Monday, March 19, 2012

Sears: you need help

I saw this morning that Sears is closing some more stores. So I'm finally getting around to reposting this letter I wrote them awhile back.

I understand Sears is having some problems. I mean having to close more and more stores. This is a shame. Sears is far and away my choice of places to shop for clothing. You don't try to sell me jeans with holes and stains and charge me triple or more. I can get a tee shirt that isn't covered in some garish "urban" pattern or so thin that it doesn't actually keep me warm. For that I thank you. And I've been known to come in and wander around just to look at the home appliances and hardware. But one the occasions I've actually tried to go shopping for things other than clothes I've been frustrated.

When I shop I start with the internet. I want to do research online, show up in a store, confirm that it's really something I want with my eyes, slap down some money, and walk out with my product.

When I'd go shopping as a kid, back before the internet, we'd come into a store look over what they have, and buy the one we liked best. Now I have an idea of what I want and look for someone who has it. For example, in my upcoming kitchen remodel I'll need a new oven and stove. Instead of coming in to see what you have I'll be looking for an induction range top and somewhere that I can come touch it before laying down my money. That's probably not Sears, Lowes, HomeDepot, or BestBuy. I've checked all of them before and didn't see them. I'll look again before buying just because you have actual, physical stores, but have little hope that we'll get to do business.

Another example:
I was looking for the card game "Gloom" yesterday. Google listed several vendors including along with Newegg, eBay, Powells, and several other sites. I got excited. I could just pop in and pick it up next time I was out and about. Oops, no, it's sold by World at Play Games. It's "In Stock", but does that mean in stock in the store or on the website? Because I don't want to order it. And I'll be very annoyed if I show up in the store and don't find it.

See, your website lists a lot of stuff that you don't actually have. Sometimes, but not always, the site makes it clear that it's a web-only product. More often I have to notice that is actually selling for some other company. They're using your site, but not your stores. If the product is actually available in brick and mortar stores I'm not told what stores that would be. I have to show up and take my chances. More often than not I have to get some sales person to get online and tell me if that object is available in any Sears in the area. They tell me they can order it for me, but honestly, if I wanted to order it I would have already. I'm there because I want to walk out with it.

I bought an Arduino circuit board recently. I bought it from MicroCenter because, from what I could tell from an internet search, they were the only brick and mortar store in the United States that sold them. They're a small chain so I felt lucky that I had one that was not only near me, but was metro accessible. Their store was a bit run down, but I found them selling stuff online, found their store, went there and bought exactly what I wanted. For this, and a bunch of other nifty stuff I saw while there, they're one of my new favorite stores. Sears can still do that. Not with Arduinos, but for what you do sell.

On your website I have entered my zip code and it remembers my location. You need to take that one step further. You need to tell me what products are available at "my store". Bonus points if it can point me at other locations in my area that do have the product if my store doesn't. Because, to me, your website should be a peek into your inventory.

Others shop in different ways. Look into how they shop. You may even want to consider letting website users choose between online shopping, checking local inventory, and self-educating browsing. Of course, my Dad is still gonna come in and look for a new drill in person.

OK, I thought I was done, but I'm not. I've had many good experiences with Sears and don't want to see it go under.
Have a look at Everyday there are several new projects posted there. Some that are impressive to look at and some that readers could make at home if they were so inclined. They also have a store. A store that sells many of the things that people will need if they want to tackle the projects they see on the blog. Those people then turn around and show off their projects which help advertise what's for sale in the store. Sears could do something similar. Engage your customers. Give them project ideas. Let them show off theirs. Give handymen a place to show off their shops and what they've built in those shops. Don't just show well put together sunrooms, help amateur home decorators who can't pull off that look figure out what would look good in their place. If people are remodeling their kitchen or garage give them an app that lets them model their kitchen and see how things will fit. This fridge may be great, but it's too wide. Suggest something similar but narrower. Or would different cabinets allow them to keep the fridge they like. They don't have the money now so this project is gonna happen over 3 years and be done in stages. Let them mark what they want so they'll remember. You'll be able to let them know about a sale on that oven. Or if you're about to stop carrying that particular oven let them know they need to hurry in or pick a new one.
Don't be just a store. Be part of a community. I won't come to the site looking for sales, but I will come look at a particularly awesome shed/nap house/detached office. Then I'll send my girlfriend to have a look at it, too.

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