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Stuck with a pair of shoes – and confused about Sears’ refund policy

ValeStock / Shutterstock.com
ValeStock / Shutterstock.com
Olga O’Hara wants to return the shoes she bought at Sears.com, but she’s getting mixed signals from the company about how to do so. Is she stuck with her purchase?

Question: I recently ordered a pair of shoes online through Sears.com. The packing slip says I can return the items to any Sears store.

I went to my nearest store and was told they can’t refund my money back to my credit card since I paid with PayPal. The only option they had was to issue a gift card. However, I don’t shop at Sears and I did not want a gift card.

They told me I could ship the items back. Well, I’d have to pay to ship those back, and I don’t want to do that.

Is there any way for me to return the items to the store and get my money refunded to my credit card? — Olga O’Hara, Salt Lake City

Answer: Sears should have allowed you to return the item to one of its stores. Like other merchants, Sears has a policy of refunding your purchase to the original method of payment. So if you paid cash, you’ll get a cash refund. If you paid by credit card, it goes back to your credit card.

Sears’ rules are explained on its site. But it doesn’t really mention the method-of-payment policy, at least not prominently.

By the way, many businesses have similar rules, and for good reason. Paying by gift card and asking for a cash refund sounds like the kind of scheme you’d read about on one of those consumer-hacker sites, where, among other things, they also explain how to take advantage of pricing mistakes and churn your credit cards. Enough said.

You have to dig deep into the Sears website to find this information. It’s under the refunds section, about halfway down the page: “Where appropriate, refunds will be issued in the same form as the original method of payment.”

Appropriate? That sounds like it’s subject to interpretation, don’t you think?

Here’s what puzzles me: Sears.com is crystal-clear about your return options. “If you make an order that you wish to cancel, you may mail the order back after you have received it or return the merchandise to your local Sears store,” it says.

And yet, as I review the chat correspondence between you and a Sears representative, it seems as if, on at least one occasion, a Sears rep didn’t understand the store’s own policy, instructing you to ship the shoes back. Also, the employees seemed more eager to sell you something than to solve your problem. Tsk, tsk.

I think Sears could have been clearer about its return policies, especially as it pertains to the issuance of the refund. It might also train its employees to let them know that it’s absolutely fine to accept returns from Sears.com.

You also could have appealed this to someone higher up at Sears. Here are a few executive contacts. Email addresses at Sears follow the format firstinitial+lastname@searshc.com.

I contacted Sears on your behalf. A representative called and arranged to let you take your shoes back to your store and will refund your PayPal account.

Does Sears' refund policy make sense?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Bill___A

    I had a problem with Sears not taking back a defective bicycle when I was 14. A letter from a lawyer encouraged them to see things a little more clearly and they came through with a refund, but never really had much to do with them since. One chain that I surely won’t care if it bites the dust.

  • sdir

    ” It might also train its employees to let them know that it’s absolutely fine to accept returns from Sears.com.”

    Of course it is, and the store had already told the customer she could return in-store. The problem arose with the form of payment. Online and retail stores operate separately, does her local Sears store accept Paypal as a form of payment? If not, the store has no way of refunding her Paypal account and could only offer her a gift card. This would be why the store suggested shipping back the order to get a refund. Had she paid by credit card or cash, this would be a non-issue.

    I think Sears could make their return policy clearer and explain that Paypal returns may need to be shipped back for Paypal credit, but I don’t automatically blame this situation on untrained employees.

  • bodega3

    I am glad that Chris was able to help the OP. I am certainly not a fan of Sears.com based on my own experience. I had an issue with them a year ago for an item that they really didn’t carry nor had in stock. I found out that with their website, they have become a third party seller of some items, which was the case in this item. When I made the purchase, online, I got an immediate confirmation number and a second email showing the shipping tracking number, but it was never actually sent. According to Sears, these emails are automatically sent, and may or may not be correct. Yet, they immediately charged my card. I didn’t find all this out until the delivery time came and went and I found the shipping number proved to be false, I did some checking with some other companies and found that the item had not and still hasn’t been manufactured for sometime. Yet Sears Customer Service told me it was due in anytime so I could wait or get my money back. I asked for the credit, which I got and will never use Sears.com again!

  • FQTVLR

    Back when I was establishing my credit I got my first credit card from Sears. My checks to pay the card off (at the end of each month) were mysteriously credited to someone else’s account each time. (I paid in person at the store but always by check.) It also took a letter from the attorney I worked for at the time to solve the problem. I had the cancelled checks but Sears would not budge for me. And in the 30+ years since then I have only purchased 4 tools from the hardware department at Sears but have never used a Sears card since that debacle. So this letter does not surprise me at all.

  • LadySiren

    Nothing about Sears makes sense, which is why they just posted a HUGE loss. Sears and Kmart are wobbly at best; I’ll be surprised if they make it to 2014 holiday season. I had a terrible experience with Kmart this past Christmas and have decided that’s the last time – ever – that I shop there.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sears is still around?
    I thought they folded circa 2000…when their halfway decent tools started being Made in China pieces of garbage.

    Oh. Well, shows what I know.

  • Fishplate

    If you bought shoes from Sears, it doesn’t really make much sense to claim you can’t accept a refund on a gift card because you don’t shop at Sears.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    I bought a brand new pair of discounted Beats by Dre from Target via an Ebay Buy-it-Now listing on Black Friday. Target’s return policy allows you to return the headphones to the store with receipt and have the store issue a cash refund, since they can’t do the Paypal refund in store. It doesn’t make sense to me as to why Sears can’t do the same.

  • Thoroughlyamused

    Valid point, but Sears should be more upfront about its policies. Nothing in its own policies seemed to suggest she wasn’t entitled to a cash refund simply because she wanted to return the merchandise in store.

  • Fishplate

    They certainly should have been willing to refund in the same manner that payment was tendered. If you don’t refund via PayPal, issue a check.

  • jim6555

    Sears department stores in the US are wholly owned by Sears Holdings, a company created after the purchase of Sears by K-Mart. The fact that the company is run by K-Mart personnel at K-Mart’s headquarters location in Hoffman Estates, IL speaks volumes about it’s vision, attitude and philosophy. My local Sears is located in an upscale mall. About two years ago, they started encouraging shoppers to use shopping carts. You never see shopping carts at the other major department stores at this mall (Dillard’s, Macy’s and JC Penney) or any other upscale mall that I am familiar with. I don’t normally shop at K-Mart and I have stopped shopping at Sears.

  • RN51

    Just to offer a little perspective from someone who works in operations in the retail industry. Many legacy or heritage retailers have this policy in place – if you buy online and use PayPal and try to return in store, they will offer you a gift card. But if you return via mail, then they will refund the original origin of payment. This is because the operating infrastructure of these legacy companies were built in silo so as Sears built their brick and mortar fleet, their POP systems were developed on one platform. As they built their direct (.com) business decades later, that POP system was built on another platform. These two separate platforms cannot “talk” to each other and were not set up that way. Most of these big box retailers still run their brick and mortar fleet separately from their direct business. Wal-Mart even has two presidents – one over their Stores and one over their .com.

    Because of the two separate operating platforms, store associates cannot readily “refund” someone’s PayPal account at the register in the store because that register is not connected to the direct platform’s payment system. I’m betting that the OP was refunded by someone in corporate who had to access the direct system to do so. Sears would be unlikely able to do this on a wider scale until they revamp their entire POP operating system which they are very likely doing now. But it’s important to note that all companies that existed before the last decade are in the middle of this transformation, even Wal-Mart. Urban Outfitters just completed this work in 2013 and they had a 2-3 year head start on all other companies having the foresight to see that this would be a major problem for customers down the line.

    It’s less a fraud concern but rather a logistics issue. Sears could have been more clear about this as many companies have this policy clearly outlined on their .com site.

  • emanon256

    If a merchant takes credit cards, why pay through PayPal only to still use your credit card to make the payment? That is just adding an unnecessary intermediary to the transaction. I have seen some merchants whop only take PayPal, and then I have to sue a credit card via PayPal, but if they take a credit card directly, I see no reason to complicate things.

  • emanon256

    I bought a TV mount at Sears that I was assured worked with my TV. I used a credit card. It was the wrong mount, and when I returned it, they said they processed the refund to my credit card and gave me a receipt. I never got the refund. I contacted the credit card company and Sears told them they provided the refund in cash, and even provided a different receipt showing I was refunded in cash (I was never given cash). The credit card sided with sears. It took several months of trying to communicate with the GM and eventually having to go through corporate, only to have the GM call me and arrange a secret in person meeting where he paid me cash out of his wallet. I will no longer do business with a company that operates in such a shady manner. This was in addition to me going to the customer pick up section to pick up a TV only to be told I already picked it up, but that’s another story.

  • Bill___A

    Sounds like you ran into a shady person who just happened to work at Sears.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed

  • flutiefan

    But as Chris noted, to refund in cash when it wasn’t originally purchased using cash (remember, Paypal can be linked to your credit card, too) can be rife with fraud issues.

  • emanon256

    Both the employee and the GM were shady? I also bought a dishwasher at Sears when ours broke, and the delivery people brought the wrong model and color, and when I refused it, they offered $50 cash if I just kept the one they had (Was about $300 less in price than the one I ordered). When I asked for the correct one to be re-delivered I was told it would be 3 months (I wasn’t going to go 3 months without a dishwasher). They then tried to charge me a re-stocking fee. I had another instance where I tried to return a tool that broke, but was covered under the Craftsman warranty, and they kept telling me the warranty is only valid on non-broken items. The terms specifically stated it was covered, and they said when the item broke, it was no longer covered. Then I also had problems with the sears card charging me fees for payments that were made on-time as a poster below mentioned. All of these problem were at several different Sears locations. I used to love the company, but think they have gone to crap and no longer go there.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    There are any number of reason why the OP can’t use a gift card. Perhaps the OP only shops occasionally at Sears. Perhaps Sears was the only place that had the specific shoe that the OP wanted. Etc.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t think Chris is correct about that. Yes, that is absolutely true when gift cards are involved. But a case like this doesn’t present the same issues, particularly since the OP would have happily taken a refund to the original form of payment.

  • Bill___A

    I’m sorry but I don’t know what went on there. I am saddened that you had a bad experience. I’m also not sure if it relates to sears specifically or the people you were dealing with.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    My guess is that the simply didn’t think about it so they don’t have any procedures in place.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    2 reasons.

    1. PayPal is more convenient grabbing my wallet (which I’m sitting on) and entering Name, address, credit card number, and expiration date. And I don’t know my credit card number of the top of my head. I do know my Paypal userid and password.

    I did this with American AIrlines for a while, until I learned that you couldn’t make online changes if you paid with Paypal (at least at the time)

    2. The retailer doesn’t have your credit card information. I purchase suits from Bangkok. I feel a little safer knowing that they don’t have my credit card information.

  • emanon256

    I’m confused. You shared a bad experience you had at Sears and said you don’t go there any more and wouldn’t care if it went away. I also shared a bad experience I had, and you said it probably didn’t relate to Sears? So I shared a few more experiences at other Sears locations and you don’t think it relates to Sears? I’m confused as to why your post is valid and mine isn’t. Not trying to argue, but just confused as I thought I was empathizing with you and you keep discounting what I say. Based on mine, and other posters experiences, and the repeated stores of Sears on Chris’s site, I am beginning to think they have a systematic issue.

  • Bill___A

    I’m sorry I perhaps did not put the necessary thought behind my response. I do not have sufficient experience with Sears to be a good source of information on them. It is regrettable you had all of those problems.

  • omgstfualready

    I’ve made one time purchases as gifts. It makes sense if I have to return the item the gift card is useless.

  • Fishplate

    I guess it’s my fault for expecting people to say what they mean.

  • xgm

    Something similar happened to me at Sears, I went to the store to exchange a jacket I bought on line for a smaller size but since I had paid with PayPal they couldn’t do the exchange, I had to return it and buy again the new jacket, but, the sale price was no longer valid, so the cashier kindly granted me the same sale price I had paid for the original jacket to the new one! I guess I was lucky with a very nice store representative! ;-)

  • Justin

    Paypal = Cash. Sears doesn’t own a Cash Register with American Currency?

  • Justin

    Convenience has a downfall. Old world payment (Credit Card Protection) versus New World (Paypal). I can dispute a credit card transaction or have a chargeback. Paypal isn’t afforded the same luxury yet.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Well, old world payment would be cash, which doesn’t permit charge backs.

    ;-0

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You don’t have sufficient experience with them but you label them as “One chain that I surely won’t care if it bites the dust”? Nothing really wrong with anything you’ve said, but it comes across like a separate person wrote your first post only to be replaced by somebody else for all the subsequent ones.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Great explanation. I’d never really known what the allure of PayPal was until reading your post. It does seem to have some real advantages.

  • bodega3

    Question….Is the Sears website actually with Sears? Macy’s site isn’t Macy’s. Which might be why the Sears site is a third party seller for items the store doesn’t carry. I admit to not understanding how Pay Pay works, but in our industry, the form of payment you use is the form of payment you get any refunds back to. The biggest issue comes down to closed credit card accounts, as refunds have to go back to the same card.

  • Justin

    A-Ha but the Barter system predates cash.. Furs, Golds, Etc!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    lol

  • Justin

    I demand refund of my 2 goats, wool blanket, and gold nuggets.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Too late, the goat’s a kabob.

  • Rebecca Pusch

    I agree, “when appropriate” it should be refunded in the same manner, however if they can’t refund to the same method, they should refund in a manner that is at least as good, if not better. (as we all know, store gift cards are *NOT* as good/better than a real refund)

    I know that Costco accepts MC/Visa purchases through their website. They also accept website returns at their stores. Their stores do not process MC/Visa, so they would refund these purchases in cash. There are some exceptions, but these are for high dollar items such as diamond jewelry, for which returns must be processed differently.

  • emanon256

    I feel badly for their accountants :)

  • emanon256

    Now I am hungry for a kabob.

  • emanon256

    I still prefer the credit card protection since PayPal protection failed me, but I agree, it is more work. I used to have a credit card that would generate a new one-time-use number for me when buying from questionable sources.

  • Rebecca Pusch

    I agree, but for small dollar, infrequent returns, it is definitely the Costco way to be customer friendly and not upset the customer over what was is a relatively minor amount. Sears generated a lot of “bad”-will and now bad press for what was probably less than $1 in CC fees. That is probably how Costco feels. Now, if customers abuse it (and since all your purchases an returns are tracked they can easily identify potential abuse), they can decline to continue that person as a member.

    For a $100 purchase, it is unlikely that Costco’s MC/Visa processing fees are more than $2, its just not worth it to them to anger a customer for that amount of money. And honestly, if they had to pass the refund up the chain of command to corporate to issue an refund to MC/Visa, the number of people needing to touch it, cumulative time spent processing it and costs to print and mail the receipt confirming the refund would likely eat up the savings on CC fees, not to mention delay the refund, which could irritate the customer.

    I have heard rumors that Amex gives Costco a very good processing rate for only accepting Amex in B&M stores (there must be a reason, seems as likely as anything else). It is possible Costco worked that to get good rates across the board for their online sales, meaning that the CC fees might be even less, making it even less expensive to operate in the most customer friendly method.

  • Bill___A

    I learned early on in life that Sears’ word was not worth anything and I have not felt the need to deal with them in any significant manner since. I’ve been in their stores a few times and usually come up empty handed. It is my understanding that the two things they had going for them were appliances and tools. Now it looks like there is no reason to deal with them at all.

  • Justin

    Seems Sears has an agenda to “preserve” a sale through the issuance of store credit. Turns people off and probably harmsful in the long run, too. Better to give cutomers flexiibility than to force.

  • commentfromme

    Sears is famouns for the first concept of purchasing on credit

  • Lindabator

    If they gave anyone cash – and then it turns out the items were stolen – what then? This is why almost all companies return a refund to original form of payment. They should just have a way to show they are refunding to a paypal account, and send it up the chain to do so.

  • Lindabator

    Exactly! Too bad they don’t have a form they can fill out showing the paypal account will be refunded, and then just have someone higher up do those types of returns end of day.

  • Lindabator

    But a store HAS no Paypal services – too bad they can’t just issue a refund slip, and have someone in the office take care of those types return.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Not true. Some stores permit you to use your Paypal account to pay at the register, no card needed. Home Depot is one such store. But my point is that fraudulent churning is not a real issue here.