet and rip into Sears for right now.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:46 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


Sears is circling the drain, losing heaps of money and is poorly managed. The service is likely to get worse, not better.

They likely contract this work out to a local firm who actually does the installation and repair. If you call the local firm directly, they may be able to get the work authorized from their end. It’s a long shot, but worth attempting.
posted by thenormshow at 6:48 PM on July 31 [14 favorites]


Another temporary solution is to locate any nearby cooling centers she could spend some time at. The post doesn't give her town, but there are some centers in South Carolina.
posted by nirblegee at 7:53 PM on July 31


A few suggestions:

* Completely agree with BlahLaLa. Look for newspaper or local television stations. They want stories that make people feel good. At the risk of sounding crass, 83-year-old woman potentially suffering from heat stroke saved by brave newspaper/TV columnist who managed to cut through the red tape and hold a company to what it committed to is exactly the kind of the story they want to run.

* See if a lawyer might be willing to write a letter on your aunt's behalf. It's remarkable how much law firm stationary can light a fire under people's butt.

* Depending on how confrontational you want to get, try calling on behalf of your great aunt to Sears and *threatening* legal and media action. They'll likely immediately escalate it up the chain to management. The sticking line would be, "I have absolutely no desire to escalate this to media or lawyers. But my primary goal is to get my aunt's central air conditioning fixed *now*. If you help me achieve that for her, there'll be no need to escalate."

* In the meantime, try making sure the room she hangs out in most often has the sun blocked off -- plug "blackout paper shades" into Amazon. Also type "swamp cooler diy" into Google and see if anything there looks plausible/workable for her.
posted by metabaroque at 7:53 PM on July 31 [7 favorites]


I would call her local senior center and explain it is an emergency and then pick one small room the senior center volunteers can put a window unit in - as a stop gap measure - so she can at least get some sleep. Google area agency on aging for her state

link

this is an emergency.

2nd choice: call churches

3rd choice: join the local Facebook group for her town and I am sure someone will help.

or would that embarass her? I don't know what to do about that. if it were me I would get help and risk her being mad at me.
posted by cda at 7:54 PM on July 31


I am sorry but warranty services are in general a giant scam. If you get decent service on one it is the exception, not the rule. Do everything you can to get your aunt a safe AC arrangement by some other avenue.

Threatening a lawsuit won't help. There are almost certainly already any number of class action lawsuits already in motion against Sears warranty services, as there are for all the other warranty services. Some sort of consumer watchdog group, or your Congressman -- well, maybe, as your aunt is a nice elderly black lady and it's not unlikely that there is good publicity to be had for a politician or public interest group in taking up her cause.

But this situation is dangerous for your aunt, and if your family can scrape up the money for a new unit, just do it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:25 PM on July 31 [6 favorites]


You can contact the corporate offices of the parent company at at 1-847-286-2500. The important trick when calling corporate is to know that the person you are talking to isn't the one who can directly fix your issue. The goal is to get them to help you contact someone outside of the normal customer service path who can help. Staying (mostly) calm helps as it gives them less of a chance to dismiss you. The scrip tthat has worked for me before normally goes something like: "I'm having a serious problem that customer service hasn't been able to solve. (Explain why its serious ). Who can I speak with to get help?". Have them transfer you and (if possible) give you a number. If the main line is a dead end, You can also look on their website for contacts like "Media inquiries" or "Investor relations" and try the same basic script.

The big things that have helped me when going this route:
1. Be Calm. If you are angry and hostel, it gives them reasons to dismiss you. Calm people are harder to write off.

2. Be clear and reasonable in what you want. When I worked customer service, many people would call yelling and demanding either the impossible, or didn't know what they wanted. You couldn't make these people happy, so there was less incentive to try. A clear and reasonable demand is harder to ignore and gives them something to work with

3. Acknowledge that you know the person you are talking to can't fix it directly, but you want them to help by getting you to the right person. This helps short circuit the "not my job" response.

4. As mentioned by others, always get names.

Good luck!
posted by nalyd at 8:38 PM on July 31 [8 favorites]


You could try the EECB.
posted by oceano at 9:24 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Sears is in bankruptcy. They are hemorrhaging money. You need to get aggressive with them. I would contact a local attorney to call on your behalf. If that is too expensive, I think you need to find someone locally who can show up at Sears and not leave until this is straightened out.
posted by AugustWest at 10:05 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


How to file an executive complaint at Sears.

I found this by searching for [Sears ombudsman]. The content may be from 2017 or earlier, and it may not work, but it's worth trying.

Basic instructions:
To escalate a complaint at Sears past the completely useless 1-800 number, call 847-286-2500 and ask for Mr. Lampert’s office (Ed Lampert is the chairman of the board). When the executive assistance picks up, tell them you want to file an “Executive Complaint.” Said the reader who submitted this tip, “A single call to this group is actually well on my way to resolving a problem that 4 calls & 3 transfers at the 1-800-4-my-home line could not handle.” Don’t forget to be calm, professional, and succinct when you speak with them.
posted by amtho at 11:07 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


As a temporary health measure in the interim, supplement the temporary ac unit you're getting with fans. A bunch of fans so that she can keep at least one pointed straight at her in any room, to help speed up evaporation on her body and lower her temperature (somewhat). She might also be able to do something like put an ice tray in front of one to make the air it blows slightly cooler. Simple floor fans are relatively cheap and a very good thing to have around. (People also use window fans to slightly reduce room temperature which might also be useful, but I'm talking about fans you can place near you and point straight at you.)

Does she cook much? Is she taking the heat into account when she cooks? This isn't the time to be standing over a hot stove. If you're worried she might be disregarding that, see if you can order her prepackaged or precooked meals, or ingredients for meals (that she'd agree to eat) that don't require her to spend time in a hot kitchen.

Is she drinking a lot to prevent dehydration? Does she have help with household chores (cleaning etc.) that can heat you up? I know it's complicated now because of corona, but it might be worth it. If corona or money are impediments, maybe she can be convinced to skip most cleaning chores for now, or at minimum do them in the early morning or late night when it's coolest if she's not already doing that.

Can she stay temporarily with any friends or family?
posted by trig at 1:19 AM on August 1


Definitely look into whether it was paid for by a credit card and if you can file a claim.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:11 AM on August 1


Trick for staying cool: get a couple of large blue flat gel ice packs, something like this or this. I have used these behind my back while sitting, or under me while sleeping, and they make a world of difference.

Keep them in the freezer; while she's using one, the other can be freezing. They don't last forever, but they're pretty good.

Caveat: they do attract condensation, so be careful not to use them in bed without some kind of mattress protection underneath, and make sure the mattress doesn't stay damp (you DON'T want mildew). Also watch out for water on the floor making it slippery.

But, in a heat emergency, one of these pressed to the small of the back will _work_.

Source: grew up in Georgia, didn't have AC in my freshman dorm in Atlanta (top floor, baby!), just spent most of June/July in Chicago without AC. I've given this some thought.

Also: look into making a homemade swamp cooler. Or, more simply, using fans -- they're inexpensive and they work well.
posted by amtho at 7:08 AM on August 1


(Just a note that Eddie Lampert resigned as chairman of the board at Sears roughly a year and a half ago. If you’re going to go that route, find out who’s chairman of the board now.)
posted by holborne at 7:33 AM on August 1


You could try a repair place that's not Sears. Sears saying "there's a part we can't replace" doesn't necessarily mean that someone else couldn't replace it. Not to let Sears off the hook, but as a temporary solution, though doing that might make it easier for Sears to say you've voided their warranty. But if they're not helping you, that may not matter.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 7:55 AM on August 1


If you can tell us where she is in SC maybe one of us will have local contacts who can help out. Although I live in Georgia I just spent nearly a dozen years working in the Beaufort area and also have good friends in Charleston. I'd be happy to reach out to friends in those areas for recommendations if she is in those parts of the state.
posted by mareli at 8:30 AM on August 1


Also, while you're making phone calls it might not be a terrible idea to contact the Consumer Protection people at the SC Attorney General's office. Similar to lawyers, sometimes a well-placed phone call that can result in a well-placed phone call might get some action
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


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