The Sears/Kmart dot com = Horrible Commerce Sites and Craftsman made over seas?

First let me clear the air, the sears.com / kmart.com (And all other domains it takes itself on as) are horrible sites for web commerce. Also troubling is the trend to manufacture Craftsman hand tools over seas.

Searching for Craftsman Tools on a Mobile Device

Searching for Tools on sears.com with a mobile device is nearly impossible. First, the search on the mobile site is terrible. Second, most of the content is not there. The worst part is there is no way to switch from the mobile site back to the regular site. Hint: iPhone and Android based phones don’t need a mobile site. I usually prefer the regular site on my iPhone or Android phone 99% of the time.

My alternative method of finding stuff on sears.com from my mobile device is to search Google. Well, guess what, when you navigate to the link, the sears.com site refreshes to a mobile version of the same page, which in most cases does not exist because the mobile site doesn’t have all the content as the main site.

What can Sears do to improve this situation? They can add a link at the bottom of the mobile site to allow users to switch to the regular one.

Why should they do this? Because it can make the difference of a customer coming to the store or not. Last thing I need is going to a store to find they don’t sell what I’m looking for.

Intermingling of Products on Sears.com that are not sold by Sears

First, if you’re not aware, many of the items on sears.com are not sold by Sears. Let me be clear what I am saying, there are items on sears.com not sold by Sears or companies that are part of Sears like Kmart or the Great Indoors. There are products on sears.com sold by other, competing businesses. Why does Sears sell their web real-estate to other businesses? My only guess is that someone pitched the idea to be like “Amazon.com” at a board meeting but didn’t think it through. Unfortunately, someone didn’t explain the Amazon.com model very well to the sears web developers, and what you end up with is a web site that pulls away customers from Sears to other vendors. Signs of an Amazon.com model would include products that are shipped and processed by Sears, with Sears products featured first. Quite the opposite, it appears non-Sears products get priority in search, and worse yet they compete against Sears in number of ways.

Further harming Sears, there appears to be a glitch in Sears’ web application as non-Sears businesses are capable of selling identical Sears merchandise, and those items are featured over the same items sold by Sears, even if Sears has the lowest price on the item. Take the following example:

Craftsman 7 Piece Standard Nutdriver Set (link). As of this writing, this 7 piece set costs 112.83 and is sold by “OnlineSuperSeller” (not Sears). When you search Sears.com for “Craftsman nutdriver”, you get the following results (as pictured) with the 2nd and 3rd results being Craftsman nut drivers listed at nearly 4 times their normal retail price.

After some additional searching, I finally found the product I was looking for (link). Though the Craftsman part numbers are different, the 4-5 digit number is not something I refer to when I look for products. Incidentally a search for “nut driver” with the space in between the two words has completely different search results.

Production Dilution

The web site is diluted by products that compete with their own line of products. For example, when you go to a Sears store, they have 1-2 alternatives to Craftsman Tools (Evolv Sears economy line of tools and GearWrench. Online you have even more brands, most of which again are not sold by Sears or affiliated companies.

Different Prices on Different Pages

When you do the search for “nut driver” and find the nut driver set in question, it will be priced 26.99. When you go to the actual product’s page, the price changes to $29.99. I am sure many customers get this far, see the price change, then immediately leave the page. Those that swallow the price increase and add the item to the cart, they will magically see a $3 discount to the item, bringing the price back to 26.99. Unfortunately, how many customers is Sears loosing when the customer changes their mind when the price changes?

Non-Intelligent Search

The search system for normal (not mobile) Sears and related web sites is horrible. Take for example, a search for “Craftsman Combination wrench set”. The first 2 results are a couple of combination sets, 6 point wrenches, which is good, but then to find more combination wrench sets, you need to brwose beyond the rest of the first 25 results to find more sets. I shouldn’t see individual wrenches when I search for “sets”.

To add insult to injury, the search box does not keep what you last entered, which means if your search isn’t giving you the results you want, you have to re-type everything in.

Craftsman Tools no longer made in USA

I don’t necessarily have a problem with tools being made all over the world, but I do have a problem with the current trend at Sears/Craftsman to move previously made in USA tools off-shore. At first I was not concerned because it appeared obvious that the “Evolv” line (priced accordingly) are made over seas while the traditional Craftsman and Craftsman Professional tools are made in the USA. The price difference between Evolv and Craftsman reminds you that your paying for quality tools made by your own fellow citizens. The first sign of Craftsman tools no longer being made in the USA was when I purchased one of the new Craftsman Dog bone wrenches. When I got home I was surprised to see “made in China” stamped on it. At that point I accepted the idea that perhaps new tools will be made over-seas. More interestingly, the Harbor Freight dog-bone wrenches are identical to the Craftsman dog-bone wrenches.

More recently I’ve been shopping for a set of flare wrenches. When I looked at the Craftsman Professional flare wrench set, I discovered they are now made over seas. This scares me, because over the past 20+ years I’ve been purchasing Craftsman hand tools, usually priced 2-3 times more than their import counterparts, with the satisfaction that I was buying a quality tool made in the USA. I have no problem paying a premium knowing the money I spend is paying some tool makers salary somewhere in the country. If someone told me back in 1993 that in 20 years from now the tools you buy will no longer be made in the USA, I wouldn’t have bought them. I’m not questioning quality of the tools, I have some tools from Harbor Freight made in China and they’re great. My issue is with what I thought the brand represented, and apparently I was wrong.

Again, new or specialty tools made over seas with a Craftsman logo on them I can understand. I have a vintage (made in the 70’s-80’s) Craftsman Distributor wrench 9/16″ #47755 that’s made in Japan. Craftsman no longer makes the wrench, most likely because cars no longer have distributors, so it was a smart move on their part not to invest on the tool and die here in the states for such a tool. But the idea of the core hand tools no longer being made in the USA yet still having the premium pricing bothers me.

Lowes just recently completed their transition to a made over-seas tool line,  and I’ve made a point never to buy Kobalt tools. If I find out the traditional Craftsman wrenches and hand tools are produced over seals then Craftsman will go on my “never buy list as well”.

By the way, if you are looking for USA made tools, try Wright Tool (made in Barberton, Ohio!), Williams (division of Snap-on), or Masterforce (a Menards brand, not all Masterforce tools are USA made, but most are).

My Thoughts

Sears has a lot of brands with brand recognition built up over many years that is now negatively impacted by a poorly executed web site and possibly poor decision making on where some of their items are made (Craftsman no longer made in USA). Though I love going into a Sears store when shopping for Tools, between the web site making it difficult for me to make the decision to go to the physical store and the fact that the product brand I seek now has issues that trouble me, I find it harder and harder to pick going to a Sears store over my local Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes or Menards.

What can Sears do to fix the problems? Stop meddling with the Craftsman line and put out a press release guaranteeing that their tools will remain made in USA. Stop trying to be like Amazon, and use their web site to re-enforce sales at your local stores. Physical stores should use their web sites to reinforce sales at the stores, making the web site compete with the stores is just a bad business practice in my opinion, unless your plan is to eventually close all the stores. Fix the search system by adding better product descriptions, incorporating product importance weights and creating special search algorithms for different departments (e.g. a Tool finding widget). Keep pricing consistent, if you show a price on a web page, make sure the same price appears on all other pages. I would take down the mobile site and only replace it when developers use the same database and infrastructure as the regular site  and include the ability to go back to the regular site.

Pegboard in the Garage and Snags Tearing Down the Pontiac 301 Turbo


PegboardThis Memorial Day weekend I got to do some work around the house. My initial plan was to start building the Pontiac 400, but I recently discovered I needed one more part (Cam thrust plate) and it did not arrive yet, so I decided to work on the firewall and other various little parts on the Trans Am. After spending about an hour in the garage moving stuff around, I decided to switch my car project to a Garage improvement weekend. By Monday I installed 64 square feet of pegboard and enough hangers/hooks to get just about everything shy of 15 pounds off the garage floor.

On Monday I started work on tearing down the Pontiac 301 Turbo. If you’re not familiar with the Pontiac 301 Turbo, it was made in 1980 and 1981 for the Pontiac Trans Am and Formula making it a rather rare engine. Some say it was ahead of it’s time, others say it was plagued by it’s oil cooled turbo charger. It was the last true Pontiac designed V8. What ever your thoughts on this short lived engine are, once I confirmed that my Trans Am was not a special edition, I decided to swap it out with a Pontiac 400. Since last fall this V8 has been sitting in the garage just taking space. This weekend I decided it was time to take it apart to see what was wrong with it and recycle what ever parts that can be reused. Believe it or not, this engine shares a lot with it’s larger cousins (350, 400 and 455) such as engine mounts, fuel pumps and the bell housing.

During the initial tear down I ran into a couple snags. First was the flywheel bolts having 12 point heads. My plan was to use my compressor with the impact wrench attached. My plan went foul once I discovered that the impact sockets I got with my compressor are all 6 point. A run to the neighborhood home improvement stores showed me how rare 12 point impact sockets are. I do understand that a 6 point socket is better for 6 point bolt heads and that’s most likely why the 12 point impact sockets are hard to find, but come on, someone has to sell 12 point impact sockets! When you’re dealing with a 12 point bolt head, you can’t use a 6 point socket.

So after doing some online shopping, I found that only a handful of tool companies make such sockets. Sadly most all of these sockets are through brands like Snap-On, which make the tools too expensive for a weekend mechanic like myself. I did find a set of 12 point SAE impact sockets on Amazon.com that meets my price range. (see picture). They also have 12 point metric impact sockets.

The second snag working on the 301 Turbo came when I made a rookie mechanic mistake! I am using an engine leveler for lifting the motor, that way I can easily level the engine with the engine hoist/cherry picker. I recall today reading somewhere “Always connect engine levelers and engine hoist chains using grade 8 bolts to engine heads. Avoid connecting to bell housing or aluminum intake manifolds when possible“. Well I learned yesterday the hard way why you don’t connect your engine hoist to the bell housing! When I got ready to bolt the engine to the engine stand, you can guess the colorful language that came out of my mouth! Lesson learned the hard way, never never NEVER ever use the bell housing when lifting an engine!