Sears Drive-Through. It's Against The Odds But At Least It's Trying

Sears is experimenting with a buy-online-pick-up-in-store approach merged with a "you want fries with that?" drive-through. The tactic is not especially novel, as several other retailers have tried such a move with mixed results (the mixed results being that some had bad experiences while others had worse). But the experiment is interesting insofar as it shows Sears trying to be creative with its merged channel efforts. Beyond the advantage of being able to physically shop without having to take a shower, there are some tactical reasons for Sears' plan to convert one of its Illinois stores into what it is calling a "MyGofer Store." According to news accounts based on municipal permit hearings, the MyGofer store will be about 80 percent warehouse, and its main purpose will be to serve as an place to quickly pick up items--primarily at the drive-through portal--that were ordered ahead of time. "MyGofer is actually a very different store format (Sears is) trying to test," said Ravi Acharya, director of online business at Sears. He noted the MyGofer store idea differs from the company's existing site where users can order Kmart items and have them delivered. "MyGofer is taking it to the next level, and they're going to try out a couple of stores to see how that will be received," Acharya said. "We are trying a few strategies, all based on convenience. Essentially, it is another trial for us." Dave Brennan, a marketing professor and co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, said Sears is breaking no new ground with the MyGofer store concept. He pointed to drugstores like CVS and Walgreens and to Tesco, the largest grocer in the U.K., noting they've all been doing the order-online, pick-up-at-the-drive-through thing "for a long time." An executive with a major book chain said his company tried, and abandoned, an order-online, pick-up-at-the-store model , one that came sans drive-through. "From my perspective, it never really seemed to take off," he said. "But if you needed a book right that second, it definitely served a purpose. It was a synergy of clicks and mortar that people talked about." The fact that the bookstore model required people to come into the store, however, provided some opportunity for up-sell, the exec noted. That's something a drive-through eliminates. On the other hand, parents with kids in car-seats will appreciate not having to deal with that hassle just to buy a few, quick items. The online-ordering part didn't thrill Brennan, who said Sears tends to have many older customers who have shopped there for decades and might be resistant to Internet shopping. "It's a way for them to gain some awareness and exposure plus any incremental sales," Brennan said. "But the typical Sears customer may not be the prime Internet customer. That may be the issue for them." Other Shopping Options Another recent Sears move is its new mobile shopping capability. Shortly before the holidays, Sears launched its first mobile application, dubbed Sears2go. It allows users of about 400 types of mobile devices to shop for many of the products in the Sears catalog. However, it wasn't until earlier this month that Sears expanded the Sears2go capability to include appliances, Acharya said. "Appliances are a big deal for us," he noted. Being able to shop on a mobile device isn't exactly bleeding-edge stuff, but it's something that isn't always done in a user-friendly manner, Acharya said. He said the company is particularly proud of the mobile optimization aspects at play in the Sears2go system. "Our philosophy has been to keep it very simple, fast and secure," Acharya said. "In terms of simplicity, it's a trade-off. I would say that is one of the key things we have to keep on applying: Listening to customer feedback is how we keep improving that experience. That's going to be one of the evolving challenges, but it can be very quickly adapted — We can very quickly change the way to display information." Acharya said he's also pleased about the way Sears2go allows shoppers to not only browse for and buy appliances with their phones but also order warranties and schedule deliveries and installations "in real-time." It all comes down to trying different things in an effort to increase shopping convenience, Acharya said. For example, he said groups of his colleagues in different departments are deeply scrutinizing the viability of selling through social networks while his group is working on ways to push coupons to mobile devices.