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Sears to sell appliances on new Web site

The department store retailer says it will now sell a wide selection of major appliances on its site, building on its e-commerce strategy to bring home shopping needs to the Net.

Sears today said it will now sell a wide selection of major appliances on its site, building on its e-commerce strategy to bring home shopping needs to the Internet.

The appliance retailer said in a statement that it will sell more than 2,000 brand name appliances over the Internet, which is more than four times the size of the company's nearest online competitor. The major appliances, including the brand name Kenmore, will be sold on its site, Sears.com.

"Launching appliances online is a major step forward in Sears' strategy to be the definitive online source for the home," Sears Online vice president Alice Peterson said in a statement.

According to Forrester Research, online consumers have spent $17 million on appliances at the end of 1998 and have spent $118 million so far this year. The market research firm said it sees that figure growing to $2.2 billion by 2003.

The retailer expects the Internet site to help increase sales at its stores and increase its 35 percent share of the U.S. appliance market, according to Bloomberg.

Last month, the retailer giant launched its new PartsDirect site, containing a catalog of 4.2 million parts for appliances and other home products that were previously available only through a toll-free number.

Sears said a study of customers who shopped its Craftsman tools Web site spent 27 percent more at Sears stores after making their first online purchase than they did before, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Sears has a dominant market share in the offline world, assuming no new big competitors arise in the near future, said David Cooperstein, an e-commerce analyst with Forrester. Cooperstein said that Sears shares a large part of the market with competitor Best Buy, but that Sears still maintains a recognizable dominance in this area.

Having an e-commerce site is a "must-have" for more retailers, Cooperstein said. In order for Sears to continue to draw on its "softer side" advertising push, they need to continue actively adding on to its e-commerce strategy in order to appeal to tech savvy consumers, he said.

On the Sears site, shoppers can research and compare prices, and order major appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and microwaves, the company said.

After an online order is made, customers will be sent an email notifying the first available delivery date. Typically, appliances will be delivered within three to seven days, according to the company. In addition, Sears said it will provide customers a toll-free number to call to reschedule deliveries if needed and an email giving customers more detailed information about their appliance delivery. Delivery for online purchases will cost $35 per order.

Sears said it has set up something called "HomeCentral," consisting of about 14,000 service technicians who make more than 15 million product repair service calls a year. As part of the online service, the company said it will haul away a customer's old appliance or refer the customer to a local provider as well.

The company is "aggressively" moving into the e-commerce space to develop Internet offerings that leverage its strong brands, its marketing ability, and its customer relationships, Sears chief executive Arthur Martinez said in a statement. Martinez said that e-commerce has become a major factor in its business and provides an important distribution channel for the company's current customer base and future customers.