I Saw this Movie – It Didn’t End Well

imageI 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 image1993, 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 imagewith 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.

39 thoughts on “I Saw this Movie – It Didn’t End Well

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  1. Pictures – Foursquare can do away with badges and mayorships if they like, but I doubt anyone is going to oust me from mayor of the Salvation Army box. In the center is my favorite portion of Sears. At the bottom is the tree-killing register.


    1. I love that last comment Nick. Thanks. When they talk about what customers want, it seems they gleaned it all from analyzing data, not really from talking to their customers. Most of what I see is negative toward Swarm.


  2. I have no idea what 4Square and Swarm are (don’t tell me) but they sound like more ways to be found in a world where I mostly like being by myself! Does the fact that my kin know they can find me mean I have to cooperate? (Don’t answer that either)

    I chuckled at your presentation and knowing your gripe is the gripe of all of us who Are old enough to have suffered retail mskeovers and credit card revolvers (shoot ’em all).

    But PLEASE try not to take it out on the poor schmuck at the counter. He is right – their computers can now be programmed by the f’ing corporate marketing department to FORCE them to ask those questions and hit responses ( it’s the turn every employee into a salesperson plan). I know – iI worked parttime as a bank teller and you wouldn’t believe the programmed sales questions we had to ask – even though it was the same customer day after day. We could not complete the customer’s transaction without keying answers to the marketing questions. Utterly asinine!


    1. Thanks for the comment. I won’t go into details but I was nice to the clerk. I’ve worked behind a counter but back when it was my dad reminding me of what to say. It was a slow day in the store. I also once worked as a telemarketer (3 days) but that’s a future blog post. Talk about making your staff ask stupid questions…


  3. I always feel sorry for the clerks who have to ask all those questions. Glad this one had a nice, entertaining story-teller type to chat with over a sale on a slow day. And when isn’t it a slow day at Sears anymore.


    1. I was the only customer at the checkout. It’s the same at other stores “do you have a Walgreen’s club card?” “are you a member of…” – I’m just here for a bag of Twisslers, can I just pay and then go? I do feel bad for the clerks. I actually complained at Walgreen’s when the clerks would try to sell candy bars with the line “the person who sells the most gets Thanksgiving off” – that bothered me. Thanks for stopping by!


      1. The ubiquitous “savings club card” for every single store I visit. Requires keying numbers in or carrying a zillion little tags on my keyring, even if I’m paying with cash. When did transactions become so complicated. I thought computers were supposed to simplify our lives, not create more hoops for us to jump through. (Rant over, carry on.)


  4. I had a Sears card back in the day , too . In our local Sears , if I’m interested in a large appliance I can get help , but anything else no way . Tool section is the worst — I guess I’m bothering them .


  5. Great post Dan, I can sympathize with you. Nowadays retailers try to sell you on something right up to the very minute that you walk out their doors regardless of whether you have purchase something from them or not. It is a terrible trend and I doubt that we will see it get any better any time soon. Things would be far simpler as well if they all stopped trying to be all things to all people. It doesn’t work and it never really has, but I guess they can’t help themselves.


    1. Thanks Dom. They don’t seem to realize that by being all things to all people that lose any way for a customer to say “oh these guys are different.” When they all sell all the same stuff, price is the only difference and that’s just a race to the bottom. Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.


      1. And instead of selling customer service, they are clearly shouting “We want to skin you for every penny you have!”. Being Canadian, perhaps that annoys me more than it does Americans … but somehow I doubt it. :-)


        1. The first time I tried to buy a replacement battery (before looking online) the salesman in the store tried to help. When we couldn’t find the battery I needed, he tried showing me the “new line” of cordless lawn care products. I am willing to pay for products. I am willing to pay for quality. Stores today just want to move stuff off their shelf onto mine, it’s just a transaction. Maybe it always was, but it used to feel better.


  6. I despise any form of corporate spy tactics or personal data mining . I don’t like to be tracked, targeted, or studied unless I ask to be. I don’t appreciate being asked to provide my email or phone info aloud while standing in a check-out line…this is because I have already been the victim of identity theft 3 times since 1984. It is getting harder and harder to cloak my privacy and keep it secured to my preferences and opt-out demands. I just ordered my change of address through the USPS, and now I am seeing a steady stream of junk mail from their vendor business offers, in spite of the “Opt-Out” selection preference I clearly set up within their privacy settings. I really have a terrible time with the telemarketing targeting my landline all the time and now have begun to get “spam” calls on my cell as well. I do not know what 4sq checkin is or why anyone would want to be transmitting his location or activity data while shopping or moving about through other means. I could only see one absolute reason to do that, and that would be to help myself if I were abducted or lost/stranded in a remote area. I tend to go to airplane mode while shopping or in a crowded public venue, as well. I like my security and personal privacy and feel its no one’s business what I do, where I go, or how I prefer to purchase goods and services.


    1. The thing I liked about 4sq was that I could share where I was and what I was doing, but with a very small group of people (less than 10). These are people that I would tell that information to anyway. 4sq made it a little fun because you got badges and you could become ‘mayor’ – gamification at its best. Now that they appear to be bent to share that information with the world, I won’t participate. I would think they would let me opt-out, but, like Facebook is prone to do, they could change that without me knowing unless I crawl through pages and pages of “our new privacy guidelines.”

      I don’t like sharing private information in public and I’ve gotten braver about saying that to people, especially the ones who use any portion of my SSN for ID.

      I understand that companies have the right to choose their business model and to change it over time. I think it’s dumb when they make those changes based on analysis that doesn’t appear to directly include their current customers, but they have the right to be dumb, I guess. It appears that I won’t be a customer of 4sq for much longer.

      Thanks for the comment, you raise some very good points.


      1. You may be glad you stop using it…I mean, with all the hell breaking loose over Google spying and data breaches that come from hacking and such, we’re just bound to hear of an atrocity much worse — like a built-in piece of firmware of other such spy-piracy in the phones which has been tracking you for years…one that has a potential to be irreparable and ruinous to your reputation and financial stability…or more…it’s like a huge centipede of disaster…waiting to see the NEXT shoe drop..


    1. There are tons of social apps out there. It’s still like the wild west of development. Some are going to survive and some are going to go away. I don’t use Yelp often, but it comes in handy when visiting new places. For the places I visit often, I pretty much know where I’m going. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. I loved Sears…’back in the day’! My parents helped me fill out the Sears credit card application (way back when) and I put it to good use. Then Sears got rid of their catalog and it all started a downward spiral. I haven’t bought from them in years (but I’m still carrying that 1970s credit card around in my wallet (just for old-times sake…I feel rather attached to it…))


    1. It seems that we buy less and less there every year. It’s not that I don’t try, but there just isn’t anything all that interesting in the store these days. I have to buy Tall shits, I looked last week and they had a very small section for “big and tall” and most of it was for big. There weren’t any shirts labeled L/T but they told me I can order them online. I swear, the catalog was much easier to use than their website :(

      Thanks for stopping by.


  8. I have a Sears card due to owning a house once upon a time. I liked having appliances and now, over the years, like their clothing lines, buying Christmas gifts. Also, in Ohio, K Mart is part of Sears. I don’t like their high rates and regret letting my purchases get the ‘best’ of me. I enjoyed your comments, love the sarcasm, too! You can really tell you are a ‘tech’ guy!


    1. Thanks! I do still like Sears and I shop there for things like jeans and shoes and some tools. KMart & Sears are joined at the hip everywhere but the only KMart near us is pretty small.


  9. I feel your pain. We knew Sears when it was an icon. Now it just seems so “small”. My Mom used to work the switchboard for Sears when I was a kid. I know you remember what that is…
    My Dad would load us in the Oldsmobile after school to go pick her up and while we waited for her to come downstairs, he would buy us something from the candy counter-remember that? I always wanted the chocolate stars…


  10. My husband was the manager at Sears Auto Center for years and years. We STILL go there, because my husband’s favorite mechanic still works there. I fear the day he retires. Anyway, I’m glad he doesn’t work there anymore.
    I didn’t know that’s what Swarm does, and I don’t want my every move checked for me as I go. Isn’t this a bit much? Joey is at the bank, then Starbucks, then Joey is at Target. They didn’t have what Joey wanted at Target and now she has to go to the mall :( Joey is at the gas station, then Joey is at her in-law’s, Joey’s at the dry cleaners, then Joey goes home…Some days I do a lot…No thanks, Swarm, I’ll delete it if it automatically goes.


    1. I had a lot of good work done at Sears Auto centers, and the opportunity to shop or at least wander around in the mall was better than the dealer waiting room. These days, I sit in the waiting room and work courtesy of free wifi. It’s like they made a deal with my boss.

      Swarm and a lot of the things Foursquare does is just stupid. They say how much better life will be when I know where to go, where my friends like to go and what they like to do. I already know all of that. 98% of the places I check into are part of my normal routine. I don’t need to read the ratings of the local Chinese restaurant. I know the seating is awful but I’m getting take-out.

      I don’t want people stalking me, and I don’t feel a need to stalk anyone else. I have friends who periodically will tweet “I’m heading to…if anyone wants to join me” I don’t need that to be an automated process.


  11. I’m Bwahahahahahaha ing over this post. I just said yesterday, I am NOT getting any more social media applications. That’s in. I’m done.

    3 minutes ago I go ‘Yo!’ #Blank Stares.

    Aoart form havign the worst colour scheme in app development history, it’s excellent. One word for absolutely everything.

    Except. I have no one to ‘Yo’ to.. lol


    I’ve never heard of Yelp! (sounds like a dog’s cry for help) and I haven’t heard of 4sq either. Not sure it is safe for me to go googling either.


      1. You’re right, Dan. If you think I need to delete the specific comment, you could edit it. As a teacher, I often adapted my lessons (like pumpkins and harvest theme; not Halloween or spring flowers instead of Easter. . .)


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