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Sears’ CE Chief Builds Exec Team

3/30/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

One month into her new role as president of Sears Holdings’ home electronics business, Karen Austin has begun building her new team and laying the groundwork for a re-energized operation.

Two key appointments include Elliot Becker, newly named as VP/general manager of electronics, and divisional VP Eddie Combs, who was tapped as the business unit’s chief marketing officer.

Becker joins Sears from Circuit City, where he had been VP and technology general merchandise manager. He succeeds Jonathan Magasanik, who left the company in March.

Combs was formerly marketing director for Sears home appliances and will likely play a critical role in Austin’s game plan. Indeed, the new CE chief intends to tout the company’s far-ranging but under-communicated assets, which include a knowledgeable sales staff, a strong TV and camera assortment, next-day delivery, finance and layaway options, and multichannel capabilities that allow consumers to research and shop in-store, online or over their cellphones.

“We’re an end-to-end provider for the connected family,” Austin told TWICE.

Plans for a “disruptive marketing” effort to convey Sears’ prowess will be one element of a comprehensive, four-part CE strategy. Austin wouldn’t elaborate but allowed that online research and purchasing would also be an important focus, given the Internet’s expanded role in shopping.

To underscore the point, she noted that most consumers spend an average of seven months researching TVs before actually purchasing one, and that one of Sears’ best-selling models is a forthcoming set that can only be pre-ordered online.

Formerly chief information officer for Sears Holdings, Austin also knows something of online applications and marketing, having launched the company’s e-commerce site and earlier serving as interim chief marketing officer for Kmart.

Austin is enthusiastic about her new responsibilities and Sears’ CE potential. Her only regret: that her appointment came too late for International CES in January.

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