Is Sears just playing around?

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Sears is rolling out toy departments in some full-line department stores this week, trying to recapture sales in a category it abandoned 15 years ago.

Over the years, Sears has experimented with toy departments in new formats like the ill fated Sears Grand and Sears Essentials. And of course, sister company Kmart carries a typical discounter store selection.

The plan, according to spokesman Tom Aiello, is for Sears to differentiate itself with more than what a discount store will carry.

To that end, Sears is adding 1,200 square-foot toy departments to 20 of its full-line store in four markets: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. If all goes well, expect the program to roll out to more locations.

The differentiation factor includes more specialty items like hobby toys and products more likely found at small specialty shops than Wal-Mart or Target.

It's a very small step in a very long march.

Wal-Mart sells more toys than any other retailer and specialty shops have struggled to sell the very differentiated product Sears expects to set it apart. There's a reason KB Toys is gone, FAO Schwartz in perennial danger of failing and Toys R Us often struggles to compete.

And, this is just a 20 store test. Sears has more than 900 locations nationally of various sizes. Twenty is such a small effort.

Possibly, the question is less about Sears becoming a destination than about capturing incremental sales from existing customers. People are already in the store, looking for appliances, housewares, tools. Why not carry toys? At least it makes more sense than some of the apparel attempts of the past.
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