Buyer Beware: Your Sears Purchase May Not Really Be From Sears

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When you buy something from a retailer's website, it's natural to assume the retailer will also take responsibility for the customer service and returns. But one Sacramento, Calif., woman recently discovered that isn't always the case.

Kurtis Ming of CBS 13 in Sacramento brings us the story of Fannie Wong, who ran into some difficulties after a tablet computer she ordered on Sears.com (SHLD) arrived broken. When the replacement tablet didn't show up, she contacted Sears customer support, who told her that they couldn't help her with the return -- because she hadn't actually ordered it from Sears.

Much like Amazon (AMZN), Sears has given space on its e-commerce website to a "marketplace" of third-party sellers who advertise and in some cases sell their wares through the site. The sellers get the benefit of showing up on a major retailer's website, and Sears gets a commission from the sales. But the upshot is that, sometimes, even if you make a purchase on Sears.com, you aren't actually buying the item from Sears.

And that means you won't get customer service from Sears either. While Amazon guarantees the purchases made on its marketplace, Walmart (WMT) and Sears make it clear that they're just middlemen in the transaction. Walmart, for instance, notes that you have to "contact the Retailer directly if there is a problem with your order" (though it does say it will attempt to resolve the situation on your behalf if the seller is unhelpful). And Sears has a special page explaining which marketplace purchases are and aren't covered under the Sears return policy.

A link to that page is included with every marketplace listing, along with a small box indicating who is fulfilling and shipping the order. Still, it's easy to see how customers like Fannie Wong might overlook that information and assume that they were making a purchase from Sears.

Indeed, Sears spokesman Brian Hanover told DailyFinance that "customers do often contact Sears first about their Marketplace purchases," despite the fact that the seller's contact information is included in the confirmation email.

The good news is that when this happens, Sears customer service will help by putting you in touch with representatives at the actual seller. But whether you'll get good support from that company is anyone's guess, and unlike Amazon, Sears won't guarantee that you'll leave satisfied.

In Wong's case, CBS reports that she didn't receive a response from the marketplace seller, Idolian, because the customer service representative who had originally been handling her case left the company. We can't imagine that's an issue she would have encountered if she'd been dealing with a major retailer like Sears.

Wong ultimately got her money back, but she says she won't be ordering through the Sears Marketplace again. And while we wouldn't go so far as to recommend against using such marketplaces, when you shop, it is important to be aware of who you're really ordering from.

So the next time you're ordering from Sears or Walmart online, double-check to see if the items are actually being sold by Sears or Walmart. If another seller is indicated, look them up and see if they look like the kind of retailer you'd be comfortable patronizing.

The good news is that Sears, perhaps recognizing that this was becoming an issue, just made it easier for customers to do background checks on its marketplace sellers. According to a Sears spokesperson, starting today shoppers can click through on any product page to bring up the seller's storefront; there you'll find a return policy, contact information and reviews of that seller by other customers.

If a marketplace seller has a lot of lousy reviews, or if you visit its website and get the feeling that it's a fly-by-night operation, you might consider looking elsewhere for your merchandise.



Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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39 Comments

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Ken

SEARS AND K-MART -
Together they were headed downhill as Walmart and Target picked them off one by one. But together they can maybe survive, especially if they build their stores in areas Walmart is not in. In El Paso Walmart builds in the suburbs and outer suburbs The K-Mart stores, some of them old, are in town, in the oldest suburbs with no close Walmart, so they survive cause they are convenient and somewhat cheaper - and you can get there by bus too. Sears does very well here with minority shoppers whom they make a strong appeal for. They also extend credit (just don't ask the rate of interest - that is profitable too)

May 21 2013 at 11:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeffrey Hamilton Jr

All I can say is that there is a way to just get Sears items instead of the marketplace items. There's a thing you can click on that says SEARS ONLY not All Products. She must of just went down the page on All Products. I always click on SEARS ONLY cause I know it will be coming from Sears.

May 09 2013 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
warrenag

I found something the other day sears stores are franchised I was shocked

May 09 2013 at 6:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to warrenag's comment
Jeffrey Hamilton Jr

Not all of the Sears stores are franchised. I work for Sears but it's a Hometown Store which is not franchised. The store is privately owned. He has hired 3 of us, he pays us, he gets money from Sears when items are sold at the store. It is not a franchise store.

May 09 2013 at 10:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stephen

Sears and K-Mart.... what a pair.

May 08 2013 at 11:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rnoches

Whom can we trust? Businesses, Clergy, Lawyers? Contractors, on-line sellers, Advertisements, -- I say none of the above without proper vetting. In about every area of human interaction people need to be alert to possibilities of fraud, deception, and just plain criminal behavior. Yes, great ads duped me a few times in my life, something that looked good on TV fell way short of what the company presented. In addition, has anyone ever compared the hamburger you purchased to the huge juicy one pictured on the billboard or window dressing? Have you ever had a new car you purchased advertised as high quality but breaking down in less than a year? I once purchased a new car, and the first day when driving my family across the country, our two-year-old daughter hit me on the head with a piece of the car. We only had the car a few hours and it began to fall apart.

May 08 2013 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sunboy101

At the rate Sears / Kmart is closing stores, they're be gone by 2020.

May 08 2013 at 8:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gapolito204

Sears service is poor. Just try to call a store. Your call will be diverted to some central ordering location. To get a hold of a salesperson you spoke to you have to get their private cell number ( which they use for work if they are on commission). Otherwise, try to get them by phone and you can't get the store, much less the department. Also, there products are no where near the great quality they once featured. It's the same cheap Chinese made goods you get in other stores only with the Sears brand. Not that China can't make good quality goods, they can. It's just that no one goes there to buy good quality.

May 08 2013 at 6:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Shecky Vegas

I guess two Wongs make a right.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
Oh, I'm just bad....

May 08 2013 at 5:59 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
janmanuel2

When you are on the Sears website, it's obvious whether it's their item that they vouch for, or that you are being transferred to a completely different website. So you should check to see the policies on the other website. It's not like it's a big secret if you have any savvy. To the poster who is talking about what Sears makes - HELLO - department stores aren't making their products. Their stores and websites contain merchandise that is made in a variety of places. Do you think Macy's, Penney's, Tiffany's, Victoria's Secret and on and on actually make their own products? Also, re items being made in America, blame our politicians for making this an unfriendly environment for manufacturiing. Just keep electing the same doofuses and not paying attention to what they actually do and the regulations they pass that are anti-business and manufacturing.

May 08 2013 at 5:50 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
syntheticlubeguy

Sears does not make anything. There was a time when they stood behind the stuff they sold but those days are long gone. Another reason that I do not shop there anymore. Poor customer service, lack of quality products and an indifferent staff (at least in tools) and you can why why they are circling the drain. Forget all the trendy buzzwords like market share, re-branding, new position etc; too little too late. Lat time I was at Sears in a mall in Palm Beach County, it looked like a ghost town.

May 08 2013 at 5:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply