Dec. 2, 2011 at 2:30 PM ET
Did Sears.com pad the bill for major appliance orders by automatically tacking on a service contract even when it is not requested?
Edgar Dworsky, a nationally-respected consumer advocate and founder of the website ConsumerWorld.org, made that claim Thursday. Sears said on Friday that it will change the way its website operates.
Dworsky says he went on the site on Black Friday weekend looking for a refrigerator. He found a model he liked, put it in his cart and noticed that a five-year service contract for $469 had been added without his consent.
"I'm really upset and I think it's a very sneaky practice,” Dworsky tells me. “A consumer should not have to opt-out of buying something they never asked for to start with.”
Dworsky points out that the charge for the service plan is easily removed from the cart if the customer spots it. If not, they could overpay from $110 to $550.
"How many shoppers have in their mind, 'Oh, I'd better check the cart just to make sure they haven't slipped something in there that I didn't order?' "
Dworsky shopped for various appliances on Sears.com and he says the same thing happened every time: an expensive five-year extended warranty turned up in the shopping cart.
I had the same experience when I went to the site and put a washing machine in my cart. A five-year service contract was added to the bill. I wasn’t asked if I wanted the service contract and I didn’t click any box indicating I wanted to purchase it. The computer just added the extra protection and a charge of $303 to my order.
What does Sears say about all this? In an email, Larry Costello, the company's public relations director, writes:
"Since 2010, we have selected the purchase of a protection agreement as the default and clearly displayed that choice. The customer must click to confirm that choice or select another option prior to moving forward in the order process."
Costello says the company has received “very little negative customer feedback” about its up-sell policy. Even so, he says, “now that it's been pointed out as an item of concern, we've made a decision to provide customers with the default choice of declining the protection agreement.”
Dworsky says he is “thrilled that Sears is doing the right thing” by making their extended warranties an optional add-on, just as other major appliance sellers do.
NOTE: There is an important lesson here for anyone who shops online. Check the cart carefully before you hit the "buy" button. You need to make sure the retailer hasn't added something to your cart that you didn't ask for."