May 12, 2011, 2:06 PM

Sears responds to porn problem tied to its online marketplace

A charge of selling pornography on Sears.com lingers on the whistleblower site AFA.net.

Lead Photo

Imran Jooma, the retailer's president of e-commerce

Within a half hour after it was informed by the American Family Association on May 6 that pornographic DVDs were being offered for sale on Sears.com, the retailer removed the material and took steps to ensure that such a violation of its retailing policies would not reoccur, a spokesman for Sears Holdings Corp. says.

Sears blames the incident on a third-party seller whose content managed to slip through Sears’ system of monitoring and blocking porn and other prohibited content from appearing on Sears.com. “We have a very clear policy that states the types of products we are not willing to sell. It includes pornography in every form,” says Imran Jooma, president of e-commerce for Sears. “As you can imagine there are times that people set up products on our site that do violate our policies, and we immediately work with them to ensure the items are removed and that this does not happen again.”

The incident illustrates the risk Sears and other retailers take in allowing other merchants to sell through their e-commerce sites. The American Family Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes what it calls family values, was still running a video lambasting Sears on its web site and on YouTube today; the group was also showing a large image of the Sears logo as a hero shot on the AFA.net home page, under the heading “Explicit Materials Sold Here” and with the term “Pornography?” listed among the product categories that the family-oriented retailer typically sells.

Sears, No. 7 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, says it routinely uses a mixture of technology and manual reviews to constantly monitor its site for content in violation of its policies. “We regularly review our processes to ensure compliance by our vendors, and we encourage our customers and community to help us flag any items they believe might violate our guidelines,” the retailer’s spokesman says.

But Sears contends that it was not aware of pornographic DVDs for sale on Sears.com until alerted last week by the AFA’s Randy Sharp, the group’s director of special projects, the Sears spokesman says. The Sears spokesman adds the AFA has not explained why it was still running the video on its web site home page about the matter days after the pornographic content on Sears.com was removed. The AFA, which also sells products such as books and DVDs on its web site, did not immediately return a call for comment.

The AFA says in a statement on its web site that it discovered the pornographic DVDs by searching on Sears.com for “mature,” then clicked the term “Movies and TV Shows.”  The results included DVDs on topics including “Snatched curse of the pink panties” and “Hot Mamas Like Young Chics Three.” The AFA’s web site also lists the web page addresses on Sears.com that it says offered these DVDs; the pages displayed messages today saying the page content was no longer available.

The AFA’s video on Sears carries a message by AFA president Tim Wildmon, who says: “You don’t get any more all-American than Sears, as in Sears and Roebuck from way back when, the catalog that most of us grew up on. Guess what, folks. Sears is in the pornography business. I know that sounds like it couldn’t be possible, but in fact it is. The AFA has learned that on Sears’ web site, a couple of clicks takes you to hard-core pornography, where they offer it for sale.

“We’ve contacted Sears, and they have so far ignored us. But we don’t think they’ll ignore tens or hundreds of thousands of people who get in touch with them and tell them you’re not going to shop any more as long as they offer pornography on their web site. So go to our web site, AFA.net, and take action now and help us win this victory.”

The video, entitled “Sears – A Family Company?” had received more than 37,000 hits as of today on YouTube.com. On AFA.net, the video is accompanied by instructions on how to contact Sears by phone or e-mail.

The AFA is also planning to run a news article on the matter in a forthcoming issue of its print magazine, the AFA Journal, according to the Sears spokesman.

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