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Is a lifetime warranty for a lifetime?

Posted by Mitch Lipka  December 17, 2013 08:37 PM

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searsexterior_hi.jpgQ.I bought a ceiling fan from Sears 13 years ago with a lifetime warranty. It stopped working last month, so I brought it back to a Sears store for a replacement. The customer service representative I spoke to said they do not sell ceiling fans anymore and did not know what to do. I asked to see the store manager and was told there was nothing she could do. I feel like I've been ripped off.
David Moreau, Wrentham

A. I don't think this really counts as a rip-off. But that warranty does say "lifetime," and it does promise a replacement fan by going into any Sears store. That they don't sell fans anymore does change the game a bit.

It probably isn't a situation that comes up very often ? a customer showing up with a busted fan bought at the turn of the century ? with a demand for a new one. Still, the store folks could have come up with some sort of solution. Since that didn't, I went to the folks at Sears' corporate office to see what they would do.

"Sears apologizes for any confusion regarding Mr. Moreau's ceiling fan and any inconvenience caused to him," said Sears spokesman Larry Costello. "Without a receipt from Mr. Moreau, the store associate followed store policy and was unable to authorize a refund -- and an exchange wasn't possible as Sears no longer sells ceiling fans. However, as customer satisfaction is very important to us, we have agreed to provide Mr. Moreau with a refund."

Perhaps the store personnel could have nipped this in the bud with a better gesture than throwing their arms up in the air. Costello said they were just following policy. But this is one of those situations for retailers than can earn or cost customer loyalty depending on how they handle it.

Even the idea of a lifetime warranty is alien to many in retail today. It is an endangered species.

So, if you've got an old product that came with a "lifetime" warranty, prepare for resistance if you try to enforce it. But keep going. Provide as much documentation as you can and go over the heads of those who stand in your way if you can't get was promised. In the end, Sears did right by the customer. It just took a while and bit of effort.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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