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December 5, 2011

Sears Engaged in Option Packing Until Caught

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:00 am

Sears recently reported the 19th straight quarter of declining sales. Maybe these declines explain why the company had taken to engaging in a practice more common at new car dealers: option packing.

As reported in Consumer World this week, Sears.com was found adding expensive five-year service contracts automatically to customers’ shopping carts as soon as the customer added a major appliance to it.

Here is a little closer look at what MrConsumer discovered. [See MrConsumer on KOMO News.]

As an example of what was going on at Sears.com, here is a relatively inexpensive conventional refrigerator:

When you click the “Add to Cart” button, it shows the refrigerator has been added to your cart (click picture to enlarge):

But, until last Friday, you would also see this:

You seem to be given an option to add a service plan to your purchase, but it has been pre-checked with the most expensive one — one for over $200. And, a quick look to the right, shows that Sears has, on its own, already added that five-year service plan and a water hose to your order automatically, raising the total price you pay by nearly 50%.

*MOUSE PRINT:

On a $400 refrigerator purchase it is easy to notice the big bump up in total price and easy to remove the protection plan. But on a more expensive appliance, or on an order with multiple items, customers may easily have overlooked the fact that Sears added on expensive service contracts on its own to your bill.

To their credit, Sears.com abandoned this nasty practice one day after we made a stink about it:

“Since this complaint was brought to our attention, we have had a chance to review our complaint records. In the time period it’s been in effect, we received very little negative customer feedback. Nonetheless, now that it’s been pointed out as an item of concern, we’ve made a decision to provide customers with the default choice of declining the protection agreement. This change will take effect tomorrow.” — Sears PR Director for Hardlines

What do you think? Should a company be allowed to just add extras to one’s shopping cart without being requested to do so even when they are easy to remove? Would you have caught the addition of a service contract to your order? Do you want to be forced to scrutinize every online order you make to ensure the retailer hasn’t pulled a fast one on you? Enter your thoughts in the comments.

• • •

26 Comments

  1. Congratulations on overturning THAT rock, Edgar. Sears’ meek defense seems to be “we received very little negative customer feedback”. How smarmy.

    Edgar replies: Thanks, Marty.

    Comment by Marty — December 5, 2011 @ 7:46 am
  2. I think they should be allowed to suggest it but not automatically add it to your cart.

    Comment by Tundey — December 5, 2011 @ 8:06 am
  3. Another scam from a company ready to close it’s doors come jan. 2012.

    Comment by John knipe — December 5, 2011 @ 8:30 am
  4. I don’t see this as anything new. Sure they should have made it more obvious but many electronics companies attempt the same thing. People just need to slow down and read what they are agreeing to. If you get to the final checkout and the price is not what you expected or thought it should be, either back out of it or cancel the transaction. Caveat emptor!

    Comment by Tom Reich — December 5, 2011 @ 8:52 am
  5. Shame! Shame! Shame! …But not unexpected from a company that has slowly but surely run itself into the ground over the past few years. I used to be a very loyal Sears customer until it became obvious that they no longer cared about the customer… Haven’t purchased anything from them for years.

    Edgar replies: Reading the 150 or so comments about Sears on MSNBC, I was really taken aback by the number of people who just despise the company (and if I were Sears, I would be worried about that public perception). I don’t hold the same negative opinion. When shopping for a major appliance, I check Sears, Home Depot, and Lowes. But ultimately, it will come down to price including delivery and haul away, since except for the Kenmore brand, most things are available universally it seems.

    Comment by A Pseudonym — December 5, 2011 @ 9:18 am
  6. I’m surprised that ANYONE would endorse automatically adding something to a customer’s purchase online and then requiring the customer to refuse it afterward. I don’t think those people would sit still for taking an item to a register in the store and having a cashier stuff another item into the bag and ring that up on the bill, also unless the customer objected.

    I stopped doing business with Sears long ago after two managers in a row would not uphold Sears’ stated guarantee on tools.

    Comment by Bob — December 5, 2011 @ 9:40 am
  7. How sneaky! It makes me a little sad that I’m not at all surprised. Thanks for point it out, I’ll make sure I’m checking my “shopping bag” more carefully in the future.

    I wonder if they make sure to even let people know that they have the protection after purchase? If not, no one will know they can use it and it will not only be a pushy sales tactic it will be blantantly wasting (stealing?) other people’s money.

    Comment by Charli — December 5, 2011 @ 10:15 am
  8. Just another American Company’s greed……….They won’t get in trouble over it…….and how much extra money did sears get by doing this???????? they’ll think of another one to pad the bill. It’s sicking

    Comment by JLS — December 5, 2011 @ 10:19 am
  9. It’s as bad as some online places, like amazon, they will have in big bold letters “free shipping” but when you go to the cart they automatically selected the 3 day shipping for a high price, you have to change it yourself to free shipping.

    Just make sure you check every single price and the total. I never understand someone that doesn’t double check, I even do it at grocery stores for a couple of items, it amazes me how many times there are “mistakes” (and always to their favor).

    Comment by John — December 5, 2011 @ 10:45 am
  10. I can see it now, in the clothing department, cashier whispering, “Since you purchased a shirt, I also our stain warranty and some spray starch to your order. If you don’t want them, let me know and I’ll remove them.”

    Oh, and once you accept the warranty, can you change your mind?

    In addition, the basic option is “I’ll go without coverage” which is deceptive and should say “I will accept the limited manufacturer’s warranty” or “I’ll go without any additional coverage from Sears”

    Comment by RS — December 5, 2011 @ 12:14 pm
  11. If that happened to me, I would contact the company and tell them that they lost a sale and a customer and tell them why.

    Comment by Marco — December 5, 2011 @ 12:23 pm
  12. It’s a sad commentary on our modern day society that I trust NO ONE any more. On-line shopping vendors seem especially adept at using sneaky tactics – and I’m talking about the ‘honest’ ones and not just the out and out scammers. For example, many of them won’t show the shipping charges until the last page of the checkout procedure after you’ve already entered your credit card information. Another tactic is to ‘apply discounts to final total’. You don’t get to the final total until you have tabbed through several pages (including entering your credit card information) and then… oh yeah, what was that discount I was supposed to get? I don’t see it anywhere here. Did I click the wrong button somewhere? Maybe it shows up after I click the ‘complete purchase’ button? Huh? It didn’t show up? @#$%&*!!! They also like to clutter up the page so it’s hard to see exactly what you are being charged and what you are agreeing to. But this just seems to be the generally accepted method of selling things these days. It’s moved beyond the ‘convince the consumer to buy things they don’t really need’ stage to ‘let’s confuse the heck out of them so we can get their money without them knowing what’s happened’! Kind of like Wall Street!

    Comment by JR — December 5, 2011 @ 2:37 pm
  13. Soon they’ll add the plan and accessories to the product itself, similar to the Geek Squad optimization/screwing-around-with that Best Buy does on most of its computers. But that’s another post for another site.

    Any time I’ve visited a Sears in the past few years, it’s been dead, except for 1-2 people in tools, appliances, or electronics. Way to [almost] ruin that, too.

    Richard Sears is probably looking down, shaking his head. I’d think that his model store for the 21st century would be like a more quality-controlled Walmart, with, of course, “satisfaction guaranteed on your money back,” instead of stocking millions upon millions of square feet of clothing, jewelry, and sporting goods that can be had easier and cheaper almost anywhere else in the country.

    Comment by Standby — December 5, 2011 @ 4:21 pm
  14. After building a new house 5 yrs. ago we bought most of our major appliances from Sears..have had a few repair issues that were handled quickly with knowledgable repair people. Sorry to hear Sears is busy chasing their customers away…adding unwanted “warranties” is not specific to Sears….DirectTV did the same to us when we had our satellite dish replaced.

    Comment by Estelle Palmer — December 5, 2011 @ 4:40 pm
  15. Check out Orbitz – they do the same thing with travel insurance. And the dollar amounts there are relatively small,Mao perhaps folks would be more likely to click through.

    Comment by Dan — December 5, 2011 @ 7:32 pm
  16. Shame! Shame! Shame! …But not unexpected from a company that has slowly but surely run itself into the ground over the past few years. If that happened to me, I would contact the company and tell them that they lost a sale and a customer and tell them why.

    Comment by holidays2go2 — December 6, 2011 @ 5:56 am
  17. I am not surprised, yet I give them credit for the immediate option choice reversal. This does not sound any different than software packages adding toolbar helpers or wanting to change your home page selection.

    Comment by Tom G — December 6, 2011 @ 5:47 pm
  18. Sears is still in the habit of putting their service contract sales ahead of the product sales. This is a desparate attempt to gain profit at the expense of the consumer. At the store level, one cannot work in the appliance dept. without maintaining a hefty “close rate” for the Master Protection Agreements. As Sears market share continues to erode to Home Depot, Lowes and independants, this will not be the only slimy selling tactic used.

    Comment by MyCustomerWins — December 6, 2011 @ 10:43 pm
  19. I think it would be better if they put it in a “strongly suggested” box – especially for those additional pieces you *need* to finish the appliance, like hoses on washers and the above mentioned water line on fridges (if you’re hooking it up to water) or gas lines for dryers. A lot of people don’t realize that all those hoses and whatnot don’t actually come with the appliance, and then have to make yet another trip to the hardware store.

    Comment by Amber — December 7, 2011 @ 12:10 am
  20. Sears did the same thing to me when I purchased tires last weekend – added $13 per tire for “road hazzard warranty” without giving me the option. I declined, explaining that it would be like buying an extended warranty on a toaster.

    Edgar replies: Bob, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the tire policy. (Obviously, they shouldn’t automatically add it on.) I constantly have problems with my Goodyear tires bought from NTB. They lose air, get a nail in them, etc. I would have to pay for these visits if I didn’t have the tire policy. So, for my money, I wouldn’t buy a tire without it.

    Comment by Bob — December 7, 2011 @ 7:34 am
  21. re: Tom G (Dec 6)
    This is a lot different from software packages “offering” to add toolbars or change your home page settings. Those items, while aggravating, don’t cost you money. “Mouse Prints” example added over $200 to a $450 purchase. BIG difference.

    Comment by Bob — December 7, 2011 @ 11:59 am
  22. Purchasing software online usually presents a similar problem, automatically adding in a “download assurance” option or a “CD copy” to the purchase. I’ve gotten so used to deleting those items that the revelation of Sears doing the same type of thing doesn’t even faze me. While I agree that it is a sneaky practice at the very least, on the other side of the coin some customers would complain just as vehemently if the sale was made and they didn’t get offered extended warranties or accessories (USB printer cables come to mind). These companies have probably come to the conclusion that it is easier to add all these items in and have the customer delete what they don’t want than to have them go through a menu of choices to add. Ultimately, it is up to the consumer to examine their shopping cart in detail before finalizing their purchase to make sure they are getting only what they want.

    Comment by PCnotPC — December 8, 2011 @ 11:27 am
  23. PCnotPC: I get the impression you’d be OK with a grocery store employee following you around and putting things in your basket? You of course would have the option to take them back out. Of course it is the consumer’s ultimate responsibility, but that is hardly the point.

    Comment by Bob — December 12, 2011 @ 9:21 am
  24. Interesting, I quit shopping at Sears several years ago, for this very same reason, plus they had excessively high interest rates on their store cards, their products just didn’t seem to hold up as well as they should either so it was not a hard choice to stop shopping there. I hope more people get wise to this type of under handed tactic.

    Comment by Dich — December 13, 2011 @ 10:50 pm
  25. If I found a store doing that I would simply cancel the order and not buy from them again. I refuse to be treated like that by stores that want you to come back again.

    Comment by Jon — December 19, 2011 @ 7:56 am
  26. @ Bob and Edgar: This may be one of the only warranties that make sense anymore. Considering the price of tires, it is a small price to pay for piece of mind. Almost all tire stores offer this; any damage to the side wall is usually deemed irreparable and you can have your tires rotated on top of it. It would be hard for me to estimate how much this has saved me over the years, but I know I’m way, way, way ahead.

    Comment by JeopardGeorge — January 23, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

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