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Sears exec: WAP, SMS drive transactions

August 25, 2009

sears3NEW YORK – Retail giant Sears understands that its customer base is increasingly mobile and the company is making major strides in mobile commerce with its Sears2Go service.

The keynote presentation at the Mobile Commerce Spotlight, an event co-hosted by the Direct Marketing Association and Mobile Marketer, discussed the Sears’ mobile commerce site available at, which Sears promotes via SMS and mobile advertising, lets consumers buy on their mobile phone and pick up the item in-store. Items sold on mobile include appliances, automotive parts, apparel, computers, electronics, jewelry, toys and games, lawn and garden equipment, footwear and tools.

“Mobile messaging and information services is where most of the world still is today, the bulk of mobile transactions, and some players are providing interactive entertainment, but where we really need to go is using the mobile channel to drive transactions and save sales that might be lost,” Thomas Emmons, team leader of mobile/innovation for Sears Holdings Corp., Hoffman Estates, IL.

“There is very little top-tier mobile commerce going on, but we’ve moved our way through these stages from letting consumers buy online and pick up the item in-store to and offering text alerts to customers, which was wildly successful,” he said.

“We’re moving past text messaging into the actual transactional space with our mobile Web site, but SMS is still the bulk of what we do in mobile.”

Sears Holdings Corp., which also owns Kmart, is using mobile to complement its existing multichannel strategy (see story).

The retailer is marketing a wide variety of merchandise on Sears2go at, its mobile offering that is powered by Usablenet (see story).

Sears recently enhanced the capabilities of its mobile commerce site, allowing users to browse, buy and schedule delivery or pickup for major home appliances like refrigerators or washing machines.

The full appliance product line available at Sears2go joins a variety of other product categories, including apparel, electronics and computers, fitness and sports, jewelry, tools, toys and games (see story).

Last Sunday, Sears even sold a $3,000 lawn tractor to a consumer shopping on his mobile phone.

“Mobile consumers are insanely utilitarian—we’re not seeing someone look at 30 TVs on their phone,” Mr. Emmons said. “They come to our mobile site and they either leave or they buy something.

“We get 10 times more store location requests on the phone, which makes sense, because it’s a great use case,” he said.

“We’re starting to do mobile ad buys, but we’re in the infancy stages—we’re just starting a new mobile ad campaign, and we sent a ‘text keyword to short code’ call-to-action to our mailing list.”

Sears used 2007 to educate itself and get up to speed on the mobile learning curve. The company got a short code set up and execs listened to pitches for 2D bar codes. Sears has since tapped Scanbuy to deploy the technology.

“Customers loved Scanbuy 2D bar codes, but they still aren’t quite there in the adoption curve as far as the mass market,” Mr. Emmons said.

Sears educated itself relatively early on, so now that consumers are ready to buy via their handsets the company is poised to reap the rewards.

“We tested various mobile initiatives and learned about SMS alerts letting consumers know an item was ready for pickup, in-store SMS for pushing out deals and a WAP site with product reviews,” Mr. Emmons said. “However, the value proposition means more than any technology.

“If you don’t have a compelling use case, you’re done,” he said. “We like it when people are reading product reviews, because those consumers are buying more.”

“It’s difficult to show customers where their end of the value prop is, and we’re still struggling to get that out.”

In 2008, Sears ran a text-to-win campaign. The company claims that mobile consumers were twice as engaged as online consumers exposed to a similar campaign.

“The text-to-win campaign was very, very successful—it went very well,” Mr. Emmons said.

While SMS is great as a promotional channel for branding, Sears’ mobile commerce strategy is focused on driving transactions via its mobile Web site.

“As far as our mobile commerce strategy, we’ve always had a spot for checkout on our mobile site,” Mr. Emmons said. “Obviously our goal is to sell stuff, and we’re working with Usablenet for the mobile site.”

Many companies have the same URL for their wired and mobile Web sites and automatically redirect consumers that type in the address.

“We knew that more and more customers were visiting and on their phones, but almost no one was buying,” Mr. Emmons said.

“We found a partner in Usablenet that helped us make a solid business case, and we started Sears2Go right before last year’s holiday season, and it’s been going well ever since,” he said.

Sears has seen a disproportionate amount of mobile Web traffic come from Apple’s iPhone.

“We’re investing heavily in the iPhone, because we know that people visiting and, more importantly, transacting on our site, are disgustingly iPhone-skewed.

“We haven’t seen the same amount of BlackBerry traffic—we are building BlackBerry apps, but we’re more focused on building iPhone apps,” he said. “We have one in the app store, and it’s not just a mobile version of your ecommerce site.

“Think, ‘What’s the value proposition, what problems are you solving?’”

Mobile is not just about translating a PC experience, it requires a paradigm shift.

“Mobile allows us to think of retail in vastly different ways than we’ve done before,” Mr. Emmons said. “The idea that I can buy something on my phone in two minutes then receive a text message that it’s ready to be picked up—that’s a game changer.

“We’re learning how to market this stuff from baby steps on,” he said. “As a bricks-and-mortar retailer, mobile is much more important to us than it is to, say, Amazon, because we want to drive consumers in-store.

“As computers get smaller and phones get bigger, the line between them is blurred—mobile is about new forms of convenience.”

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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