February 19, 2007, 12:00 AM

Sears shakes off its e-commerce inertia

Sears is undertaking major initiatives, including consolidating Sears.com and Kmart.com onto a new IBM WebSphere platform to reinvigorate its online brands and gain more market share, says Paul Miller, senior vice president of direct commerce.

Sears Holdings Corp. is undertaking a number of major initiatives, including consolidating Sears.com and Kmart.com onto a new IBM WebSphere platform, in order to reinvigorate its online brands and gain more market share.

Specifically, Sears Holdings will re-launch Sears.com and Kmart.com on a new integrated WebSphere platform later this year, build out a testing laboratory at the retailer’s new e-commerce center in downtown Chicago and use the web to launch new multi-channel initiatives, says Paul Miller, senior vice president of direct commerce. “We are building a new approach and reinvigorating the brand,” he says.

Details on the new IBM e-commerce platform, including a specific launch date, are still forthcoming. But a new integrated platform will help Sears Holdings achieve better economies of scale for Sears.com and Kmart.com, create better multi-channel synergy with the company’s nearly 3,800 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada and build a better overall e-commerce foundation, Miller says. “We are going to change the game,” he says.

Sears already is working with IBM on another e-commerce initiative. Earlier this month in conjunction with IBM, Sears, No. 7 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, moved further into the virtual world when it opened a prototype 3-D showroom called the “Sears Virtual Home” on Second Life. Second Life is a multi-player virtual world where people interact, play, do business and communicate online. The prototype store allows consumers to experiment with changing the color of the cabinets and countertops in a virtual kitchen, explore 3-D versions of various home theater set-ups, and learn how to organize their garage by virtually customizing storage accessories, says Sears.

In November, Sears also announced the opening of an e-commerce development center at a new location in Sears’ flagship store in Chicago at 2 N. State St. As part of the new facility, Sears is building a testing and user experience laboratory that will conduct design, function and application testing. “The lab will begin doing more A/B testing,” Miller says.

Miller, who joined Sears from Williams-Sonoma Inc. in September, also says Sears Holdings will be implementing more multi-channel initiatives, particularly with a program Sears helped to pioneer: buy-online-and-pick-up-in-store. Over the holidays Sears implemented a new marketing program of rewarding customers with a $5 gift card if their online order wasn’t ready for pick-up within five minutes of when the customer arrived at the store.

Sears Holdings, a result of the merger of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 2005, scaled back some e-commerce development as the organizations began combining operations. But now Miller says Sears Holdings is looking to make up for lost time with several new initiatives. “We may have lost a little relevance, but we’re taking on a new direction,” says Miller. “Sears has a long retailing history and a brand people trust.”

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