February 28, 2002, 12:00 AM

The missing quesadilla makers: Why Sears likes search

Buying keywords at Internet search engines is driving sales of specific items at Sears.com, including 400 quesadilla makers a day.

As one of the giants of retail, Sears, Roebuck and Co. has what people want: its online offering includes more than 15,000 products in 85 categories from 497 manufacturers. But a big store faces a big challenge: making sure shoppers find what they are looking for.

“With that many products, there is a need to drive marketing efficiency and productivity, especially when we’re seeing decreasing effectiveness from traditional Internet marketing approaches,” says Scott Kluth, search engine manager at Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears. To solve the problem Sears is turning to paid search. Sears in October launched an aggressive search engine marketing campaign with pay for placement search engine Overture Services Inc.

While Kluth is revealing few details on results, Sears is pleased enough that it is spending an amount on search-driven click-throughs that’s comparable to what it spends on e-mail marketing, he says. As the result of stepped-up search marketing, for example, Sears is expecting search under “Sears” to deliver some 2 million shoppers to its web site this year. And to capture web shoppers who are looking for items Sears carries, but who aren’t necessarily thinking of Sears, Sears’ program with Overture has also locked up keywords covering many of its online products. Holiday results from one of the more esoteric-quesadilla makers-shows why Sears is sold on paid search.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Kluth says, a Sears manager was mystified as to why the quesadilla makers she ordered from her supplier could never be found in inventory. She probed for problems at the warehouse or with delivery by the supplier, but came up empty. Further investigation finally revealed that items were being delivered as ordered, but that they were selling out immediately online. Paid search on the appropriate keywords was delivering enough online shoppers directly to the listing page on Sears.com to sell out 400 or more quesadilla makers a day. After the inventory listings were updated each night to reflect the day’s sales, the manager would arrive to check inventory the next morning to find no quesadilla makers in stock-again.

“We can message at the keyword level, target event-driven searches and control landing pages based on conversion findings, and we only pay when someone clicks through,” Kluth says. “Search engine marketing works.”

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