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Sears Canada sees the light and gives a jolt to consumer electronics


TORONTO —Sears Canada has gone against the current among department stores and mid-tier operators, refurbishing and updating its electronics departments, including the one in its flagship store in Toronto. Competitors may have backed away from the sector, but Sears Canada has renewed its efforts, not out of obstinacy, but to provide a new reason for more customers to shop the store on more occasions.

Sears’ broadline formats range in Canada from true department stores in urban and affluent environments, like its downtown units in Toronto and Vancouver, to mid-tier operations in the more casual and frugal suburbs. The renewal of electronics impacts both broadliners and specialty businesses like Sears Home, said Vincent Power, a Sears spokesman.

Power said that when current Sears Canada president Dene Rogers took his position, he became an advocate for re-launching electronics to create another appealing in-store destination. “You’ve got to give them a reason to shop the store,” Power pointed out, citing Rogers’ reasoning. This pertained to men, and women who shop for men, in particular.

In downtown Toronto, Sears paired the renewed electronics department with men’s wear, which resides across an aisle. The pairing makes sense downtown, Power noted, but it isn’t a marriage that would work everywhere. Sears selected spaces for refurbished electronics departments on the basis of store-level factors, sometimes placing them adjacent to home appliances, for instance, as a complementary big-ticket department.

Sears selected the product range of its electronics section very specifically, Power noted. Televisions and home theater are major elements—a home theater living room display is in the heart of the department—but digital imaging is emphasized as well. Secondary, but still important, are laptop computers and electronic musical instruments.

Cameras and digital video products were taken out from behind glass and securely mounted so that customers can handle and scope out the products before purchasing them. Yet, flat-panel TVs absolutely command a passerby’s attention. Employees also were retrained to be more conversant.

In upgrading its electronics sections, Sears Canada also brought in cable and satellite connections. “We brought in cable and satellite because we were trying to sell HDTV without customers being able to really see what it looked like,” Power said.

Power emphasizes that the electronics effort at Sears Canada is positioned to be maximally effective in different environments. At Sears Home stores, the impact of electronics was a little different and, given the nature of the operations, the upgrade–and in some cases, the introduction–was a bit more profound.

“Most of our Sears Home stores were really just furniture and appliances,” Power said. “A handful had some electronics, but not anything extensive to speak of. Now, you go into those stores and it’s about furniture, appliances and electronics.”

The new upgraded departments were rolled out across the chain by the middle of last year and the initial review of results suggests that Sears Canada customers have responded positively, Power said, which means that Sears is back in electronics in a big way for the foreseeable future.

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