Sears Quietly Launches Social Network

Insisting it has no plans to face off with Facebook or take the place of MySpace, retailer Sears has quietly launched its own social networking hub.

The chain has registered more than 200,000 registered users to MySears, a social networking site it rolled out in late March. This week Sears launched MyKmart, a similar site for its sister chain.

Rob Harles, vp-community for Sears, said the chain’s goal is to glean new insights from customers and give the brand more of a human face. “Ultimately we’re going to try to use this to first and foremost learn about our customers and secondly use those lessons and use that to integrate that into the shopping experience,” Harles said, adding that the company has already used some insights to restock items and address some customer service issues.

MySears.com, powered by Viewpoints Network, Chicago, includes reviews and discussions as well as polls and blogs. Discussions on the site include questions about a washer and dryer (“the timer doesn’t advance from the agitating mode to the rinse mode”) to the calorie-burning capabilities of walking versus running (“Walking would probably burn more calories if you can go for a longer period of time [than you can run.]”

Harles, who was brought in from McKinsey for this project last year, said Craftsman tools seems to be sparking the most conversation at the moment.

Sears isn’t the first retailer to try its hand at social networking. Walmart launched a site called The Hub aimed at teens in 2006, but pulled the plug on it just 10 weeks later. Deborah Aho Williamson, senior analyst with eMarketer, said Walmart’s main problem was that it was trying to reach teens. But she said Sears’ approach may reap dividends. “I think that companies including Walmart are way more sophisticated now,” she said, adding that Sears’ decision to link the site to Facebook and Twitter rather than try to supplant them was an example of that sophistication.

Josh Bernoff, svp-idea development at Forrester Research, said that he thought Sears will have a tough time with the project. “It’s pretty hard to start a community in the context of a retail site unless your customers have a lot in common,” he said. “If you look at Sears, a Craftsman tool community would probably work out better than a Sears community. Do we really want to get together and talk about vacuums?”