Cold shoulder: Sears fridge heads south

"While I don't want to appear to be a whiner or complainer," Bob Garland began his email, "I feel compelled to relate an unbelievably bad customer service experience with the Charlottesville Sears store." Garland hoped that I'd be able to offer advice on how he could have handled the debacle more successfully– but, sadly, I don't see any way a consumer could have prevailed against the bureaucracy Garland was facing.

Garland bought an electric range and refrigerator from Sears on October 8 and claims he was promised delivery on the morning of Tuesday, October 18. "After waiting most of the day," he states, he got a call around 3pm and was told the appliances would be delivered "in 30 minutes to one hour." Garland removed the food from his old refrigerator and continued to wait. Around 6pm, the range arrived– but the refrigerator didn't.

"The driver stated that the refrigerator was not on the truck, but that he would bring it 'first thing in the morning.'" After agreeing on a 7:30am delivery time, Garland returned his food to the refrigerator and went out for the evening.

The next day, when nothing had happened by 10am, Garland says he called the delivery service– which is based in Lynchburg– and was told that "they still needed to make several stops before returning to the store to pick up the refrigerator." A new delivery time– between 1 and 2pm– was set, and, as the hour approached, Garland once again removed his food from the refrigerator.

At 2:15, he claims, the delivery service called "and stated that the store did not have the refrigerator." Garland says he then called the local store and tried to speak with someone in management, but, despite "several calls and waiting on hold for lengthy periods," he could never get through to anyone. Frustrated, he called Sears' national customer service line and spoke with an employee, who "patiently listened" and then called the local store on his behalf.

The manager on duty in Charlottesville, James, called Garland about 3pm to say that he had spoken with the person who had loaded the refrigerator on the truck and that it would be arriving in a matter of minutes. But it didn't. Garland claims he made "numerous attempts" to call the local store "without getting anyone to answer the phone." He appealed to the national customer service center again, but says that the representative also had trouble rousing anyone locally.

Finally, the employee got through and reported that "the refrigerator was 'definitely' on the truck, but they could no longer tell me what time it would be delivered." At that point– 9pm Wednesday– Garland emailed me. "My food has been out of the refrigerator for over 10 hours," he wrote, "and the only thing cold is the treatment I have received from Sears."

The next day, Garland learned what had happened to his refrigerator: It had indeed been "on the truck"– but the truck, alas, had been headed to Lynchburg. On Thursday morning, at long last, it arrived. Garland emailed me the news and said that his wife was "loading food (for the third time)" as he wrote.

I related Garland's saga to Larry Costello, director of public relations and communications for Sears, on Friday. On Monday Garland got a "call of apology" from Robert Cox, who manages the local store. "He addressed my complaints to my satisfaction," Garland wrote in his final email, "and I will consider doing business with them in the future."

So Garland has his refrigerator– and Sears, we can only hope, has resolved to upgrade how it delivers its products to customers.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.