Seared: Customer bolts after appliance snafu

"It appears that no one at Sears, including the general manager, cares about customer relations. I have a few more months to pay off the charge for the appliances, and when I do I will return my charge card. I will no longer be a Sears customer."

That's how Janet Rockafellow ended her letter to Charlottesville Sears manager Robert Cox, in which she described what had happened after she bought five appliances from his store.

Since Sears has refused to comment, we have only Rockafellow's version of events. Rockafellow contacted me after reading my column two weeks ago about the difficulties Robert Garland had when he bought a refrigerator from Sears ["Cold shoulder," November 3].

Garland's problems were entirely with the Lynchburg-based delivery service, which had promised and failed twice to deliver the refrigerator before finally getting it right.

Rockafellow's complaints were with both the delivery service and the store. At that point she was still living in New Jersey, but she and her husband were building a house at Lake Monticello. Although the builder "gives an allowance at Sears and orders for you," she explained in an email to me, "I found I could get better prices by shopping myself. Little did I know!"

Rockafellow bought the appliances during a May trip to check on the house's progress. "The delivery date the salespeople wrote down was incorrect," she claimed in her letter to Cox, "and the delivery service tried to deliver them a month early. When the appliances were delivered on the correct date, three were damaged and returned by the builder."

According to Rockafellow, it took "numerous" phone calls from New Jersey to the Charlottesville appliance department before one was finally returned. The next week the refrigerator, which was one of the three appliances that had been damaged, was replaced– but, she claims, the replacement was also damaged "and appeared to be a floor model."

When she finally reached the appliance manager by phone, she wrote Cox, "I was told she would call back within the hour, which needless to say did not happen."

When Rockafellow returned to close on her house, she "tried calling the appliance department again without success."

Eventually she reached Cox's assistant, after which "the appliance manager finally called me and asked me to wash off the marks on the refrigerator! I told her I would try, but the marks were not dirt but deep scratches, and when I called back to tell her so, she again was unavailable and did not return my call."

Rockafellow says she went to the store that evening and talked to both the appliance manager and the salesman who had sold her the refrigerator. "I was told that it was impossible to reorder that particular model, for whatever reason, but that I would be given a better one for the same price, and an additional 10 percent discount, which I accepted."

The refrigerator was delivered and the damaged one removed– but, Rockafellow wrote Cox, "after studying my numerous sales slips, I found that the refrigerator that I had just returned, and that had been delivered damaged and [was] possibly a floor model, was not even the model that I had bought in the first place!"

The last straw was the bill Rockafellow received, on which it appeared that she had been charged twice for the washer and dryer. More calls ensued. In their last conversation, Rockafellow wrote, "you agreed that my bill was wrong and would send me a corrected one and have it in my hands when I returned from vacation September 16. I never heard from you again."

Cox refused to discuss Rockafellow's situation, saying that he was "being told by the company" not to talk to me. Instead, he said he would call Rockafellow and declared, "We'll do whatever we can to make it right."

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