CAMPAIGNS: New appearance helps reenergize Sears customers

PR Team: Sears Roebuck and Co. (Hoffman Estates, IL) and Dome Communications (Chicago) Campaign: "Sears Appliance Re-Charge" Time Frame: May - August 2003 Budget: Under $215,000

PR Team: Sears Roebuck and Co. (Hoffman Estates, IL) and Dome Communications (Chicago) Campaign: "Sears Appliance Re-Charge" Time Frame: May - August 2003 Budget: Under $215,000

Sears Roebuck and Co. is already the largest appliance retailer in the US, but it faces increasing competition from the likes of Wal-Mart, big-box appliance retailers, home centers, and warehouse clubs. Sears research found that shoppers knew about Sears appliances, but didn't see the retailer offering much selection at the low end of the price spectrum. The retailer wanted to remind consumers of its appliance leadership, and about the range of its offerings. Strategy "A strategic message for Sears in 2003 was an emphasis on the great variety of price points we offer," says Larry Costello, director of communications for Sears' home and off-mall business. "We were trying to drive awareness that Sears is the best place to shop for high-efficiency appliances." Working with Chicago-based Dome Communications, Sears wanted to tell the business media about how it was updating its store appliance departments and also offering appliances in its Sears Hardware store chain. It wanted to communicate the energy-efficiency message to consumers, and remind them of the variety of offerings Sears carries. "We wanted to continue to gain market share and gain awareness among our customers," Costello explains. Tactics A business-media tour took place in May with Sears VP of home appliances Tina Settecase visiting major outlets in New York to discuss Sears' redesigned appliance departments. Sears was updating signage and physically repositioning entry-priced items in appliance displays to increase consumer awareness of its entry-level appliances. "We had a major initiative in our appliance business to change the way we operate, and really update our business model," he says. In addition to redesigning appliance departments in its 870 stores, Sears also introduced a 110% price-match policy, and increased by 50% the number of appliances kept in stock that consumers could take with them the day of purchase. Key messages stressed on the media tour included the fact that Sears is the only US retailer selling the top-six brands of major appliances, that two-thirds of American households have a Sears appliance of some sort, and that Sears stocks 4,000 appliances, compared to 2,500 for its closest rival, Costello says. Sears also wanted to emphasize "value-priced products," he says. "Sears has a reputation for better and best. Research showed that customers didn't give us credit for opening price points." To reach consumers directly, the campaign used Sears "Cooling Stations" - inflatable blue igloos 18 feet high by 30 feet wide that showcased Sears air conditioners and refrigerators. The igloos were set up at Navy Pier in Chicago on August 5, South Street Seaport in New York on July 29, and at Taste of Dallas from July 17-19. All three cities are markets with large Hispanic populations, a key demographic with which Sears wants to establish a higher profile. Consumers stepping out of the summer heat and into the cool, 60-degree igloos could view Sears products and hear about the value of energy efficiency once inside. They were given questionnaires to fill out about energy efficiency, and offered discount coupons for Sears' central air-conditioning units, refrigerators, and window AC units. Results The business-media tour garnered more than 43 million impressions, with coverage by Reuters, AP, The Wall Street Journal, Money, and the Chicago Tribune, among others. The igloos gathered 5,000 contest entries, and roughly 14,000 people visited the igloos in the three cities. Sears appliance sales rose in August, and were mentioned as one factor in propelling Sears to posting higher same-store sales that month, the first time it had done so in two years. "Directionally, we did have a very nice response," Costello says of appliance sales. Future Sears is currently reviewing its communications plans for 2004, but Costello says Sears front-line and regional managers, pleased with the results of this campaign, are requesting a similar effort next year. Says Costello, "I think the key here is that it was a program that combined some creativity that was right on target in promoting our energy-efficient message."

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