Will a New Marketing Chief Take Sears in a Digital Direction?

Aug 27, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Sears, similar to most brick and mortar retailers, has traditionally
made the marketing case for shopping in its stores primarily through traditional
print and broadcast media. But, will all that change now that the company has
hired a digital expert to run its marketing operations?

This week, Sears Holdings
announced it had hired David Friedman, most recently president-Americas at
Razorfish, to run marketing at the company’s Kmart and Sears units.

"What’s intriguing in my view is that a company like Sears, which has
invested so much into offline marketing over the years, tapped someone from
a digital agency," one unnamed industry executive told Advertising
. "My
sense is that Dave is going to inject a strong dose of digital savvy, especially
helping Sears integrate its in-store experience with digital platforms like

Bruce Johnson, interim CEO and president of Sears Holdings,
said in a press release, that Mr. Friedman "brings to our company a proven
track record of assisting numerous retail and consumer organizations in building
strong brands through focused digital, online and in-store customer experiences.
Under his leadership, Sears Holdings will have the opportunity to enhance marketing
efforts for engagement programs that give customers more reasons to shop with
us everyday, such as Shop Your Way Rewards, Layaway and Sears Chef Challenge."

Friedman, who will have the title of senior vice president and president, marketing,
will start with the company on Sept. 13. He is the third head of marketing
at Sears Holdings since Edward Lampert, the company’s chairman, took control
in 2005. As a Chicago Tribune article pointed out, Mr. Lampert
has been cutting back on capital investments in stores and redirecting more
dollars to online for both Sears and Kmart.

Discussion Question: Do you expect the marketing at Kmart and Sears to
go in a dramatically different direction under David Friedman? What words
of advice do you have for Mr. Friedman?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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14 Comments on "Will a New Marketing Chief Take Sears in a Digital Direction?"

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Len Lewis
Len Lewis
10 years 8 months ago

My advice–keep your resume updated. Sears is starting to sound like A&P.

Far be it from me to offer advice since I’ve never run a retail operation, but Sears is famous for throwing things against the wall to see what sticks–but never really following through on their ideas or putting cap ex behind them. Their idea of remodeling often consists of a paint job.

I think he has a better chance of boosting the chain’s online sales than having an impact on brick and mortar. You can do a great website, but it doesn’t count for much when people go t the stores and find them understocked, outmoded, understaffed, or staffed with people who no longer care.

Carol Spieckerman
10 years 8 months ago

Yet more proof that Sears isn’t sitting still and that Mr. Lampert’s outside-in approach to retail marches on.

Sears is not getting enough credit for being a methodical change agent and contrarian retail innovator. Instead of layering on brand upon proprietary brand in its stores like J.C. Penney and Macy’s have, Sears began to monetize the perfectly good ones it already has through licensing. Sears is exploding its brand and product offerings, but doing so openly inviting others to leverage its platform rather than throwing up velvet ropes. As such, Sears is the one retailer that is emerging as the true Amazonian “marketplace” player.

Rather than obsessing on store remodels and other resource-draining window-dressing, Sears has quietly built out-of-store platforms like MyGofer that promise to transform the fundamental purpose of a store location. This latest appointment is an exciting continuation of a trajectory that, regardless how successful, will transform retail and challenge others to move in new directions. Don’t expect a new tagline!

Chuck Palmer
10 years 8 months ago

Mr. Friedman has a significant opportunity for innovation here. He has heritage (which SH unfortunately ignores) established platforms (in-line and online) and lots of experiments and failures in recent years that he can leverage.

While SH has a track record of rapid prototyping, it has shown little evidence of learning from and leveraging their innovation process (if you can call it a process–see above).

By now, we should have seen significant and relevant reasons to believe from MyGopher and Layaway or the multitude of store format, in-store web kiosk, or web experiments.

At the end of the day, it’s about moving the merchandise. Have you shopped their stores or websites lately? Have you bought anything? At all?

My advice: spend the first year shopping the stores (in-line and online), getting to know the customers and staff and explore what has worked and what hasn’t. Then throw it all away and develop fresh new reasons for us to pay attention again.

Marge Laney
10 years 8 months ago

The key to success for the brick and mortar retailer today is the seamless melding of the online and offline experience. Making the shopping experience whether online or in the store seemingly one and the same and encouraging customers to connect with the brand and each other brings a 3D feel to the experience.

This ‘oneline’ experience has most recently been executed with great skill by Nordstrom. I suggest Mr. Friedman become a student of their clean and effortless strategy. If Sears can deliver a oneline experience tailored to their segment that mimics the Nordstrom model, they could elevate themselves above the fray of the discounter slugfest.

Roger Saunders
10 years 8 months ago

David Friedman has to take a holistic approach to marketing and media execution. The consumer base is influenced by over 30 different media forms and in-store points. ‘New’ and traditional media have a space in the mix.

If he falls into the ‘trap’ of seeing and measuring models of the ’50s or the digital ones that operate in silos, Sears will likely continue to roam in the desert. Start with the consumer, while there are still a few coming into the Sears and Kmart locations–and listen to them.

David Livingston
10 years 8 months ago

I agree with Len. This will end the same way all the other rainmakers Sears has tried to hire to get the company to turn around. There may be changes made but trying to get Sears to improve is like trying to stop the Earth from rotating. Sears will simply be a digitally improved company that is slowly becoming extinct.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 8 months ago

Len Lewis stole my thunder in his earlier response to Mr. Friedman. Keep your resume dusted off and current.

My advice is not to Mr. Friedman, but to the Sears stockholders. Pray that he is successful in changing the stagnant mindset at Sears.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 8 months ago

It may be too late for Sears. The only chance they have is if they start directing their marketing to develop their online business. It will be a waste if they see online as a way to bring people to stores.

Fortunately, the move to online merchant is constant with Lampert’s real estate play. He will find better ways to utilize the real estate. He bought this as a real estate venture and he never wanted to be locked into retail stores.

What is ironic is that Sears could have been the retailer to develop Home Depot. What is more ironic is that Amazon is to people today what the Sears’ catalog was to people 70 years ago.

Unfortunately there will be no room for Sears online in the future. It no longer has any brand value and it would have to beat Amazon and Wal-Mart online, not to mention 100s of others that people are already used to going to.

Janet Poore
Janet Poore
10 years 8 months ago

What Len Lewis said.

I can’t add anything and he said it so well.

Mark Price
Mark Price
10 years 8 months ago

One of the key opportunities for the new marketing chief is to increase how Sears leverages their customer data to improve personalization, guest satisfaction, increase cross sell, and ultimately customer value.

The value of digital marketing is not just in the channel; rather, it is in the ability to leverage customer information to personalize the experience of individual customers, and to provide a personalized communication at the time and in the channel that the customer desires. In this way, Sears can work to improve their relationships with their best customers as well as high potential customers, thereby creating a stable franchise and foundation for future business growth.

Craig Sundstrom
10 years 8 months ago

“He is the third head of marketing at Sears Holdings since Edward Lampert, the company’s chairman, took control in 2005.”

Enough said. I think most of us here have a certain personnel change in mind for Sears, and it isn’t the marketing VP.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago

David, listen to your gut. There are more Sears/Kmart experts out there than you can shake a stick at. Ignore them. Chart your own path and assemble loyal, talented people around you whose thoughts are as fresh as your own. Also, avoid the internal jockeying and backbiting. I know nothing about Sears’s internal politics, but am very familiar with Kmart’s. “Dysfunctional” in the dictionary features a Kmart logo. Razorfish experience has no way to prepare one for the internecine weirdness inside a large retail operation. Especially when sales are in the dumper. Don’t get caught up in it.

James Tenser
10 years 8 months ago

A fascinating development. Mr. Friedman has a brilliant opportunity ahead of him, but very likely a short window in which to show results.

A word of advice: Don’t champion innovative marketing channels absent of close coordination with merchandising strategy, compliance and implementation. The store is definitely where it’s all going to happen, but messaging alone won’t win the day, no matter how clever the medium.

Merchandising performance management is the name of the game now. Many retailers are too inbred to pursue decisive adjustments in this regard. Sears Holdings may be able to bust its paradigms more easily – and that could make it a formidable competitor going forward.

John Hofmann
John Hofmann
10 years 8 months ago

I have been a Sears Hometown Store Owner for nearly 5 years. The changes in the company have been remarkable.

The online presence has improved exponentially. While sometimes clumsy as it is attempting to do so much when the results present themselves they are clear and concise.

The real spadework has been done with the web presence and now the inclusion of the Sears Rewards Program, Sears will continue to move closer and closer to their customers and potential customers.

Part of that strategy is the Hometown Store concept now nearly a thousand strong nationwide. These stores stock a myriad of appliances, electronics and tools. Basically the “heart” of Sears’ products. By presenting these products through a network of highly trained and motivated entrepreneurs, the word gets out, in a good way, Sears is the place to shop!


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