April 25, 2003, 12:00 AM

A growing Sears.ca will debut re-design next month

Sears Canada Inc. will launch a re-design of Sears.ca next month that will more closely tie online and in-store events and promotions as well as improve site navigation for shoppers.

Strengthening its multi-channel strategy with its fast-growing web site, Sears Canada Inc. will launch a re-design of Sears.ca next month that will more closely tie online and in-store events and promotions as well as improve site navigation for shoppers, Sears Canada chairman and CEO Mark A. Cohen tells InternetRetailer.com. "Substantial enhancements in both content and presentation will be evident to customers," Cohen says.

Sears.ca will begin operating next month with an improved site map designed for faster navigation to particular product categories, and a revised customer service section will more prominently highlight policies such as free shipping. "This tends to be something that is taken for granted and not necessarily understood by new customers, yet it remains one of our strongest competitive advantages," a spokesman says.

Sears Canada, which has long relied on its catalog to reach its widely dispersed base of customers throughout even the most remote areas of Canada, is turning more to its growing web presence to coordinate marketing efforts in its direct-to-consumer and store operations.

The retailer will begin to run events and promotions on Sears.ca under themes and schedules coinciding with activity in its stores, which include 122 full-line stores, 43 furniture-and-appliance stores and 143 independent dealer-operated stores. "This is an advantage over what we can accomplish in a printed catalog," a Sears Canada spokesman says.

At the same time, Sears Canada will step up its marketing of Sears.ca through major Canadian web portals.

Although the web still accounts for a small percentage of Sears Canada`s overall sales, Sears.ca has been helping the company operate more efficiently and profitably. Overall revenue last year declined 0.3% to $6.5 billion from $6.7 billion, as overall merchandise sales dropped 2.4% and same-store sales declined 4.3%. But web sales rose 27% last year to $120 million, up from $94 million in 2001, following large annual jumps from $57 million in 2000, $15 million in 1999 and $2.8 million in 1998. Web sales are expected to continue showing sharp annual increases, as Canadians, who have a high percentage of Internet access in their homes, continue to show a higher level of comfort with online shopping, the spokesman says.

Sears.ca offers virtually everything that`s available in Sears Canada`s stores and catalogs. Unlike its U.S. parent, Sears, Roebuck and Co., Sears Canada still maintains a large catalog operation, producing several large books throughout the year. "We put out 8,000 color pages of catalogs last year," the spokesman says.

Cohen says Sears expects this year to build on its than 27 million web site visits in 2002. "Site traffic, sales and profitability are all expected to grow in 2003," he says.

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