Sears, Roebuck and Co. and America Online Inc. have agreed to pool their brand-name strengths to reach customers through a cross-marketing alliance. Terms were not released, but a Sears spokesperson said the retailer would receive payments for signing up AOL subscribers.
Dulles, Va.-based AOL, a leader in interactive Internet services and Web brands, will market its products and services to 60 million Sears customers. Simultaneously, Sears will market home improvement, along with other merchandise and services, to the more than 21 million AOL members.
Special promotions for the alliance with AOL will be developed at some of the 858 full-line Sears store locations, and also in the company's print and television marketing campaigns. Sears merchandise and services will be marketed to AOL members as well as visitors to AOL's other brands such as CompuServe, Netscape Netcenter and Digital City.
Customers will also have the option of paying monthly AOL subscriptions with the Sears Card, which has 39 million active cardholders.
In hopes of making signing up for Internet service easier for Sears customers, AOL will include special Sears offers and convenient links to www.sears.com. It also plans to collaborate on developing new home improvement content, which includes consumer advice on home maintenance and DIY projects. Currently, Sears focuses its e-commerce efforts on selling tools and home appliances, but added marketing through the alliance will give its Web site a boost.
Other leading retailers have found success with joining with Internet giants. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also has an alliance with AOL, where Wal-Mart offers the Internet access software at its stores, among other things. Wall Street analysts say these types of agreements are necessary if brick-and-mortar retailers wish to become "click-and-morter" players on the Internet.
AOL has professed interest in Sears' "connected home" of the future, an Internet-enabled device to offer product features, consumer education and installation services. (Sears is still a leading product service provider with 15,000 technicians nationwide.) Since its alliance with Sun Microsystems in January, Sears has announced its intent to launch other online ventures, including BobVila.com and GlobalNetXchange.
The specialized version of AOL with links to Sears is expected to launch in the second half of 2000.