February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Playing to Strengths

(Page 3 of 3)

Many analysts and consultants give Sears high marks for its web site, citing its use of best practices and its efforts to leverage the web`s utility across channels. They also point out that ultimately, however, the Internet is simply an enabling technology, not a business model, and that Sears faces a number of challenges on which web operations and even a well-crafted multi-channel strategy have little or no impact. Among them, for instance, is consumer traffic that`s moving away from the type of traditional mall Sears anchors toward freestanding fashion and lifestyle centers. Sears is moving to catch that trend with its off-mall Sears Grand store concept, opening four of the new centers since 2003.

Another issue is Sears` attempts to find the right mix for its soft lines, the focus of considerable effort over recent years, but, analysts say, it is still a problem in need of a better resolution. Bass concedes the limits of the web`s impact on that particular issue, saying, "If we don`t have the right merchandise, the web`s not going to fix that."

But if the web as the center of an effective multi-channel approach is not the solution to those larger questions, it`s at least one of the levers that can be brought to bear in addressing them, says Wissman.

"The Internet`s job is to do what it can," he says. "It can bring traffic into stores, which is at the heart of in-store pick-up. It can bring in a different customer. It`s not like these challenges are unique to anyone," he says. "I think they`ve done a good job with Sears.com overall. They`re doing all they can with what they`ve got. The rest is just the fundamental issues Sears will have to address."

mary@verticalwebmedia.com

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