Sears Binds Newspaper Circulars, Web

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Sears, Roebuck & Co. has debuted a Web channel called Weekly Store Ads that brings its national weekly newspaper circular online.


About half of the items in the channel's home improvement, lawn/garden, appliances and electronics categories are available via online fulfillment. Delivery for apparel from its women's, men's, girls', boys' and babies' sections is unavailable. The channel's viewers are encouraged to build printable shopping lists for items not delivered.


"[It's] difficult to say whether it will have a greater impact on either Internet or store sales because it's hard to track exactly how many customers the Web drives to the stores," said Matthew Spahn, director of media planning and analysis at Sears, Hoffmann Estates, IL.


A button for Weekly Store Ads appears near the top right corner at Sears.com. Its copy reads, "See this week's ad for your local Sears store," while an image of two of the retailer's circulars acts as the background.


Clicking the ad leads to a page asking viewers to input their ZIP codes to show the nearest Sears location. Also appearing will be featured product offerings, which will vary by what each store carries.


The viewers' cookie will remember the ZIP code upon their next visit to the channel, and it again will pitch offers available at the nearest store. If viewers wish to search products at another location, they can hit a link positioned to the right of the store address and enter a different ZIP code.


Sears put the ad button up in May without promotion. Though response rates weren't made available, it evidently has performed well enough for Sears to continue with a plan to give the channel significant play in its newspaper circulars starting in mid-October.


Spahn said his firm hopes that having the circular's prices available at the stores and online will drive overall sales and improve the print piece's cost-effectiveness as newspaper audiences dip nationwide.


"We think it will improve the return on investment for the preprints," he said. "Declining circulations have hurt our ability to get the preprints into our customers' hands."


The Weekly Store Ads channel was partly spawned from customer surveys that showed 10 percent of the retailer's major appliance customers had researched items on the Web before purchasing. Sears estimates that such customers were responsible for more than $500 million of its revenue last year.


Recent reports from market analysis firms showing that viewers increasingly use the Internet for product research before making offline purchases has also led Sears to further mesh its online and store strategies.


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