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[12 comments]

Sears is Growing Socially

October 6, 2010

By George Anderson

Listen to an in-depth interview with Eui Chung, divisional VP and general manager for social commerce at Sear's Holdings. See the RetailWire Podcast below...

Sears Holdings' social media strategy can be described as an ongoing give-and-take between the company and its customers. The company's ability to engage its customers is seen as one of the primary reasons behind the growth of its online business, which consistently ranks among the top e-tail sites.

Eui Chung, divisional VP and general manager for social commerce at Sear's Holdings, told RetailWire, "That's one of the primary justifications behind the launch of My Sears Community back in May of 2009. We realize the ability to interact with our customers and receive their feedback is key to our goal of continuing to improve the shopping experience for everyone."

Sears Holdings has a system in place to respond to customers whether feedback comes from Facebook, Twitter, blogs or any of its own websites.

"If a customer logs in to Sears.com, they have the ability to chat with a personal shopper representative. They'll be able to receive one on one customer support which explains their situation with absolutely no character limits. The conversation is private and we're working to ensure the experience is personalized and valuable," said Mr. Chung.

On outside sites, Mr. Chung said, Sears Holdings' "social media team typically makes the initial outreach and then works with our customer network to ensure the customer receives a resolution with a personalized point of contact."

The immediacy of social media is another opportunity for connecting with customers and effectively giving them some ownership of their relationship. "Whether it's a new feature for a website or a new slogan we're considering, we need social media channels to obtain feedback quickly from our customers," said Mr. Chung. "As an example, we've actually had buyers overseas on buying trips use communities to determine which products to put on our shelves for the holiday season."

Sears' ability to reach consumers is expanding as more people use smart phones.

"We evolve with our customers' needs," said Mr. Chung. "(With) the opportunities in social media and mobile technology, it was natural that we leverage it to offer our customers a choice in convenience and how and when they want to shop and whether it's in store or online. We see it as a tremendous opportunity to move forward and a strategic part of Sears Holdings' (marketing)."

Discussion Questions: What impresses you most about Sears Holdings' approach to digital and social media? Where do you see opportunities for improvement?

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:SHLD]

Discussion Questions:

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How would you grade Sears Holdings' effectiveness strictly from a social media standpoint?

Comments:

One obvious problem is that many people are already over-extended in terms of their participation in social networks.

And, the logical question is, "Do Sears' shoppers really need personal shopping assistance?"

I think the answer to that question is--not enough.

Will it move the needle slightly? Probably.

Will it be a game changer? I doubt it.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

BrainTrust panelists (including this one) spend a lot of time commenting on things that Sears is doing wrong, especially with its bricks-and-mortar experience. The Sears website (and apparently its use of social networking and mobile phones) is something that Sears is doing right.

From my own experience as a shopper, I have found the Sears site easy to navigate, and the option of store pickup to be seamless compared to some of its competitors. (I have not used the online chat function or mobile apps, but it sounds like it's worth exploring.)

Now, if Sears could just do something about its tired stores and softlines assortments!

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Dick Seesel, Principal, Retailing In Focus LLC

Sears is doing all the right things in social media. They are available to customers as they are shopping, actively seeking out consumers online and are quick to respond. This is a model that retailers and manufacturers should follow.

As smart phones proliferate and tools like augmented reality become more accepted by consumers, it will be interesting to see how Sears adapts.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Somebody at Sears is looking to the future. The company Sears is a real estate play. In twenty years, the brick and mortar Sears banner will not exist. However, they do have brand recognition and customers. If they aggressively pursue and build the online business, there will be something of value to spin off or sell in the end.

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Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

It's an admirable venture. But let's not forget the average age of the Sears shopper is about the same as those who buy Buicks!

Len Lewis, President, Lewis Communications, Inc.

OK, so Sears is growing socially. Who isn't? I am simply lost as to who Sears is trying to attract. Their average customer probably is not a smartphone user. Their stores are not attractive to the average smartphone user. Their image is still the washer/dryer/refrigerator. They attract buyers looking for the hard line items. They don't usually need a "shopper" to assist them.

Sears sales teams are adept at the hard line purchases, not the soft goods. Sears has to come up with a strong reason for the smartphone user to shop their stores. If they build it, the smartphone shopper might come.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Sears is taking an aggresive approach to engaging their customers. I agree with one of the earlier answers, do Sears customers need this level of personal shopper?

The challenge with social and other media at this time is that we ARE overextended and that we are not able to process all of the information we are presented with. This is true about the brand and the participant.

Should Sears listen to and empower all of its users? No! Does someone who is engaged due a perceived bad experience with the NSP and TLV (total lifetime value) of this person is negligible add value? I would argue no.

Mark Johnson, President and CEO, Loyalty 360

Three cheers for Sears! All attempts by retailers to interact with customers, get their feedback and then respond appropriately is a winning strategy in my book.

By the way, Mr. Chung will be speaking about Sears' digital and social media program in a panel discussion moderated by RetailWire at the LEAD Marketing Conference, Oct. 11-13 at the Westin O'Hare. Registration for retailers and manufacturers is complimentary. Check out the agenda and register at www.LeadMarketingConference.com

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John Karolefski, Editor in Chief, CPGmatters.com

I agree with the consensus that Sears deserves some "props" for its efforts. When you exclude apparel, I think the company is doing a credible job.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

Way to go Sears!
But why are your Facebook friends so few?

Those who bother with looking at Sears tend to bash it because these efforts do not add up to whole cloth. These one-off tactics coming from the silo of the month lack a comprehensive sense of brand Sears. Or is it Kmart?

That's why we say: "retail ain't for sissies."

'IMRetail'

I'm struck by the earlier comment that Sears' typical customer (at retail, at least) isn't likely to be spending a lot of time on social media. And it's not clear to me the value their customer would place on a 'personal shopper representative'.

They're trying, but too much of what they do seems like throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. Some might suggest that Sears can separate it's online presence from its stores, but I'm enough of a retail traditionalist to believe that unless you're Amazon what you do in your stores counts for a whole lot more than what you do online. And I think it's safe to say that while Sears tries to do a lot in their stores, they don't do very much that others don't do much better.

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Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates

Sears has done an admirable job in establishing relationships with customers across multiple channels and multiple social media venues. Since Sears' product line is one that can need additional support and service, the business is well-positioned to leverage these multiple channels to improve the customer experience.

The next level will be for Sears to begin to engage with customers across these social media channels more proactively. The building of communities around specific interests and needs can help an organization reinforce the value of relationships with them, and permit customers to reinforce the company's value to other customers, which is most credible form of referral available.

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Mark Price, Managing Partner, LiftPoint Consulting, Inc.

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