Can Sears Help OpenID Go Mainstream?

It’s one thing when Internet companies like Facebook adopt OpenID, it’s another when a giant retailer like Sears Holdings Corporation embraces it. Sears has just announced that it will enable over 1 million monthly MySears and MyKmart visitors to use their Google, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or other accounts to log into the community websites, enabling them to write product reviews and share information about products and services without the need to create a separate account.

Customers will also get access to special offers and coupons in return for their participation in the community.

For the integration, Sears teamed up with Viewpoints Network, a social technology and media company that recently integrated JanRain’s RPX solution into their online community and identification platform.

The question is: is Sears – despite its claims of driving innovation in online retailing, which seems a bit over the top – merely a late adopter looking to try something new or is this a sign of OpenID maturing to a point where it can finally reach that tipping point where it really starts taking off with a mainstream audience?

In my recent interview with OpenID evangelist Chris Messina, he expressed the hope that integrations outside the technology industry – such as the U.S. government – would at some point occur more often, but he also acknowledged that the initiative struggles with branding and getting the word out there.

It’s integrations like these that could really help OpenID gain more traction, but the main question will always be if OpenID is just a solution looking for a problem, or if there’s a genuine need for a decentralized, universal login standard.

Despite the flood of criticism from technology pundits, the jury’s still out on that.