How Would You Redesign the Sears Customer Experience?


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As a regular at Brand Autopsy, I remember the "would you miss" series of posts about brands John Moore wrote a couple of years back.

The brands discussed ranged from Denny's, Costco, Ace Hardware, Dairy Queen, Crate & Barrell, BusinessWeek, UPS, Pizza Hut, to Walgreens, Polaroid Instant Film, Advertising Age, The Cheesecake Factory, Chili's, Wells Fargo, and more.

One of the brands was Sears — if Sears went out of business tomorrow, would any of us care?

Does Sears provide such a unique product and customer experience that we would be saddened if it didn’t exist?

How did Sears do on the emotional connection scale? The post and comments are dated March 2007.

Already, many said they would not miss Sears itself, even is at the time Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ: SHLD ) parent of Kmart and Sears was the third largest broad-line retailer, with approximately $55 billion in annual revenues, and approximately 3,800 full-line and specialty retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.

Maybe you have not shopped at Sears in a while, they used to have a reliable and fairly-priced repair business as well. I used them many years ago, in 1996. Some of the company's sub brands are fairly well known — DieHard batteries, Craftsman tools, Land's End apparel, and Kenmore appliances.

My last Sears purchase was in 1998. I did so much work on the house during that time frame that Home Depot and Lowe's became the go-to places for everything.

As for appliances, there's a local specialized store where you actually get to talk with a knowledgeable person who has time to deal with you. They deliver when they say they will, and do service with a smile. An easy choice to make.

Many customers of the giant retailer knew that the brand was in trouble at the time of the discussion, 2007. Now, almost five years later the future of the Sears brand is uncertain — 120 Sears (and Kmart) stores are about to be shut down.

The retailer's strategy shifting to a banking model did not help foster a customer-friendly store experience. Remember the credit card offers for zero down payments on appliances?

Culture followed strategy, which meant profit first, serving people with experiences they care about second.

Size, strength, attitude

For many years, Sears enjoyed foot traffic. Its size meant availability and lots of variety. In an effort to build efficiencies and standardization into its stores, the retailer failed to harness its own sub brand strengths. Reinvention is in order, says Brand Strategy Insider, citing:

  • creating experiences people love, using IKEA as an example
  • leveraging the iconic catalog into a rich digital experience, pick one or two stories and focus on them

The proprietary sub brands are still a strength. Why not leverage them to the fullest? Kill the big box and specialize, tell a couple of stories really well and go back to making those experiences hard to miss.

Attitude as in having a strong point of view helps. Kenmore is doing a good job in social media engagement, better than the competitive set in some respects.

For example, people are more actively engaged on Kenmore’s Facebook page than most other brands’ pages in the competitive set, and the brand, for the most part, is responsive. In the last year, when I last looked at their presences, they more than doubled fans, partly through engagement.

And they more than doubled Twitter followers, also through engagement. They joined YouTube in 2006, and they do a good job with video tips. They recently rolled out Kenmore Connect, a service that answers questions about your appliances. Here's a video of the 2012 bloggers summit.

The Craftsman social media team is also doing a good job on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Are these efforts enough to help Sears re-size its opportunities by building on its strengths? Do we care if the Sears brand survives or do we just care about the sub brands?

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How can the corporation get engaged back with itself and remember to put customers first?

How would you redesign the Sears customer experience? Smaller store footprint? Specialized hubs within a store for tools and appliances and kill all other products? Go digital and channel?

Would you miss Sears? A different way of asking the question to get us thinking — if you were Sears, would your customers miss you?


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