Sears finally focuses on retailing

Sears storeSears may be allowing brands like Craftsman to be sold in rival stores, but there's at least one product category being re-emphasized. And it has nothing to do with a softer side.

Sears is aggressively building its electronics business, an area that people haven't traditionally associated with Sears. In fact, according to Karen Austin, president of Sears Home Electronics, a good number of customers didn't even realize Sears carried consumer electronics.
"We're known for our appliances and tools," says Austin. "So we launched Sears Blue Electronics Crew in August (2009) to drive awareness." That campaign used spokesman Brett Favre during the NFL season to remind people of Sears participation in the category. According to Austin, there were a lot of misperceptions about Sears electronics programs that needed to be cleared up.

Such as real time price matching, a program that lets Sears' customers in the stores compare prices at rival retailers. This eliminates the need to bring in advertisements touting competitor sale prices. Sales associates will even call other stores to check prices, says Austin. "Everything on sale, is on sale at Sears." Sears reputation, however tarnished, makes building an electronics business a logical move for the retailer.

Sears is also expanding online. A prototype store called "mygofer" opened last year in Joliet, Ill., in a former Kmart store and is letting Sears experiment with and fine tune a virtual and physical retail experience. Shoppers can order online and pick up at the store within a very short period of time -- two hours in many cases.

There are initiatives like TV Matchmaker and Camera Matchmaker that ask a series of questions and make suggestions based on a shopper's' answers. There are active discussion boards with moderators on hand answering questions. Sears is even using Facebook and Twitter to communicate and connect with customers.

As old school as Sears may be, online efforts are a good fit for the retailer. Sears' legacy as a catalog retailer with an established distribution network make online retailing a natural extension. According to retail consultant Neil Stern, programs like TV matchmaker, real-time price matching, online ordering and in-store pickup, are all natural fits for Sears. "They're establishing themselves as leaders in e-commerce, which is a really good place to play," says Stern. "It's the one undeniable growth area."

Some of the better publicized initiatives, like selling Craftsman tools at Ace Hardware stores or licensing the Die Hard name for branded power accessories, are designed to add revenue to the parent company, Sears Holdings. Letting rival retailers sell Sears best brands may just give shoppers more reason NOT to go to Sears stores, but building up these other product categories and sales programs actually speak to Sears strength as a retailer.
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