NEW YORK (AP) — Sears is adding another reason for shoppers to join its free loyalty program as it tries to rev up slumping sales.
Last May, Sears launched a service called Member Assist where members of the Shop Your Way program can communicate directly with associates in more than 400 stores nationwide through a dedicated website or mobile app. After logging in, they pick their favorite expert associate at the nearest Sears location and can ask product-related questions.
This week, the chain, a division of Sears Holdings, is launching another service called Get Advice, where Shop Your Way customers can tap into a broader community of thousands of Sears associates and tens of millions of loyalty members nationwide for purchasing advice like: what type of washing machine would be good for a family of six? Members post any product-related questions to the community and members can post an answer and vote on the most helpful responses.
Both the Member Assist and Get Advice services are available for Sears shoppers but not for Kmart customers. The goal for both services is to respond to customers within minutes.
"We are adding more opportunity (for shoppers) to access information," says Leena Munjal, senior vice president of member experience and integrated retail at Sears Holdings. She likens the strategy to "crowdsourcing."
The moves come as Sears, controlled by Chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert, is shifting its focus from running a store network to a member-focused business where repeat shoppers receive incentives to buy. The loyalty program started in 2009 with a focus on earning points but has expanded into a social platform. The company is now enhancing the program to better personalize shoppers' needs.
But Sears' results have been hurt as it continues traditional promotions while investing in the Shop Your Way program.
The Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based retailer reported a hefty loss in the fourth quarter on a 14 percent sales drop. Sears continues to struggle to bring shoppers into its stores and has been cutting costs, reducing inventory and selling assets to return to profits. It recently spun off its Lands' End clothing business as a separate company.
But the company has maintained it's on the right path. In the latest fiscal year that ended Feb. 1, Shop Your Way customers accounted for 69 percent of sales from all business from Sears' full-scale stores and Kmart stores. That was up from 59 percent in the prior year.
Eric Jaffe, senior vice president of the Shop Your Way program, says the latest services will create a better shopping experience for members. With the services, the company will gain better insight into what kind of merchandise shoppers are looking for. The company will continue to use its Facebook and Twitter accounts to field questions, but the latest move makes it easier for loyalty members to immediately buy products on the site once their query has been answered.
"The big difference is convenience and flexibility," he added.
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