Sears Execs Talk Tech to Reassure Shareholders

In Reports, What's New, Industry News by Accessories Staff

Tight "Fort Knox"-like security surrounded Sears' annual meeting held at its headquarters.

Hoffman Estates, IL—Can a high-tech shopping rewards program help buoy the bottom line at beleaguered Sears?

That’s what some top executives at Sears Holdings told shareholders today during an annual meeting. The company has been amid a turnaround, selling off stores in an effort to return to profitability.

According to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Sears touted its Shop Your Way online and mobile membership and rewards program which the retailer reported invested “several hundred millions of dollars in.”

Lou D’Ambrosio, president/ceo, said membership in Shop Your Way has more than doubled in the last two years as Sears and Kmart shoppers receive bonus points for their purchases and redeem them at any of the company’s stores or websites. So far Sears says it has “tens and tens and tens” of millions of shoppers signed on with more than one billion visits.

The company already offers a Show Your Way app for iPhones and iPads with a mobile version to come. D’Ambrosio has been keen on pushing the tech side of Sears, which was named as Mobile Retailer of Year in December.

“The world is changing–we have to take advantage of that to bring this company forward,’’ said D’Ambrosio. “If we don’t do it, there are consequences. You change or your die.”

Lampert: ‘Invested in Technology to Transform’

D’Ambrosio’s strategy entails a so-called integrated retail plan, which connects the shopping experience in Sears’ stores with the retailer’s web and mobile presence.

“We believe customers operate in many different worlds simultaneously,” D’Ambrosio said.

As part of its technology upgrade, Sears is giving sales associates tablet computers which they can use to show shoppers more merchandise, price comparison and even take credit cards for immediate sales.

Even Edward Lampert, the normally taciturn chairman of Sears Holdings, took the stage to field questions about the future.

“I’m not sure there’s been a change in strategy, but some are becoming more obvious,” said Lampert. “It should be no surprise that technology has been very important in how we thought about the transformation of the company. We’ve invested a lot of money in technology needed to transform the company; we made investments that in some cases were unpopular and unclear even inside the company. It’s becoming more clear.”

When asked if some of the future plans included selling off Land’s End, Lampert said Like other businesses, there is always the possibility it could be separated” but declined to elaborate. Lampert called Lands’ End “a very special brand,” on par with Sears’ Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands.

On Tuesday, Sears forecast that it expects to see a profit in the first quarter with lower sales declines. Last month, Sears Holdings sold 11 properties to General Growth Properties for $270 million in net cash proceeds and hope to raise another $400 million to $500 million by spinning off its outlet and Hometown stores.

“The rewards program is good, but the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the core retail operation,” said Paul Swinand, analyst at Morningstar. “Sears is going to have to invest in that, but it will cost money.”


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