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Sears And Penney Add New Wrinkles To Appliance Retail

Longtime mall mates Sears and JCPenney are competing on more than just soft-lines now.

Following a three-month, three-market test of major appliances, Penney is returning to the category in a major way for the first time in 30 years.

Starting this summer, the chain will begin rolling out white-goods departments to some 500 locations, representing about half its store base, and will begin selling majaps online. The assortment features 150 kitchen and laundry products from Samsung, LG, GE and Hotpoint that will be pitched by specially trained sales associates and selectively presented within lifestyle vignettes.

Penney CEO Marvin Ellison said the customer response to the appliance pilot, conducted in San Antonio and San Diego, as well as in Tampa, Fla., has been “outstanding,” and explained that “we should not limit our business to apparel and soft home in order to achieve significant revenue growth.”

Penney said the test was prompted by research showing that the vast majority of its customers are homeowners and frequently search for majaps on the retailer’s website.

No doubt Ellison also saw an opportunity to cash in on the white-goods market share that Sears and hhgregg have been steadily ceding.

Perhaps in response, Sears has created an appliance pilot of its own: A 10,000-square-foot specialty showroom, located in Ft. Collins, Colo., that carries the industry’s 10 top brands and brings to bear Sears’ latest arsenal of digital selling tools.

The assortment includes refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, dryers, ranges, wall ovens and floor care, and the freestanding store offers such multichannel amenities as:

• in-store appointments with majap experts;
• free shipping on in-store mobile orders;
• free curbside pick-up of online orders; and
• in-store pick-up of online orders by friends or family members anywhere in the U.S.

But the centerpiece of the showroom is a tablet-controlled, 122-inch interactive digital display that will allow customers to choose from a selection of appliances, colors, finishes and common kitchen layouts to visualize how various products will look within a full-scale kitchen.

Sears’ Leena Munjal, senior VP, customer experience and integrated retail, said the pilot store is a response to “customers, who are clearly choosing to shop very differently than they did in the past.”

It may also be a response to the appliance gauntlet that Penney will be throwing down in hundreds of malls later this year.

The new format is the latest in a series of dedicated CE and appliance showrooms that Sears has tested in recent years, and follows the spin-off of the company’s appliance specialty store unit, Sears Hometown, in 2012.

The new showroom soft-opened last week and will hold grand-opening events over Memorial Day weekend.