Smart Selling

Thanks to years of devoted service to its customers, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was once nothing less than where America shopped. It commanded, in the words of writer Donald R. Katz, "the sort of fealty normally reserved for nations and churches." Unfortunately, nations can betray their citizens, and churches can alienate their worshippers. To see what has become of Sears' century-old bond with its customers, look at the scandal unfolding at Sears Auto Centers in California and now other states. Following a compensation shift from salaries to commissions, investigators say, the sales staff began jacking up their pay by recommending unnecessary work on customers' cars. Satisfying the customer, it seemed, wasn't the foundation of this business anymore: Meeting stiff sales quotas was.

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