Stephen Jacob (mavjop) wrote,
Stephen Jacob

Lies, Damned Lies, and Sears Portrait Studio

Sears Portrait Studio offers variations on a coupon that offers some form of FREE 8x10 print, with no sitting fee. It turns out that this is a blatant bait and switch, and that if you waste your time on it you will end up screwed by them.

The whole long story:

A few weeks back, we were at a Sears in, of all places, Sacramento.

Their "portrait studio" was near the bathrooms and while waiting I noticed a stack of "FREE Baby Portrait Montage, plus no sitting fee!" coupons. I asked, and the portrait studio employee confirmed that yes, there was NO purchase required, "but you'll want to buy more than just the one!"

They didn't have time available right away and we had somewhere to be, but we took a coupon figuring we could use it at a Sears Portrait Studio closer to home.

We weren't expecting too much -- we have friends who are really good photographers (e.g. Dustin & Aimee Hatcher, Elisha Clarke) -- but we figured free is free and perhaps they'd get at least one shot worthy of, well, free modulo a bit of our time. On their side, Sears had the opportunity to show us that they were better than we expected and make us want to buy something. That's obviously the idea of offering a service and product for free: The hope that you will entice someone who would otherwise not be a customer to buy something.

Fast forward a week or two.

We arranged an appointment for a sitting at Sears in Hayward last Sunday. We showed up, spent a bit over half an hour there, the latter part of which was us waiting for them to process the photos and then when we were sitting down with the photographer looking at the (ok but not terribly impressive) photos, the other member of staff on duty came over, told us that it was their lunch time and asked us to return later that afternoon. Seriously?! Yes, seriously. What company sets up appointments for sessions and then cuts them short (we'd been sitting down for about a minute to look at/choose photos) and tells customers to go away and come back at least an hour later?

I was annoyed, but that was nothing compared to how angry I would be later.

I returned later that afternoon, sat down again, went through the photos with the photographer briefly and told her I thought we'd just take the montage, thanks (it wasn't bad). She initially said ok, started working on stuff, but then spoke to the other staff member who came over and told me that "FREE" only meant free "if you buy at least one 8x10" ("all you need to do is buy at least one other 8x10!") and that the small print on the coupon (which, note, said NOTHING explicit about "purchase required"--something I've always seen right up front on any coupon which required a purchase) that said "Restrictions apply" meant that.

What complete and utter rubbish.

"Restrictions apply" is what you put to cover "there are some other restrictions that are not likely, not significant enough to give space on the coupon to, or are probably kind of obvious". You don't put 5 lines of small print on a coupon and NOT include "purchase required" if that is a requirement.

So, at this point we have wasted a lot of time going back and forth, quite a lot of time there having pictures taken and then waiting around for a while and have used gas for two 20-mile round-trips instead of 1 due to their thoughtlessness and they utterly refuse to honour the coupon. When pushed, they offer to give me their customer service number. I say no, I want to speak to their manager. They give me their manager's first name and phone number, and they promise to have their manager call me on Tuesday (the first day their manager will be back at work).

The manager never called me.

I know my one voice on this won't change anything, but my wife has found countless complaints on-line in the same vein, so I figure I'll add my voice to the choir and at least I have a chance to warn my friends, and anybody else who may see this, not to be duped into wasting their time.
Tags: argh, consumer

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