Sears Rewards Program #FAIL

Thanks a lot Sears, I really didn't need to be spammed by all your eCommerce entities all at once. Sears is typically where I go to get tools and appliances for the home; although, in today's age, Home Depot wins out on in-store price comparisons and Lowes wins on customer service; at least in southwest Washington anyways. The customer experience is probably different where you live. Regardless, this post reflects upon the poor execution of what could have been a good retention marketing campaign by the Sears rewards program.

Most large retailers in the area have a rewards program of some sort. Kohls has their Kohl dollars where customers buy goods at Kohl stores and gain in-store currency to buy even more Kohl products. This strategy has been very fruitful for them and profitable; despite commodity factors like rising cotton prices. Kroger, which owns the Fred Meyer grocery chain, allows customers to load manufacturer's coupons onto their rewards card (that little plastic fob on your keychain) through the customer login-enabled website. Kroger also uses all of its channels to leverage product promotions of its other categories, like jewelery sales (check the back of your receipt some time) where Kroger is the 3rd largest retail jeweler in the US. Home Depot has its Garden Club which involves a print mailer and an online newsletter, both of which contain coupons that are tied directly to a subscriber's account. Their promotions dept can see which coupons are being redeemed and when (this makes for a great channel to promote seasonal wares, fertilizers, etc.).

Let's start at the beginning. Visit a Sears store and upon making a purchase, a sales associate will ask you if you want to join their free Shop Your Way Rewards program. The points program looks remarkably similar to the Ultimate Rewards program offered by JPM Chase and equates a monetary spend to a point value.. Heck, it may even be run by the same company. That's where all the similarities end. As a marcom professional, I expected that the Sears rewards program would be managed like an umbrella, where all of its divisions would be tied into one master email marketing solution. Sadly, not so. The trouble began when I was asked to give up an email address to sign up for their free rewards program; and later found that the email address was the only requirement for the rewards program, meaning, if I wanted to opt out of their email newsletter, I would be opting out of the entire rewards program. Pretty stupid, huh?

Nothing about tracking my purchase history for later promotions, my favorite Sears store, or what brands I liked to purchase matters to Sears; or whoever is managing their retention campaign.
This is the opt-out landing page for Sears' rewards program.
They only have one program ("local ads") active, so having both options on this screen is redundant. Also, you can't unsubscribe from the Local Ads program without unsubscribing from the entire rewards program. But wait, it doesn't stop there.

How much email is too much? If your customer hasn't unsubscribed, it could mean that they have the patience of a Tibetan monk, but that's unlikely. Or, customers really want those special online promotion reward points. The email address could just a spare, throw-away address. Or, an email filter was created to automatically delete the promotional emails. Granted, I signed up because I wanted to scope out their marketing process. After a month (I have the patience of an urban monk), I unsubscribed because it simply wasn't adding any value to my reading the emails; plus, I couldn't access their online rewards program without signing up on a 3rd party vendor website whose privacy policy seemed leaky at best.

In the span of a month, I received 3 emails in a week after my address was added to their subscriber database. Then, received an email once a week until I unsubscribed. Including the Lands End branded email, a total of 8 promotional emails was sent after the initial sign-up. Excessive or just right? That really depends on the customer's perception of you and your brand, and if you have anything of value to offer for their time and consideration.

The first email does what any double opt-in program should: it asks the user to validate the email address, typically by clicking on a link, and prompts the user to create an account on the rewards website. The email's disclaimer reads "To be eligible to earn bonus points, you must maintain a valid email address in your account and remain opted-in to receiving promotional emails from Sears Holdings and its affiliates." If I don't have a purchase relationship with Lands End, the great indoors, or K-Mart, I shouldn't be receiving those promotions as well. That's a very gray area of opt-in marketing since all those entities are under one holding company. It also gives you an incredibly long (16-digit) membership number and an 8-digit personal identification number; both of which are probably auto-generated. If you can't use your email address and these two numbers to gain online access to the rewards system without having to create an account,  something is truly amiss. You can, however, use your email address, telephone number, or membership number to make in-person inquiries or product returns; why isn't it the same for the online experience?

The rewards program supposedly has other benefits too, seeing how it (along with your fancy, larger-than-other key fob cards) tracks your purchases, such as:
  • return items without a receipt
  • receive electronic receipts via email for purchases made at Sears and Kmart
  • apply points to layaway purchases
  • view weekly ads online
  • enter contests and promotions exclusively for members
  • receive invitations to special members-only events
There is redundant language in their copy writing too; but that's another post for another day.

Why did I grade it as a fail? Well, for starters, customers shouldn't be compelled to provide an email address as the sole criteria of membership to an online rewards program. You should be able to opt-out of any e-newsletter campaign and still get the benefit of the rewards program from making online and in-store product purchases. Number two, too much email. Crikey. People aren't stupid and they can probably read well enough to understand what a deal really is. Third on the list is the actual rewards program. All basic members start off at what essentially is a 1% rebate program; and the dollars-for-points system is linear with limited promotions for those spending more money after they reach a certain monetary threshold.
Rewards statement via email.
I only have to spend $2,481 more dollars before I can get a 5% rebate!
Rebate thresholds:

Basic member, 1% rebate for purchases up to $2499 spent
Silver member, minimum of $2500 spent for a 1% rebate, but the rebate thereafter is 5%
Gold and Platinum members, minimum $10k spent at a 5% rebate, rebate thereafter is 10% limited to four opportunities a year

Aren't you (the consumer) just better off waiting for a %-off sale like retailers do at every holiday and pre- and post-season sales cycle?
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