Sears streamlines for flexibility

New York — Sears is streamlining its people, product and presentation, looking to better position itself for the future, as Paul Liska, executive vp and cfo, explained at a retail seminar for Lehman Brothers last week.

One of its objectives is to "better connect with customers," and Sears has taken steps to enhance the customer experience. Liska said Sears' current store environments include inconsistent merchandise presentations and complicated, restrictive fixtures. As an example, he said Sears currently uses 132 different types of fixtures, preventing a universal look. Sears plans to pare down the types of fixtures to 11.

In the future, Sears will implement a four-zone signing and merchandise concept, displaying product in lower fixtures next to the aisle that get progressively higher toward the back walls. "This is what all retailers do," he said. The low, front display next to the aisle will feature trendy or on-sale items. The second zone will contain commodity items, the "bulk stuff." The third zone will carry clearance merchandise, he said, and the fourth zone, the back wall, will display more fashion-oriented merchandise or "something interesting."

The whole idea of the zones is "to draw the customer in and shop in the department," Liska said. "It's simple stuff we needed to do."

In addition, Sears stores will add centralized cash wrap locations, placed by either exits or elevators. Tests of the centralized cash wraps have proven successful, he said, and will eventually replace the ones now in use, which can be difficult to access and are often unmanned, making for a frustrating shopping experience. In addition, promotional signage will also become more consistent and less confusing to consumers.

Sears is also simplifying its operating process, removing redundant layers of personnel. The retailer had previously announced the elimination of 5,000 jobs, 22 percent of its work force. Other changes will be implemented; for example, store managers will have fewer direct reports, from 11 to five, and the goal for the district staff will be to spend 80 percent of its time in the store. Sears has also shifted from a salaried sales staff to hourly wages, he said, providing additional flexibility.

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