December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Take no prisoners

What began in 1996 as a content-only site, has grown into a combat-ready force in online household appliance retail.

At Sears.com shoppers can scroll through a large offering of appliances, see a nearly full-screen picture of most items, and compare as many as three products side by side. If all that does not resolve shopper indecision, the site offers an appliance adviser. The adviser, which is available for all product categories, is a pop-up window that takes visitors through a series of questions and answers about the product category. The content extends to advice for a wide range of home repairs. Included with that advice is a list of tools needed for the job and a prompt to buy them.

Sears will not say how many appliances it sells online, but says, according to its own research, one out of 10 shoppers who buy an appliance from a Sears store were influenced by Sears.com.

Sears does a very good job of selling its hard goods online, says Pam Stubing, retail analyst for Ernst & Young. And with Circuit City pulling out of the appliance business, Sears is boosting its marketing efforts-its web site will play a big part in that push, she says. Much of the site has the same look as the company’s printed sales papers, which Stubing considers an excellent strategy. People don’t spend a lot of time reading ads, but they are quick to recognize an ad’s style; this is a great way to leverage the store on the web site, she says.

The strengths of its tools and appliances sections carry over to the rest of the site. The site has a wish list, gift adviser, clearance items and advanced search capabilities. On every page, a prominent box links the site’s return policy and 30-day lowest price guarantee. And for those squeamish about shopping online, the site invites them to place their orders at a toll-free number. All in all, the Sears’ generals have positioned troops and artillery to take and hold a chunk of retail beach.

Sears.com

Hoffman Estates, Ill.

Monthly visitors: 3.4 million*

Sales: N/A

Went live: September 1997

Design by: In-house

OS: N/A

E-C Software: BroadVision

*Source: PC Data

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