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Sears Refreshes Its CE Strategy With Austin At Helm

in her tenure as president of home
electronics for Sears Holdings, Karen
Austin was surprised to learn that some
consumers were unaware Sears carried
the category.

Now one year into her new job, the
company’s former chief information officer has spent considerable time and effort
to remedy that, and has managed
to increase consumer awareness by 20

To do so, Austin has taken a multipronged
approach to updating Sears’
CE image and enhancing its consumer
benefi t. 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 fi rst 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 3Dand
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 operations.

To further support her mission statement
of “educating, engaging and exciting
customers,” Austin tapped into 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 ecommerce

Initiat ives include the recently
launched and, 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 and
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 mobile site and iPhone
app, which has a special affinity with
CE enthusiasts and early adapters, she

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 significantly.”