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[8 comments]

Loyalty members get advice from Sears and each other

April 24, 2014

Sears has launched new personalized online services (Get Advice and Member Assist) that enable Shop Your Way members to ask questions and receive answers about products and services from the retailer and also other members of the loyalty/rewards program.

With the Get Advice feature, Sears customers can post a question to the Shop Your Way online community to get answers to product questions from Sears in-store associates and other members. Member Assist allows members to communicate directly with store associates at more than 400 of the company's stores nationwide.

In a release announcing its latest initiatives, Sears said it was addressing one of the top trends within retailing — connecting shoppers with a real person to get answers to questions.

"We're using technology to virtually open the doors to Sears stores across the country giving our members access to the expertise of thousands of our associates," said Leena Munjal, senior vice president, member experience and integrated retail, Sears Holdings, in a statement. "This level of interaction is another way we are integrating the digital and physical shopping experience — members can enjoy the advantage of getting great advice from the stores plus engage the vast Shop Your Way community."

[Image: Sears Get Advice]

Eric Jaffe, senior vice president, Shop Your Way, told The Associated Press, that Sears planned to continue fielding customer questions via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. The new programs would provide shoppers a more direct path to buy products once their questions were answered.

In a company statement, Mr. Jaffe said the Get Advice and Member Assist programs represented "social commerce at its most powerful."

FINANCIALS:     [NASDAQ:SHLD] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

How important is it for e-commerce operations to connect shoppers with real people? What is your assessment of Sears' Get Advice and Member Assist initiatives?

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:

Do you think Sears Shop Your Way members will find the Get Advice or Member Assist program more valuable?

Comments:

I read recently if Sears were to shut down abruptly and dump its properties onto the market in a single wave, the real estate value plunges to $977 million in a "forced liquidation." Combined with other assets, that wouldn't cover Sears' debts, which are increasing as it borrows more to offset losses.

This is a case of a zombie retailer introducing new tech as another PR attempt at relevance.

From one of the articles, "customers can tap into a broader community of...loyalty members nationwide for purchasing advice like: what type of washing machine would be good for a family of six?"

We used to call people that answered such questions, who had product knowledge and wisdom, employees.

How much lazier can you get?

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

The devil is in the details like: Who's answering the questions? How much of a community does Sears have or can it build? How knowledgeable are Sears associates anyway?

Amazon has done fairly well with it's Amazon answers (in terms of acceptance) and Newegg has reviews that reflect more of a community mindset, but that stuff doesn't just happen. It takes all facets of brand building, customer service, and customer experience to entice people to invest their time to support a brand by helping other consumers.

In the case of Sears where this seems like yet another hail Mary pass, I have little confidence that it's going to have a measurable impact on operations.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Sears e-commerce operations to connect shoppers with real people ranks no higher than its other hang-on programs. Sears is like a steak on the grill: seared and very well done.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

It's always good to speak directly with someone regarding product/service question(s) you might have, especially if they can accurately answer the question(s). The question I have is, how accurate and timely will the responses be.

While Sears may be a sinking ship, kudos to them for trying to think out of the box. If they are expecting this to turn the tide for them that might be a little ambitious, but it will be interesting to watch how successful this initiative becomes.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

If Sears would cut out their "gotcha" marketing tactics people wouldn't need to "connect" to anyone. I have bought two major appliances from Sears in the last year. I like the sales associate I deal with. However, when trying to call her to clarify questions, I get routed into "Sears Customer Help" in another city. If Sears wanted to help, it would do away with the "Sears Customer Help" service entirely, which is what I suspect this "NEW" connect service really is!

The young lady I dealt with gave me her personal cell number and told me to call it any time. She got my business in spite of Sears!

Sears has hundreds of stores and thousands of employees. How about just letting the employees do their job, quit pushing overpriced extended warranties, and get back to retailing. And thanks for the 5% discount for using your charge card (looks like you would do better if you allowed any charge card).

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

As for myself: I want to ask, and get my questions answered by, a real person -- with no waiting, or being put on hold, please. I don't care to ask questions orally or in print, and have them answered in print -- no time or patience for this. And no chance to clarify or get the feel that communicating with a REAL person can give.

PS: Listen, Sears: The terms for these two functions are confusing. I had to go back and read them several times, and then when I went to fill out the instant poll, I had to check again to see which is which.

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Get real. Sears has huge problems with its customer service and this might be a solution, but only for those who are aware of it, and are willing to use it. How Sears conveys this information "in-store" with signage, and some type of in-store access point for people without smart phones will determine the success or failure of this program.

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

Amazon is probably the best model of including customer generated content with their own content, and it has worked well for them. The key is the implementation of the user interface so it is easy to get either to chat-based help or user generated content while the consumer is still in the consideration stage. If there is too much delay, the shopper will just abandon the cart.

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Kenneth Leung, Director of Enterprise Industry Marketing, Avaya

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