When it comes to the web, one name that doesn’t exactly jump out at you is Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC). Certainly, you might think that during a economic downtime, the parent company of Sears and Kmart has more pressing things to worry about than social networking. But it is thinking about them. And tomorrow, it’s launching a couple sites to prove it.
MySears and MyKmart were built to foster a community around the long tradition of shopping at those retailers. The idea being that this community would not only be interested in buying things, but would be interested in rating items, having discussions about items and giving feedback to the company itself. Perhaps if you got users to interact and form this community, eventually they’ll keep coming back to Sears or Kmart to do their shopping, was the thought. And after over a year of testing, it seems to be working pretty well.
Yes, MySears and MyKmart have actually be around in one form or another as a testing ground for a while, Rob Harles, SHC’s VP of community, tells me. It started out as an experiment to see where it would lead. And even with the sites officially launching, it remains an experiment, he says. But it’s one the company is getting much more comfortable with.
The sites have been built in conjunction with Viewpoints, a consumer review social networking site. And as Harles tells it, SHC seems to have a pretty good grasp of what could conceivably work and what won’t. It doesn’t, for example, want to build another giant social network like Facebook or MySpace. Instead, it aims to stay within its reach, engage customers, and eventually, hopefully, create a sense of the small town shopkeeper who knows all of his customers, as Harles put it. That may be a bit of wishful thinking on the part of a company that owns Kmart, one of the world’s largest retailers, but at least it’s thinking small rather than thinking too big.
Something else Harles said that made a lot of sense to me is that SHC also doesn’t want to restrict users into having to create yet another profile on yet another social site. He hopes to use various other site’s APIs to help his customers fit MySears and MyKmart into their online social lives that already exist. He wouldn’t go into specifics about what exactly he was thinking about with this, but one could imagine sites like this using something like Facebook Connect to tie Facebook profiles to MySears and MyKmart accounts.
Harles conceded that when the project first launched, the sites were limited to the demographics you normally associate with Sears and Kmart — which is to say, older house moms. But over the past several months, various other groups of users have come to try out the sites and find out information about products. But he notes that a network like this may be good for the parents of the Facebook and MySpace generations to step into the social graph.
Sure, a lot of the elements on these sites are the old tried and true standards of just about every other social networking site, but it’s good to see old stalwarts of retail attempting to transition into the new age. An age where online customer feedback and input is important. And they’re apparently willing to keep on shifting along with the ever-changing web.