Sears Sucks

Last Wednesday morning my beloved called in an accusatory voice: “the dishwasher is broken!”

Intraoperative picture of the broken widget.

I swear by my honor, I didn’t break it. Although, I must admit, my dirty dishes contributed significantly to the collective weight of the basket that ultimately exceeded the yield strength of whatever part that gave way and broke the camel’s back. Since it is a given in our home, established over 45 years of marital bliss, that I am responsible for anything that goes wrong, I made an emergency housecall to the kitchen. No question, the patient was gimpy. The middle drawer leaned suspiciously to the right. A short diagnostic survey quickly isolated the problem: a broken widget!

“Widget”, in fact, is just a familiar pet name. Its offical name is: “Rack adjuster wheel shaft”. Having thus identified the culprit in an internet line-up, I called Sears Appliance Service. Webster’s Dictionary lists 22 definitions for the term “service”. The most appropriate definition seems to be number 18: “anything useful, as maintenance, supplies, installation, repairs etc. provided by a dealer or manufacturer for people who have bought things from him.” We bought the dishwasher six years ago from Sears. Six years is not old age as far as brand name appliances go. Our dishwasher is in its prime.

After winding my way through Sear’s automated phone service, I got to talk to a nice lady. But she didn’t share my confidence in the vitality of a six year old dishwasher. “No”, she said, “unfortunately, this part is no longer being manufactured. You have to order a new rack adjuster assembly for C$ 249.- plus tax”. I thanked the nice lady with strained civility but declined her generous offer.  I shouldn’t really blame her. After all, she didn’t make corporate policy – she is just executing it.

The time had come for surgery – plastic welding epoxy to the rescue. I won’t bore you with the gory details of the operation. It succeeded; the patient is hale, the basket straight and my beloved happy – the world is in order again. But is it?

Further search on the internet led me to a supplier that will sell me a “rack adjuster subassembly” matching my dishwasher model for just C$ 35.82 plus tax. I may just get one. As the little picture shows, the “rack adjuster wheel shaft” shows signs of early atherosclerosis. My surgery probably just bought us a few more months. But why can’t I just get the little wheel assembly by itself? True, it would require some more complex parts logistics. The little widget, that probably cost no more than a penny to manufacture, could be sold honestly for 5 or 10 dollars to pay for the opportunity cost of maintaining stores. But that is apparently not enough for the business model of Sears. The little widget has become a victim of the “just-in-time” philosophy so prevalent in today’s corporate world. But it is about more than just money! Just think of the environmental impact if you discard $50 worth of parts unnecessarily for every $1 that needs it.

Selling customers assemblies for 250 dollars instead of widgets for 10 dollars does wonders for a CEO’s bonus. But I didn’t buy the assembly. Hopefully, more customers will wise up and boycott the sharp practice of Sears Repair Service and its ilk. This way, in the end, many CEOs will only get their golden parachute instead.

Oh, I almost forgot, maybe, Webster’s should append a 23rd definition of service: “a method of squeezing even more money out of people dumb enough to buy from you in the first place.


I should have done this before: A Google search for “Sears Sucks” returns 2180 hit!

Final Postscript (Dec. 11. 2012)

I didn’t expect it, but the success of the  desperate surgery had lasted for over two years. The widget is still whole. But last week our eight year old Maytag dishwasher developed terminal whooping cough. In fact, it sounds like our snow-blower that hadn’t been in operation last season at all. But a dishwasher shouldn’t sound like a snow-blower. So we had to finally place it on the “Do not resuscitate” list. Right now it is crowing its swan song. Tomorrow, the men from Miele will come and take it away to its final resting place.

We are looking forward to its sparkling, whispering, and hopefully, healthier successor.

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