Sears CEO Punked
Hung out to, er, wash

1. The Man Who Never Washes

What's harder to take than know-it-all analysts who ask self-important questions on earnings conference calls?

Maybe irate customers who impersonate analysts for the sake of confronting management. At least, that's what Sears ( S) CEO Alan Lacy had to deal with this quarter.

When the retailer reported second-quarter earnings last week, one particularly persistent Sears customer made sure that Wall Street and the company heard him loud and clear. And boy, was he unhappy.

It all started last Thursday, when the operator prompted Andy Keller of Credit Suisse First Boston to go ahead and ask his question for management.

Except there was no Andy Keller on the line -- which, in hindsight, makes sense, because CSFB says there is no Andy Keller in its research department. The man who came on the line identified himself as "Steven." And what Steven proceeded to do was complain to Lacy about the washer and dryer he'd purchased from a Sears store in Texas last September.

The people who delivered the appliances "damaged my floor and my door and failed to balance the washer, which caused grease to leak out on the clothes," Steven complained. "When I contacted Sears and actually went to speak with you regarding the matter, I was told that you wouldn't take the call. When I actually contacted customer service after that, without even investigating the matter or sending no one out to look at the door, you guys send me a denial letter. So I'm curious as to how you're going to rectify the situation, 'cause I understand Sears likes to back their service and provides 100% satisfaction to their customers."

Evidently, it wasn't bad enough that Sears blew the quarter and guided downward for the rest of the year. Someone had to put a face on all those unhappy customers.

CEO Lacy promised Steven -- who didn't disclose his last name on the call -- a quick solution. "My apologies," said Lacy. "We clearly did not do a proper job with your delivery, and we'll fix it."

And it did, apparently. "We did resolve his issue to his satisfaction," a Sears spokesman said Thursday.

Whoa. While we admire Lacy's responsiveness -- not to mention Steven's resourcefulness -- we wonder whether Wall Street conference calls will be overwhelmed by analyst-impersonating disgruntled customers as word of this maneuver trickles out.

Our advice for Sears: You guys sell caller ID telephones in your stores. Maybe you should buy one for yourself in time for the third-quarter call.

2. A Lycos Is a Terra Thing to Waste

A moment of silence, please. We're painfully aware that the glorious days of the dot-com bubble are dead and buried, but we still get misty-eyed each time we read further evidence of that era's passing.

Taking the spring out of our step this week is a Reuters report this week that Terra Networks, aka Terra Lycos ( TRLY), is about to sell the Lycos portal to an unnamed buyer for somewhere between $95 million and $115 million.

This is, of course, the same portal that Terra Networks bought in 2000 in a deal worth $4.6 billion. Which is the same Lycos that Terra Networks announced earlier in 2000 it would buy for $12.5 billion, before the bubble intervened and Net stock prices plunged in soufflelike fashion.

It's the same Lycos that backed out of a deal to merge with Barry Diller's then-USA Network in 1999 because grumpy shareholders protested the insultingly low valuation -- $4 billion or so -- implied for Lycos in the transaction.

Like everyone else who has to adjust to the New Math, we prefer the Old Math instead.

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