With an online shopping community it says is now 650,000 strong, Sears is attempting to take its social networking strategy to a new level with a redesign of its web properties and new features that allow for customized ads, local marketplace shopping and interaction with others.
The changes are focused on the MySears.com site, which it began testing in spring 2009 and quickly followed with a version for sister company Kmart. Essentially, you sign up and create a profile, then tag items you like or want as you browse online, and write reviews or recommend those you do buy. You can create groups, or friends lists, to see what people in your community are saying about products and see wish lists for gift ideas. Even a year later, both MySears.com and MyKmart.com are considered beta sites. "It's this massive social community and the source of a lot of great feedback," Sears spokesman Tom Aiello tells dealnews.
What's new for fall 2010 is a redesign (including the logo) that focuses on reviews and other content from members of the community, and lots of customizable features. There's also a lot of integration with Facebook itself (you can login using your Facebook credentials), hence the comparisons.
“MySears provides a community to get information from, and lets you create sub-communities about specific areas of interest,” says Aiello. "It's like Facebook meets the most cutting edge site on the Internet.”
Almost all of today's online stores are much more than web-based catalogs with corporate information and a store finder; they incorporate elements of social networking, social buying, reviews, expanded inventory and special sales for a richer buying experience — and better deals. MySears is indeed one of the more unique, forward-looking retail sites, and in spite of Sears often crusty image, the company was among the first to enter online retailing with features like in-store access to Web only product, lists and even onsite pickup — features that many of today's largest retailers are still having trouble implementing.
“A lot of what they're doing in this space is unique,” says Neil Stern, a retail consultant with McMillan/Doolittle. “They are leveraging more than anybody this notion of multi-channel retailing. It's smart and a lot of retailers are struggling with that right now.”
But MySears (or the much smaller MyKmart) aren't the only efforts the company is making. Sears also has its Amazon path: It has also launched Marketplace at Sears to sell items not available in stores. According to Aiello, it's only for approved suppliers, but it's a way for Sears to partner up with manufacturers and stock items it can't sell in stores or inventory it doesn't want to carry on its balance sheet.
The supplier registers with Marketplace at Sears, lists its items and after Sears completes the sale, sends it out to the customer. “Its incredibly interesting and compelling,” said Stern. “(And) just like Amazon.com, there's a commission gotten from the sale.”
It's easy to see the benefits to Sears, but for consumers the pros are a bit murkier. There are lot of ways out there to access deals, get product reviews, and interact with your friends. Sears' concept of creating a community of shoppers loyal to one retailer is just among the newest.
Laura Heller is a freelance writer based in Chicago who specializes in mass market retail trends and consumer electronics industries. You can follow her on Twitter @lfheller. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
Photo credit: reegmo via Flickr