Hoffman Estates, Ill. - Early in her tenure as president of home
electronics for Sears Holdings, Karen Austin was shocked to learn that more than
20 percent of consumers were unaware that Sears carried the category.
Now one year into her new job, the company's former chief
information officer has spent considerable time, effort and resources to remedy
Austin is taking a multi-pronged approach at updating Sears' CE
image and enhancing its consumer benefit. Changes include a cutting-edge
technology assortment and impending department redesign, coupled with a fresh
marketing campaign and new online and m-commerce initiatives.
The overhaul began last March with a new CE leadership team, and
continued with comprehensive training for sales associates in the fall. It was
the first extensive instruction for staffers in four years, Austin told TWICE,
and was focused on selling "a connected family solution, so that customers don't
go to RadioShack for an HDMI cable after purchasing the TV from us."
Elsewhere in stores, TV walls and camera bars were upgraded,
while another major reset is in the offing to support a significant commitment
to 3D- and IPTV, Austin said.
To tout the assortment and assisted sales floor, Austin launched
a humorous "Sears Blue Electronics Crew" advertising campaign featuring
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, and is looking to extend the blue
crew's reach into homes by leveraging Sears' home services arm, which visits
some 14 million households each year.
"It's a great opportunity," she said of the company's in-home
To further support her mission statement of
"educating, engaging and exciting customers," Austin called upon her experience
launching Sears' e-commerce site to create a more robust multichannel offering.
"Seventy-five percent of shoppers research online first," she said, "so we
created new tools, new sites, and are investing heavily in increasing our
Initiatives include the recently launched TvMatchmaker.com and
CameraMatchMaker.com, which were designed to help simplify the buying experience
by asking shoppers compatibility questions about their homes, viewing habits and
the types of pictures they shoot.
Other new sites include the company's MySears and MyKmart
Community pages, which join Facebook and Twitter as places where customers can
commune in cyberspace. For its efforts, Sears was ranked among the top seven
retailers and top 100 companies with advanced social-networking programs, while
both Sears.com and Kmart.com were among the top 10 most-visited sites during the
holidays, Austin said.
The company was also out front in m-commerce with the creation
of its Sears2go.com mobile site and iPhone app, which has a special affinity
with CE enthusiasts and early adapters, she noted.
Sears' sister chain Kmart has also enjoyed an assortment upgrade, although sales support and educational tools are less critical for the discounter. "Kmart is further behind on the technology curve," said Austin, who also served as the chain's interim chief marketing officer. "Innovations will be understood by the time they reach a mass audience."
Austin said she is getting support for her game plan from senior
management under chairman Eddie Lampert and interim CEO W. Bruce Johnson, which
is willing to make the investments in marketing and infrastructure when
presented with a compelling case.
"Awareness is crucial for Sears' electronics business," she
said, and as a result of the initiatives, "We've been able to move the needle
Hoffman Estates, Ill. - Early in her tenure as president of home electronics for Sears Holdings, Karen Austin was shocked to learn that more than 20 percent of consumers were unaware that Sears carried the category.