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Sears exec: Operational infrastructure was key to our digital strategy

Christine M. Campbell, Assistant News Editor

WASHINGTON - No doubt overall customer lifetime value is important to companies. But losing even a single customer can cost a business a great deal of money over time, according to William Christopher, chief of customer care and vice president of Sears Online, Sears, Roebuck & Co. Speaking here at Customer 360, he outlined the important role a strong operational infrastructure played in Sears' digital strategy.

"We are still not where we need to be," Christopher said, referring to Sears Online's infrastructure, which he said the company is still fine-tuning.

With its digital strategy, Sears set out to integrate its Web efforts with its

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brick-and-mortar stores and become a premier bricks-and-clicks retailer. The company has 45 different contact centers and 3000 retail locations.

To leverage all its customer touchpoints, Sears tries to take advantage of different opportunities in its various dealings with customers. For example, its credit division features online bill payment and presentation and its Web site offers expert advice and product reviews. The site also integrates with in-store kiosks and a partnership with America Online allows Sears to have a keyword that directs AOL members to its site.

To get everything to work right and appear seamless to the customer, Sears had to integrate its existing legacy systems, including credit, accounting, inventory, replenishing, point-of-sale, pricing and merchandising.

Sears uses a BroadVision platform for its e-commerce efforts. Most of its Web sites are on Sears' own servers, but several are still outsourced.

The company also selected Witness and TCS for performance management; Sigma Micro, BroadVision and E.piphany for order entry; Octane for e-mail management; and E.piphany, BroadVision, Pega, LCI and Siemens for e-CRM efforts. For customer self-service, Sears uses Mercado to power its search engine.

E.piphany allows Sears to conduct analysis, segmentation and campaign management. Its business rules, collaborative filtering, real-time mining and agent assist functions are very valuable, Christopher said.

The rewards are evident, according to Christopher. Sears' online revenue grew 400% in 2000.

While the technology may all sound very complicated, it simplifies transactions for the customer, Christopher said. To further ease transactions, Sears is now conducting a pilot program, which allows customers to buy products online and pick them up in stores, which some other click-and-mortar retailers already provide.

Sears will also expand its current integration from just "bricks and clicks" to catalogs and direct-marketed merchandise, he said.

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