Amid declining sales, Sears, Roebuck & Co. is shifting strategy in a holiday push from WPP Group's Y&R, Chicago, to promote it as a speedy shopping destination for the harried mother. It's offering a program in which customers can order online and pick up the merchandise at Sears five minutes later. The service is being hyped by a spot in which a mom pulls her station wagon up to the store and grabs packages as an infant cries in the back. "Five minutes," says the voice-over. "Enough time to move a shopping mountain."
The retailer will need to move mountains this Christmas season. Even though parent Sears Holding shares have remained steady, Sears has been unable to advance its market share or post improved sales at its 2,300 stores.
Under the leadership of hedge-fund manager Eddie Lampert, speculation has run rampant as eager investors await his next move. Rumors of a Sears Holding Corp. acquisition of retailers as varied as The Gap, Home Depot and even beer marketer Anheuser-Busch have swirled over the last year.
Some analysts have warned that without an acquisition, Sears Holding stock could eventually face the wrath of the Street, considering the core business has not improved amid all the cost-cutting by Mr. Lampert. Same-store sales at Sears were down 4.8% in the third quarter as revenue slid 2.5% to $11.9 billion. In the second quarter, sales declined 2.5%.
Sears must deliver on customer service and attract a younger demographic to boost sales, especially since the chain has been plagued by customer-service problems, according to Gary Drenik, an analyst at Big Research, a Columbus, Ohio, retail-research firm. "They are trying to solve an internal merchandising and image problem with advertising," said Mr. Drenik. "They've got to start investing in the stores again before they will win back customers or win over moms."
Since Sears' acquisition by Kmart, little money has been invested in remodeling stores. Meanwhile, competitors such as JC Penney and Kohl's have invested millions in store remodeling.
In a recent Big Research poll, only 6.3% of female Sears shoppers said they go to the chain to buy women's clothing, saying they favor Kohl's, JC Penney or Wal-Mart. Children's clothing (9%), men's clothing (12%) and electronics (10%) were a bigger draw at Sears.
Working women who shop at Sears have an average household income of $56,933, Big found, higher than the national average of $53,073. And 54.1% of those working-women shoppers are between the ages of 35 and 54.
The brand has tried to feminize its image with mixed results before, including the "Softer Side of Sears" push in the mid-'90s.
This year's campaign grew out of customer research that showed 98% of moms take on additional responsibility at Christmas as the primary holiday shoppers, and nearly 60% do the holiday shopping alone. The campaign departs from last year's holiday campaign, which urged shoppers to "Wish Big," a push that highlighted Sears' proprietary brands.
Sears touted this campaign's creation by "an all-women team" from Sears and Y&R. It is the first holiday campaign overseen by former IBM marketer Maureen McGuire, exec VP-chief marketing officer, who was appointed in early fall last year to oversee the merger of the Sears and Kmart brands. Sears is also focusing on moms via a website-ReadySetHoliday.com, a Sears and Kmart partnership-that includes a kid zone, a discussion board and holiday recipes.
And in a deal with Warner Bros., a $199 purchase earns three tickets to see the movie "Happy Feet." That giveaway is being promoted with its own spot touting it as an escape for moms: "You have a few hours to sit in a chair like a real adult."