I stopped into Sears the other day and, as has been my habit for a couple of years thanks to my daughter’s urging, I checked-in on Foursquare (4sq). Well, I tried to. My check-in was interrupted by a screen asking me to download Swarm. Swarm is 4sq’s attempt to reinvent itself by using me, my movement and the lack thereof. Rather than checking into places, 4sq will simply know where I am based on where I go, and when I stop moving. Thanks, but no.
It seemed ironic that 4sq would interrupt me with this offer as I was entering Sears. 4sq is trying to be something it’s not, but something that its CEO thinks it has always been. That sounds oddly familiar to a prior version of Sears.
I was at Sears to pick up an extension cord and to see if I could get a replacement battery for a cordless string-trimmer that I bought a few years ago. The battery is rapidly dying and Sears doesn’t list a replacement on their website. When I placed my items on the counter, the clerk asked: “will there be anything else today?” 15 minutes later, after he realized that he couldn’t find the battery for my string trimmer either, I’m pretty sure he regretted having asked that question.
When I finally checked out, the entire transaction was done on the clerk’s tablet device. When I went to swipe my credit card in the card reader right in front of me, the clerk stopped me, saying: “I need to do that over here” and then he swiped my card on the tablet’s card reader. As he handed my card back to me, the clerk asked:
“I see that you have the Sears MasterCard. Would you like to apply for a regular Sears Card?”
I proceeded to make him regret asking that question too.
You see, I had a “regular” Sears Card once. It was one of the first credit cards I ever owned. I loved my Sears Card. I got it at a time when I was buying used cars. Not “pre-owned” not “gently used” and certainly not “certified and warrantied” used cars, just plain old used cars. Those cars were ripe for new tires, batteries, shocks and a muffler or two and Sears was just the place to get all of those things. The Sears Card was essential for two reasons: 1) I couldn’t afford to buy a set of tires outright and 2) Sears didn’t accept other credit cards. That’s right, if you shopped at Sears back in the day, it was a Sears Card or cash.
Sometime in the 80’s, when every company felt the urge to be something else, Sears realized that they kinda-sorta already were a financial services firm. They owned Allstate Insurance, Dean Whitter Investments, Coldwell Banker real estate and just about everybody in America was carrying a Sears Card. But the Sears Card only worked in Sears. So, Sears introduced the Discover Card.
Shortly thereafter, clerks started asking me if I wanted to apply for a Discover Card every time I checked-out with my Sears Card. I had a Discover Card. OK, my wife had a Discover Card, but she added me on to her account. But I liked my Sears Card. Years later, Sears realized that the financial services business wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be and they spun Discover off. They also spun off the Sears Card. This time, there was no asking at the register, a Sears branded MasterCard simply arrived in the mail. Now, apparently, they want to get back in the credit card business. Everything old might be new again, but no thanks, I’m good.
I don’t need a Sears Card, or even a Sears MasterCard today. In 1993, Sears finally joined the rest of the retail world and started accepting Visa, MasterCard and American Express. That was the same year that they stopped publishing the Sears Catalog. They also started selling tools other than those marketed under the Craftsman brand. Sears wanted to be like everybody else. They got to be so much like everybody else that in 2004, Kmart bought them.
This is the part of the story that makes me think of 4sq. 4sq wants to be like Twitter, it wants to be like Yelp, it wants to be like Facebook. Of course, I already use Twitter, Yelp and Facebook, so I don’t want a new 4sq app; especially one that actually doesn’t do the one thing 4sq does better than all those other apps. 4sq lets me check in specifically to the places I wanted a few people to know I am visiting…like Sears. The CEO of 4sq figures that I’ll use his company’s new app instead of all the other stuff just like Sears thought I would use my wife’s Discover Card instead of my AMEX card. I fear this story may end the same way, but I care less about 4sq than I do about Sears.
By the time I was done sharing the history of my Sears credit relationship with the clerk, who I doubt was even alive in 1993, he was probably questioning his career choice. He finally made a somewhat subtle plea for help by saying: “they make us ask everybody that question.” He completed the sale, and then over 4 feet of coupons and receipts started spilling out of an abandoned cash register. I guess everything old really is new again.
When 4sq forces me to either use Swarm or stop checking in, I’ll stop checking in. I’ll go back to Tweeting about where I am when I don’t care who knows and texting my wife when I do care. As for Sears, if they force me into a new credit card, I’ll start paying with cash and make my young friend learn how to make change.