January 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

Sears steps outside as customers drive up for online orders

To emphasize customer service, Sears is bringing products out to customers waiting in cars for orders placed online for store pick-up—even though customers who come inside the store to pick up products ordered online often buy additional products, Sears says.

Increased sales aren’t everything, Sears, Roebuck and Co. says. At least not when a retailer is trying to differentiate itself with unusual customer service.

So when a shopper on Sears.com orders something for pick-up at her local Sears store, she can drive up in her slippers, buzz Sears customer service, and sit listening to her car radio for the few minutes it takes a store associate to load her order into her trunk, Sears says. “We come out to the car when they call us on their cell phone as they pull up to the store,” Jeff Roesch, vice president of I.T., said at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention last month.

Sears.com’s “Ready in 5, Guaranteed” store pick-up service for online orders promises online orders will be ready within five minutes of when a shopper arrives at the store. Even though Sears gets extra sales from customers who come inside the store to pick up their orders, Roesch adds, Sears prefers to ratchet up the service when customers ask for it.

“25% of the Ready in 5 customers who come into the store buy more products, but we want to make it as easy as possible for online shoppers,” he says.

At Sears, which runs its online order, store pick-up program on an IBM WebSphere Commerce platform, the program is one of several steps it’s taking to improve the online customer’s shopping experience, Roesch says.

Sears also has extended a virtual model program initially designed to help online shoppers see how apparel items and outfits appear on a computerized model based on the shopper’s personal dimensions. The program, using technology from My Virtual Model Inc., is now also offered on Sears.com under a Sears Virtual Decorator feature that lets shoppers configure plans for areas of their homes including kitchens, bedrooms, garages and laundry rooms.

Sears has also added to the program an e-mail-a-friend feature. “The big idea is not just to let shoppers customize a room, but to let them share it with friends,” Roesch says.

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