Broadline retailer Sears Holding Company is continuing to make good on its March 2009 promise to expand its global online strategy with the official launch of the ManageMyHome home improvement site, says RetailerDaily.com. ManageMyHome offers online services, products and information aimed at consumers looking to perform home improvement projects.
ManageMyHome allows customers to download online product manuals, receive expert project advice, organize lists of parts and materials needed for projects, calculate estimated project costs, read how-to articles, and also schedule Sears home improvement services and purchase home improvement products and materials. In addition, a team of volunteer homeowners called “Neighborhood Helpers” provide advice through an interactive blog and by posting “tweets” on the Twitter social networking site.
Sears’ attempt to build an online social network of home improvement customers and experts is similar to its recently launched MySears.com and MyKmart.com community sites. MyKmart.com and MySears.com enable users to write reviews, view polls and blogs, and follow either retailer on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Videos, a “featured reviewer” section and how-tos also feature prominently on each landing page. The company hopes the sites serve as a “stepping stone” to introduce younger customers to Sears, much as ManageMyHome is designed as an entry point for home improvement customers.
Sears announced its expanded digital strategy in March on the heels of purchasing Israeli social networking engine Delver, and Sears’ new community sites and ManageMyHome are clearly efforts at developing proprietary social networking communities. However, Sears has also launched a number of other online initiatives this year that do not directly fall into the social networking category.
Earlier this month, Sears offered a special presale of two new Samsung DualView cameras, allowing customers can purchase the cameras either online or via mobile phone before they become generally available in September.
Other recent online developments from Sears include the launch of a service called givetogether which enables a group of customers to select and give a gift. The organizer or recipient can select any Sears product or service and create a group gift goal, and then invite contributors via email.
In addition, Sears recently launched ServiceLive.com, an online marketplace where US homeowners and businesses can name their price for a variety of services, improvements and repairs, and the unified ShopYourWay banner that allows customers to have a consistent shopping experience, online or offline, across all Sears and sister retailer Kmart channels. Last year, Sears enabled customers to perform social shopping for prom dresses via Facebook.
By having home improvement experts help customers and potential customers via Twitter, Sears is following the lead of Best Buy, which launched a similar service to assist Twitter users with consumer electronics questions last month. Unlike Sears, Best Buy is using paid employees to perform Twitter-based consumer assistance.
Also unlike Sears, Best Buy has been reporting decent financial results in the past year. Meanwhile, Sears reported operating and net losses, as well as declining revenues and same-store sales, in Q2 2009, and also mixed results for Q1 2009, with operating and net income and gross margin rate going up and total revenues, comparable store sales and gross margin dollars going down. During Q4 and fiscal year 2008, Sears reported significant losses in net income, same-store sales, and margins, and announced plans to close 24 underperforming stores. So far in fiscal 2009, Sears has laid off 300 corporate employees.
By focusing on home improvement for its next major digital service launch, Sears is taking an interesting risk. The continued soft performance of leading U.S. home improvement retailers The Home Depot and Lowe’s indicate the home improvement sector is in a weak spot, and neither retailer shows any signs of significantly elevating its performance for the remainder of the year.