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.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

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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