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Sears looks to 'cooler' side to spark apparel sales

HOFFMAN ESTATES, ILL. -- Sears Roebuck hopes younger customers will warm up to the apparel featured in its fall advertising campaign, called "Cooler Every Day."

"We want to communicate through these ads that we have the product and the brands," said Lee Antonio, a Sears spokesperson. "We want to position Sears as a destination for people interested in fashion."

The advertising campaign, which launched just after Labor Day and runs until early November, includes three separate advertisements, which feature attention-grabbing music and clever camera work. The bulk of the advertising campaign focuses on areas where Sears has its traditional success--appliances, electronics and housewares. But Sears also set aside an entire ad dedicated to an area where sales have not been so hot in the past--young women's apparel.

"We realized that we had gaps in our apparel offerings and weren't catering to the needs of some of our younger consumers," Antonio said. 'Wee added three new exclusive, trend-right women's clothing brands to our product mix this fall."

The ad features apparel from some of the new exclusive lines, as well as some of the other exclusive private labels already in Sears stores. Looks from A/Line, Apostrophe, Parallel and Latina Life are all included in the advertisement--however, outfits from Lands' End, a major 2002 acquisition, are missing.

The advertisement focuses on the most fashion-forward looks for fall, Antonio said.

"We really want to make our product pop for the customer," she said. Sears is also in negotiations to launch an exclusive line made by trend-savvy label French Connection United Kingdom for spring 2006, she added.

Speaking of exclusive deals, Sears also made a splash in September's TV Guide. The retailer dressed the stars from all the newest shows that premiered this month--including "Everybody Hates Chris," "Kitchen Confidential" and "Ghost Whisperer."

In addition, the company sent out direct mailing advertisements with coupons, along with a separate pamphlet called "AccessStyle" which gives style tips for the season and accessorizing suggestions to customers. The company has been sending out the AccessStyle mailings for several months, Antonio said.

"Another key thing we're really focusing on in stores right now is head-to-toe dressing," Antonio said. "We've added signage to the apparel department that is clear and visual and displays outfits including accessories."

Reports estimate that Sears' soft goods department, mainly apparel, takes up approximately 60% of floor space, but only accounts for 20% of apparel sales. Sears won't comment on the relative success of apparel sales since the campaign began, but in published reports one former executive said that apparel sales are down as much as 20% right now.

Although retail insiders have praised Sears' latest ad campaign and subsequent promotions, some wonder whether its latest marketing efforts might end up like the "Softer Side of Sears"--much praised as a campaign but ultimately failing to produce a sales boost.

"I think the ads are excellent," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail and investment banking consulting firm. "But in order to be successful in apparel, Sears needs to focus. They need to concentrate and devote more floor space to the areas like electronics and appliances where the sales are happening first and then bring on a more targeted effort for marketing its apparel."

Davidowitz also expressed serious concerns with the new, younger audience targeted by Sears' efforts. Considering the lack of success Sears has had with Lands' End since it was brought into stores three years ago, Davidowitz doubts it will have success with trendier private labels.

"Young people have so many more options when they go shopping for apparel--Abercrombie, American Eagle, Ann Taylor ... ," he said. "The customer has to have a feeling, an image of the store that Sears just doesn't have yet. [In its latest marketing efforts], Sears is saying 'we're cool' so now we're getting customers from other cool places ... I don't think they're going to Sears."
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