Where’s my Sears.com refund?

1-Screen Shot 2012-09-28 at 2.30.24 PMQuestion: I ordered three items from Sears.com three weeks ago. Two arrived, but the other — a coat for $75 — was canceled by Sears the same day I placed the order because it was no longer available in a warehouse or store.

It has been 20 days and I’ve received no refund for the canceled item. I’ve done online chat, e-mailed, and contacted Sears on Twitter and Facebook. According to @searscares, I am now on a waitlist for a “case manager” regarding my refund.

I have also escalated a claim with PayPal, as I paid for my order with PayPal
funds and Shop Your Way Rewards. Can you help me get a refund for the canceled item? — Elizabeth Smith, Johnson City, Tenn.

Answer: Sears was dragging its feet on your refund, no doubt about it.

A look at its own return policy and PayPal’s policy reveals … well, not much. They are long, convoluted documents that make it difficult (if not impossible) to know the timeline for a refund.

That’s not just a Sears and PayPal problem — you see it everywhere. The money is taken out of your account at lightning speed but returned at a snail’s pace.

Here’s the problem I have with your case: You didn’t cancel the transaction; Sears did. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have quickly returned your $75.

Companies will say that it’s not that simple. There are complex systems at work behind the scenes, managing millions of transactions. But the truth is, refunds could be made as quickly as purchases, if companies were willing to invest in the technology.

You could have filed a dispute with PayPal, which functions similarly to a credit card dispute, but that might have tied up your refund even longer. You were better off asking Sears to do the right thing soon. Too bad no one was listening.

By the way, if you ever hit a brick wall with Sears again, try emailing someone higher on the corporate food chain. All Sears email follow the convention [email protected] Forwarding your email to a supervisor would almost certainly ensure your case would be assigned a higher priority, but I can’t guarantee it.

I contacted Sears on your behalf. It processed your refund within a few hours.

Do you think online retailers profit by taking their time with refunds?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • TonyA_says

    Technically that should not be a refund since they should never have charged for anything they could not ship. Next time buy from Amazon. They bill at shipping.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I don’t know if Sears is on the decline, but I heard a lot of bad stories about them from friends this past holiday season.

    Could also just be the area, because 2 of them lived within an hour of the lady in the above article…

  • belle42

    Profit? DEFINITELY — it’s called interest income and the longer they hold your money, the more interest income they receive from their bank. There is no incentive for them to quickly return money because then they would lose that interest income!!

  • Charles B

    It’s interest income in that they hope you’ll lose interest long enough to forgot about the refund entirely.

  • Steve Rabin

    I remember reading a story about Sears several years ago. Their payment terms to their suppliers was 45 days…but over time, Sears deliberately started moving this out, one day at a time, until it was 50 days. No agreements–they just did it, even though the supplier terms officially remained 45 days. This may not sound like much, until you realize that Sears made tens of millions per year holding their creditors money a few extra days…

  • BillCCC

    This is guaranteed profit for a company.

    The money should have been returned within seconds of the order being cancelled. If you are late with a payment by one day you can be charged a fee.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I voted ‘Yes’ in the poll but it is not pure profit like most people may think.

    When a merchant process a credit cardPayPal refund, there is a charge (typical the same rate…1% to 3%…they were charged for the charge) that is assessed against the refund. For example, if the order is $ 100 and their fee is 2%…the merchant is charged $ 2.00 at the time of the order and $ 2.00 at the time of the refund (if there is a refund).

    In addition, most companies will have a supervisory person reviewing refunds to insure the refunds are legit, etc; therefore, there is a cost for this person.

    Given the current low cost of money (for both borrowing and investingsaving) plust the costs to refund, a merchant is not making that much money on the float of refunds.

  • Carchar

    This is not Chris’s first time dealing with Sears. They are on a downward spiral. Not sure if they have hit bottom yet, but I don’t hold them in high esteem like I used to when they had a trustworthy reputation. I may look there, but I buy elsewhere.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I ordered a trim kit for an in-cabinet microwave from Sears.com to be delivered to the closest Sears store in early 2008. Something happened to the order – it stalled in cyberspace for 3 months. Sears couldn’t decide if the kit was available or not available. Sears.com blamed the store, the store blamed Sears.com. The 5th time at the store, a floor manager said hold on, walked into the warehouse and brought out the kit after 15 minutes or so. Said there was a huge pile of unclaimed warehouse orders from Sears.com sitting there, but the store didn’t have the information necessary to log them in and notify the customer. He dug through the pile and grabbed our item. We took it and left.

    Just for fun, we checked the order status on Sears.com for many months after we walked out of Sears with our order – still showed open and waiting to be fulfilled for a year afterward! Matter of fact, we got an e-mail saying that we should visit a local store to secure a refund! Ummmm, no, we had the kit, so that would have been stealing.

    I think there’s something seriously wrong with the tracking process between Sears.com and Sears itself, and that problem has been around for a long time. I don’t think that in the OP’s case, it was a matter of an online retailer taking its sweet time processing the refund; I think that Sears.com is seriously flawed and the system didn’t recognize that a refund was due.

    So, as TonyA says – do business with a better online retailer!

  • EdB

    If there is going to be a cost associated with the refund, then Sears should not have charged until they confirmed the item was available. Even if there is a cost associated with the refund, that is no excuse to delay it.

  • emanon256

    I voted yes. I have worked in the financial systems industry for a long time, and can tell you fist hand that in most cases, a refund can be done as easily and quickly as a payment. Typically a payment will show up instantly because they do a check against the card. Since a refund doesn’t need to do a check, it won’t show up, but if its processed during the day, it will get processed with the merchant bank over night, and then tales 2-3 days to show up on the credit card.

    I have seen many a client want a convoluted refund approval process, that requires someone up top to approve all refunds, and they don’t have time to, so it can take weeks. They often do this to “Prevent Fraud”, but it really just upsets customers. They also often program these restraints into the system, so there are very few people who can override this, the system simply won’t let a lower, or even middle level employee refund a customer by the companies own choice.

    In Sears’s case, I don’t know why they charged her before it shipped. I don’t work with mail order companies, but I thought that there was a law that a mail order purchase could not be charged until the order shipped. Can anyone confirm that? Perhaps she wasn’t charged and thought she was, so every time Sears put in a refund request, it floated up to the approver who saw she wasn’t charged, so it got denied. Just a theory. In my experience, people calling in demanding refunds for things they were never charged for is actually pretty common. Also, the fact that she used a combination of PayPal, and a rewards program to make her purchases would complicate matters further.

  • EdB

    No such law that requires the online merchant to wait until shipping to charge that I know of. However, there is a law that requires merchants to offer a refund if the item cannot be shipped in 30 days. Or something to that effect.

  • emanon256

    True story. I bought a flat screen TV and a wall mount at sears 5 years ago. I made the purchase on-line, the website matched the mount to the TV, and I selected in store pick up. I had to print a bar code, go to the loading dock, and it scan it. I got to the loading dock, went to the waiting room, scanned it, and it said my order was being filled. I waited. There were no people present to talk to, and no other customers. 20 minutes later I called the store, it took 15 minutes to get someone. They told me the order had already been picked up. I said it still hasn’t arrived at the loading dock. They said it was just picket up, a few minutes ago. I told them nothing ever arrived at the dock. After much arguing I got the general manager to come to the loading doc. He said that the TV went missing, and they didn’t have any more in stock, but I could go to a warehouse and get it. He got the mount and then I went to the warehouse. Turns out it was the wrong mount, they did not have the right one. I went back to the store to return in, and got my receipt, and never got a refund. I called the store, and was told toldI was refunded in cash. I finally got the GM who told me he interviewed the employee who took the return, and that he state that he tried to refund my credit card, but that I kept demanding cash, and so he refunded me in cash. This was not the case at all, so I believe the employee just took the cash for himself. The GM said he could not do anything as I was already refunded. I worked with sears corporate for 3 months, and finally the GM called and asked me to meat him in the “Lands End” section to process my refund. I showed up and he took me over into the coat racks and gave me $100 cash out of his wallet and apologized, and said it turns out the employee gave all credit card refunds as cash, and always kept the cash for himself. I have not returned to sears since.

  • emanon256

    Good point, I totally forgot to mention the fees in the refund in my post. Back when I used to work in A/R, I often had people pay, and then call and ask that I refund them and let them pay again using a different credit card. I would tell them no, and they would argue. Some of them would even take it up to the executive level, or simply dispute the charge. Our typical charge was $3,000 a person, so the fee would have been astronomical to allow them to change from one credit card to another.

  • James Orth

    The money was refunded end of story

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    I’ve always paid directly with a credit card when buying online, and my card is not charged until the items are shipped, even if they are shipped in more than one segment. I don’t see how paying with PayPal should be any different. No reputable company should be collecting funds on items ordered that have not shipped. Sears needs to clean up its act. But that’s been true for Sears since before they invented computers.

  • Charles Owen

    The fundamental problem in this case was that she chose to pay using PayPal. PayPal was created to provide a way that people could pay for eBay purchases in a secure way and optionally with a credit card. They have grown that business as much as they can, so they are aggressively searching for alternative markets. Sears is only one of these.

    PayPal is not a credit card. When you authorize the payment, they transfer the funds right away. There is no law that says a vendor can’t charge until they ship, but there are rules from Visa and Mastercard that vendors must follow. Companies are not doing that out of the goodness of their heart, they are required by the credit card companies. PayPal has no such rule, so the funds transfer right away. Sears likes this, I’m sure, but the refund process in cases like this is much more complicated.

    Basic advice: Use PayPal to pay for eBay purchases. Don’t use it to pay Sears. If you have any doubt, just google: sears paypal.

  • John H.

    Sears is not the company it was in the 1930s and ’40s. Maybe even into the ’50s. When i was a kid and worked in a store in the SF Bay Area, refunds were done without even checking much, sometimes without receipts and never questioned or slowed in any way. It now is a mere shade of itself as far as customer service goes. That was how they beat out the competition. But so much has changed and it has management that cannot keep up with the times. Or will not. Top heads should roll, but of course they will not.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Most merchants charged when the order is submitted instead when it is shippedavailable. The main reason is to make sure that the credit card is valid. At the time of the purchase, a customer could have the available credit on their credit card but may not have the available credit when the item shipped. Or the customer can only allow to charge so much in one day. In a case like this, the merchant will have to contact the client for a new credit card number, etc. causing additional costs (i.e. a merchant is charged a fee even if the card is declined; someone to contact the customer for a new credit card; etc.).
    I agree with you that no company should hold up a refund because there is a cost associated with it. I wanted to point out with my comments that the float on refunds is not 100% pure profit…there are costs and most people are not aware of the costs.

  • Nigel Appleby

    When I was working our credit card companies charged us $2.00 on a $100 transaction as above by crediting our account $98. However when we refunded the $100 they only took $98 from our account and the other $2 came from them, in other words no transaction-no fee charged. There was one stipulation however, the refund had to go back on the same card. This was in Canada so maybe that’s the difference.

  • Charles Owen

    PayPal is different because PayPal chooses to be different. From the PayPal merchants page: “With PayPal, you get your money fast. When the order is complete, the money usually shows up in your PayPal account within minutes. From there, transfer it directly to your bank account or spend it wherever PayPal is accepted.” PayPal is pushing the idea of “get the money fast”. Companies don’t charge credit cards until an item is shipped because the credit card companies won’t let them. PayPal is not only letting them, they are encouraging it, likely because they then get their percentage earlier. So, don’t lay all of this on Sears. Nothing in this post would have ever happened had she used a Visa card instead of PayPal.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I can understand. One time, I had a client to purchased a $ 300,000 software package on their AMEX credit card. Our fee was 3% ($ 9,000) for AMEX (it was only 2% for MC/VISA)…luckly, there was no discount on their order.
    I worked for a company where we were charged a fee even if their credit card was declined. Our customers were businesses and it was common that some of our customers’ credit cards have daily spend limits (i.e. $ 10,000). Our typical charge was $ 5,000 and there were several clients with charges of $ 10,000+.

  • EdB

    The merchant can put the request for funds in when the order is placed to validate the card and funds. They don’t have to process the charge at that time. At the time the order goes to be shipped, that is when the actual charge should be made. Hotels and car rentals do this. Same idea.

  • emanon256

    Ouch, begin charged if its declined is painful.

    I actually refused to take AmEx because of the higher fee. Only had once complaint, someone was demanding to pay by AmEx and refused to pay with any other card. He eventually paid by check, which was even cheaper to take.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I sold Enterprise POS software for 10 years. It is about being efficient…that is why most business will charge when you place an order instead of when the order is shipped.

    The reason why hotels and car rental companies do pre-authorization because they don’t know the final amount of the sale until you return the car or check out from your hotel. A person could be late returning their car rental; didn’t fill up with gas; a person could put their meals on their room; charge movies to their room; how many miles was driven on the rental car if the rate has a limitation on miles; you can stay a day longer or check out earlier; etc.

  • EdB

    Just because they are not currently set up to do the pre authorization doesn’t mean they can’t get it set up that way. Ones who don’t just don’t want to get their systems set up to do it. Online merchants like Amazon do it that way so it can be done.

  • emanon256

    My merchant bank would remit $100 to me, and bill me $2, and when refunding, would pull $100, and bill me an additional $2. I would bet this is different for each merchant, or by country as you mentioned. I had multiple merchant accounts for various departments, and money from different POS systems went into to different accounts while I paid all of the transaction fees centrally.

  • Andrew F

    I don’t know about credit cards, but this was PayPal. I sell stuff from eBay from time to time; a few times, I’ve sent full or partial refunds to unsatisfied buyers. In case of a refund, PayPal returns the fee — pro-rated, if the refund was partial. The refund takes the same time as the initial payment, i.e., a second. There is simply no excuse for dragging your feet on refunds!

  • TonyA_says

    The real test for a vendor’s reputation is what does it do when a customer has notified them of a problem. Read here: https://www.sears.com/community/questions/placed-an-order-on-november-25th-paid-with-paypal-sears-received-the-funds-on-the-25th-sears-cancelled-the-order-on-the-26th-since-the-product-was-out-of-stock-today-its-december-6th-and-i-st/
    The OP’s issue with Sears is not unique. How many more customers need to get screwed before Sears fixes this kind of problem?

  • fshaff

    I ordered a part for a mixer at sears.com, paid for it with my debit card, and got a confirmation for the order. The next day, I got an email from Sears advising me that the part was no longer available and they would refund the charge. The refund showed up within a week on my card. As you can see, I had no trouble with Sears getting my refund within a reasonable time. Maybe I was just lucky.

  • lcpossum

    Sorry, doesn’t work like that. When the initial charge goes through a fee is charges against the transaction, but when a charge is reversed that initial fee is also reversed. It’s not a fee plus a fee, it’s a fee minus that fee.

  • Joe Farrell

    Why did I think this was a travel blog? Did I miss a post?

  • naoma

    My husband had a credit from Sears — it was a credit type card. He took it to the store (it was about 6 months old) and they could find no record of the number on it. Turned out the amount on the card was deleted an amount for each month he did not use it. So, it was WORTHLESS. Seems a sham to get a credit card that becomes worthless, doesn’t it?

  • naoma

    Hear this one: SEARS. My husband returned an item to Sears and received a credit card for the value. When he went to use the card it had NO VALUE. Seems each month you do not use it, money is deducted from the credit card. This is not “written anywhere” and sounds like a SCAM to me.

  • Emmy

    Oh, boy. I can see what I’ve got to look forward to. I’m out $649.42 for a dishwasher that got canceled. PayPal has been duly notified. Their customer service is appaling and infuriating to deal with. Tea and sympathy, but powerless to do anything to actually help. They offered me a $15 gift certificate for my trouble. I wonder how many MBAs thought up this brilliant strategy for hold onto cash. I wonder if it is their plan to avoid a Chapter 7 on our backs.

  • bodega3

    As a participant on this forum, I wanted to mention that I just have had a HORRIBLE experience with Sears.com. I had read this article, but went ahead with an order, as Sears.com had the product I needed that I had found on other websites that I didn’t know but knew Sears. I will never, ever use Sears.com again! They lied to me about the mailing of the product and had sent me an email 5 days after I place the other where they gave me a tracking number. They gave me a link for UPS to track the order except it wasn’t a UPS number, it was for USPS which couldn’t find the order. I have all emails, even the one saying the order would be delivered by tomorrow. In the end, the item is on back order, was never mailed yet they put through the charge when they never had it in store to start with. I canceled the order and will just buy a new product and forget about a replacement part. LOUSY customer service and they darn well better credit my credit card!

  • brigid

    ugh! the same thing just happened to me…..they no longer make my item and im STILL waiting for my refund. sooooo frustrated.

  • Scott

    I’m in the midst of a similar problem with Sears, but only for a MUCH larger amount. I bought a memory foam mattress from Sears.com for around $2,600 in mid-June. We decided to return it because it was uncomfortable. We had to wait 30 days due to Serta’s policy with that brand of mattress. That was fine. Sears came to pick up the mattress 7/24. I even have a PDF copy of the return receipt to my credit card dated 7/23, and yet I STILL don’t have the refund on my credit card on 8/8. Ridiculous!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Scott, please send me an email at and I’ll try to help.

  • kay72385

    Wow.. Im in the same boat..2 orders cancelled.. Charged my card but did not refund?? We need to do a class action lawsuit. This cannot go on and i will not stop until this is resolved. Sears fuc#&d with the wrong person this time….

  • ten456

    I ordered luggage scale and received wrong item on 4/29. Immediately, on same day (4/29) I contacted them through their online chat program. Online chat agent received my problem and told me that I will be issued a refund. As of now (05/10), I still don’t see refund posted on my card account. I chatted twice between then and now regarding the refund problem. Today, after passing 12 days waiting for the refund, I wondered if it is just me or there are other people affected by their refund problem, and became aware that to punish customers by holding up the refund money is their general business practice. If someone is initiating class action, please let me know, I am going to join. Meanwhile, I will wait couple of days at most, then I will dispute the transaction with the bank. If you are also been punished by them for the refund, at least make other fellow customers aware by posting your stories. This is perhaps one of many shrewd and crooked ways they got rich and made name in the Jewish Achievement blog I came across while researching about the company. The award of Achievement for sucking people’s blood like bed bugs in the wee hours should be given.