…Not if you’re buying a digital camera and it’s from Sears!
You hear it all the time. Whenever you buy something of value at the department store, they ask:
“Would you like to purchase an extended warranty on that?”
“We’ve got an optional service protection plan that will fully cover the product beyond the standard manufacturer’s warranty. Are you interested?”
As a rule, we never buy into such “protection plans”, “insurance”, or “extended warranties” — believing that the odds of something going wrong that the standard manufacturer’s warranty wouldn’t already cover are quite slim. Not to mention the fact that such protection plans are quite expensive, relatively speaking.
However, there have been two occasions in my lifetime when I’ve purchased an extended warranty. Both were at Sears. One experience (on a bicycle) was good. The other (on a digital camera) was not so good.
Here’s what you need to know…
I (Heart) Sears
Let me just start by saying this: I love Sears — mostly for their low prices, but also for their brand-loyalty and customer service.
I’ve always felt that I’ve received personal attention from people knowledgeable about the product, no matter what department I happened to be in.
HOWEVER, I do have one piece of advice…
In the event that you’re considering purchasing an optional Master Protection Agreement (MPA) from Sears — particularly if the product you’re aiming to “protect” is a camera — you may want to think again!
The Sears Master Protection Agreement
At Sears they call their extended warranty a “Master Protection Agreement“. It’s supposed to be better than most, because it goes beyond the typical repair or replacement of the product should it become un-usable for some reason. The Sears MPA also includes one free “preventive maintenance check” (i.e. cleaning) each year for the life of your MPA.
This free preventive maintenance check is the primary reason that we purchased the 2-year MPA (for $129.99) on our Canon Digital Rebel camera.
Since the camera cost nearly $1,000 (we bought it July, 2003), and we knew we’d be using it a lot, we figured we would get our money’s worth from the MPA simply by taking advantage of the free preventive maintenance check each year!
We had done our homework and learned that similar cleanings cost $100+ a pop from a camera cleaning & repair shop, so $129.99 didn’t seem unreasonable for the option of getting 2 cleanings.
However, we were shocked to witness how Sears handles the “preventive maintenance checks” on the cameras they sell!
What?… Sears Cleans & Services Cameras?
First and foremost, I wanted to know how the process of getting your camera cleaned and/or repaired through Sears actually worked. So, the day we bought the camera, we asked. We were told by the sales clerk something along the lines of: “We (Sears) send it out to have it professionally cleaned by our camera experts.”
I went through the whole line of thought — some of it out loud with the sales clerk — some of it I just kept to myself: “Sears has camera experts? Hmmm… didn’t know that.” I can’t really picture that. I didn’t fully buy into that. But, it wasn’t a deal-breaker on purchasing the MPA.
The Process of Getting Your Camera Serviced At Sears
Here it is now, a year and a half later… and we decide it’s time to take advantage of the free preventive maintenance check. So I call the Sears where I bought the camera to ask how they “send out” cameras to be cleaned.
You will notice on their website where they describe their MPA’s, they don’t even have an option for servicing or repairing digital cameras!! For some reason, cameras are handled quite differently.
After being routed to 3 different people, the last one seemed familiar with the process. He said they “box it up and ship it via UPS to a camera repair place in Texas.” (He actually mentioned the city, but I don’t recall it now.)
I immediately Googled “sears (city) texas” to see if I could find anything that would allay my fears of sending my expensive camera across the country and back. I could find nothing. (Which is partly the reason for this post… I figure, if I have questions about the process, others are likely to as well.)
So I waited a few days, then I called again. When I asked how to “start the process” of getting the “preventive maintenance check” on my camera, he said to just take the camera into the store where you bought it — then go to the Repairs department.
A few weeks later, Jim and I went to the Sears store where we bought the camera. We went directly to the Repairs department. The guy there was clueless about the process, so he said to take the camera back to the camera department itself and see if they could help.
Then, another guy came in to work at the Repairs department. We asked him about the process of sending cameras out for the “preventive maintenance check” per the MPA. He didn’t know anything about “preventive maintenance checks”, but he said for “repairs”, he could handle it for me. He was ready to take my camera from me and send it out somewhere.
When I mentioned that I’d been told that Sears “ships cameras via UPS to a different repair & cleaning location somehwere in Texas”, he seemed to vaguely recall hearing something like that before. He said, to be sure, I’d better just go back to the camera department and see if they could help.
At the camera department, the sales clerk says, “Yep, we can send it out for you.” When I ask about where they ship it to. She didn’t know. She said, “I’ll take you back there, and we can ask them.” …as she starts to walk me back to the Repairs department where we’d started!
At this point, I’m extremely nervous to put my camera in the hands of any of these people, since no one knew exactly where it would end up! So I asked for a manager.
Does Anyone At Sears Know How To Get A Camera Serviced?
Fortunately, the store’s Customer Service Manager (CSM) was working. However, he admitted that he was new to this particular store and he had never handled an MPA on a camera, but he would try to find the answer to our question.
He phoned one of his bosses. They gave me a phone number to call to schedule the cleaning with Canon directly, at which point Canon would (supposedly) send me a box to ship my camera to them. The CSM also gave us his direct number, in the event that I had any other questions (…if only he’d have known!)
The next morning, I phoned Canon. They were very nice. Very understanding. Very willing to help. But they simply said they do not honor store agreements like this MPA from Sears. Never have. Period. I asked for a supervisor. (Also very nice.) I got the same story. He made a note in their company computer system and said that note was being broadcast to all Canon managers alerting them to the fact that Sears was selling such MPA’s and giving out their phone number as the contact… just so their people would a) be informed and b) possibly confront Sears if they got enough phone calls on the matter.
The next morning, I phoned the CSM back at my local Sears store. He was embarrassed that he’d sent me on a wild goose chase. (I must say, he was an admirable representative for the company, and I applaud his work ethic — for this and for how he managed to resolve all this in the end.)
The CSM promised that he’d call me back with a solution to this problem before the day’s end. (He never called back.) I called him back the next morning, eager to hear his solution. While I was on the phone, he was speaking with his store manager (who didn’t have an answer either) and they phoned someone else — who said to call this toll-free number. Guess what?… It was the SAME number for Canon that I’d been given days earlier! Another wild goose chase.
This was becoming completely ridiculous now. It was clear that NO ONE at Sears knew how to handle the MPA on a camera that had been purchased at Sears.
I decided to ask for my money back on the MPA.
The Difficulty of Getting Your Money Back On An MPA
Still on the phone with the CSM (who was still fishing around for something else to try)… I stopped him mid-sentence, and I told him that we just didn’t feel comfortable leaving our camera with anyone at Sears at this point, and that we would just like our money back — the amount we paid for the MPA.
He said something to the effect of: “I’m okay with that. It’s obvious that we were unable to provide you with the service you paid for.”
He said he would give me a full refund of the MPA, and asked when I would like to come by the store and take care of that. I rushed right to Sears and ended up spending my entire lunch hour trying to get my money back.
Turns out, there is no easy way for Sears to refund 100% of what someone paid for an MPA. Their system is set up to only offer a pro-rated amount, based on the amount of time that has elapsed since the MPA was purchased.
Plus, their system is set up to only issue store credit — despite the fact that I had the receipt in hand that showed we had paid CASH for the camera and the MPA.
I stood my ground and wouldn’t settle for a store credit. I was owed $129.99 in cash, and I needed the cash to go get my camera cleaned & checked somewhere else.
Boy, did they fight me on this! (“Surely you could find something to buy here at Sears with a store credit!”)
Finally, after both the CSM and the store manager had tried everything they could think of to “trick” the cash register into giving me the money I was owed, I was actually the one to suggest a ‘workaround” so they could get into their own cash registers and get me the cash I was owed. To everyone’s amazement, it worked!
…I wonder what they’re going to do when the next person wants to get their “free preventive maintenance check” on the camera?!
…I wonder if the sales people in the camera department are still selling MPA’s on cameras?!…
Others Share Their Thoughts On Sears & Their MPA’s
ConsumerAffairs.com Posts Consumer Complaints on Sears Maintenance Agreements
iVillage’s Garden Web Posts Feedback on Sears Master Protection Agreements (…and extended warranties in general).
Planet Feedback Posts Consumer Opinions Regarding Sears Warranties
Don’t Buy Protection Agreements! (…according to a Sears as a call center operator)
Sears Master Protection Agreements…A Ripoff Or Not? (…don’t miss the “honest employee speaks” post)