Sears' Local E-Commerce Move Trying To Change Consumer Behavior

Sears on Wednesday (Oct. 26) made its local-only E-Commerce move, rolling out two new sites (searslocalad.com and kmartlocalad.com) that would limit their displays to just products sold by and available at the most local store. It would also display non-advertised local sale items plus—and this is a nice touch—a preview of items slated to go on sale the following week.

There are two main drivers behind this move. The first is the recent E-Commerce obsession with local: consider Wal-Mart's local Facebook move two weeks ago. But the second issue is the rapid death of many regional newspapers, which are taking to their graves the local circulars. The Sears local move not only enables the chain to migrate many of those local promotions from dead-tree to pixels, but it also is upgrading the experience. Consider a circular where the ads instantly disappear as soon as the product is out of stock.

The launch itself seemed to suffer from a small glitch. Based on a pair of tests that we did from two states, the site initially—and automatically—tries to position the site visitor, presumably using IP address point-of-presence. In both instances, though, the imprecise IP address either revealed no Sears or chose a very distant Sears. But when we ignored the site and forced it to consider a Zip Code, it found the correct stores and all seemed to work fine after that.

The strategy, though, raises the question of whether the way consumers will interact with such sites will change. Today, it's typical for an E-shopper to search for specific products and only delve into a retailer's site once that product is found there. What Sears is experimenting with is whether the process can be reversed online and whether customers can be persuaded to visit a Sears site first and then browse.

The non-advertised sales and the future sales are nice touches and certainly could provide a reason to hit that site directly, instead of starting with Google, Bing, Yahoo or Amazon.

One claim was troubling, though, but it's mostly a semantics concern. A Sears statement references "real-time stock checks." It's unclear how such checks are being done. But if we assume that the stock is considered available until a POS transaction shows one of those items being purchased, it's likely to be disappointing—especially during the holidays when popular items will sell out quickly. What if the item is in someone's cart? The system considers that item up for grabs, but it's decidedly not.

Declaring that the site will offer inventory levels is quite sufficient, without having to promise that which is almost impossible to deliver.

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