Byline: Kim Ann Zimmermann

PHILADELPHIA — Sears, Roebuck & Co. will begin selling products over the Internet at the end of this month, starting with its venerable Craftsman line of tools and advancing with apparel and home furnishings.
“We’ve already started doing some testing, and we will be up and running completely by the end of October,” said Stephanie S. Springs, vice president of Sears’ home store systems, after her presentation on technology at the Retail Information Systems Conference here. The convention, sponsored by the National Retail Federation, concludes today.
The Craftsman debut on the Internet could set the stage for marketing a broad range of Sears products on line. Home and garden products for the do-it-yourself audience and apparel, particularly more basic goods, are possibilities.
“We started with the line of Craftsman tools because we already sell those products through a specialty catalog, so we can leverage our existing channel of distribution,” Spring said.
Fulfillment is a crucial concern for any company considering selling over the Internet, Springs said during a presentation on technology at the conference. “On-line customers have access 24 hours a day, so you have to address how you will process these orders and make sure the items are in stock to fulfill those orders,” she said.
In addition, the Craftsman product line changes less frequently than other departments such as apparel, Springs said.
Springs said there are still some issues to address before selling clothing on line, such as whether to allow returns at retail outlets or should they be returned to the vendor, and how to get those items back on line for selling. These issues are especially acute in apparel, she noted in her presentation.
Springs said Sears formed a team to examine the potential for selling via the Internet last September. The team is made up of personnel from marketing, merchandising, operations and technical areas.
“We wanted to get a number of people involved from all areas of the business, so that we could really set a framework for all areas of the company to begin selling on line when it was appropriate,” she said.
Springs said she expects this group to be disbanded by the end of the year. “These folks will be sent back to their areas of business, seeding the business with the mechanism we have built for selling on line,” she said.

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