For Iestyn Roberts, Sears’ direct marketing presents a valuable
part of the total mix, Michele Martin says.
Sears could never be described as one of the great marketing-led
companies of our time. Last year, it spent less than pounds 250,000 on
advertising for all its national brands including Richards, Wallis, Shoe
Express and Adams. Spread of the flagship Selfridges store brought the
final tally to pounds 1.5 million (Register-MEAL).
Which is precisely why the group’s latest marketing initiative has
caused something of a flutter. Last year Sears Direct, an internal unit
dedicated to customer relationship marketing, launched. This year’s
budget should be more than pounds 1 million.
Sceptics say that the apparent move below-the-line is a final attempt by
Sears to come up with a marketing solution for broader business
problems. In January, the group posted a warning of a drop in profit
forecasts to between pounds 80 and pounds 85 million, after the group
made pounds 100 million last year.
Richard Hyman, an analyst at the retail analyst, Verdict, adds: ’Sears
could use more marketing, but the problems are bigger than most. Most of
its businesses lack clarity and consistency and marketing is not the
But Iestyn Roberts, the customer relationship marketing director who is
charged with proving that Sears Direct can be an important business
tool, is pragmatic.
He is keen not to overstate what the department can do. ’We don’t see
this as a panacea for all our ills. It is another weapon in our
marketing strategy and we need to make sure that we’ve mastered how to
use it,’ he says.
Nor is he hell bent on interfering with brand managers, centralising
budgets or swiping advertising spend. ’The company is actually trying to
spend more on advertising this year and we won’t take away that
Brands ultimately need to drive their own programmes,’ he explains.
Sears recently launched a campaign for Shoe Express through M&C Saatchi,
and one for Selfridges through Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Work for Wallis,
also through BBH, is expected this summer.
Roberts joined Sears last March from Bhs, where he was head of
relationship marketing. His job was to launch its first centralised
customer relationship management unit in order to stimulate all direct
marketing initiatives, credit card initiatives, credit card schemes and
Then, in January, Sears’ Selfridges Selection catalogue business and its
ten staff came into the fold, triggering the unit’s relaunch as Sears
Direct. This has expanded to explore the possibility of launching
catalogues for other brands.
The division is charged with helping businesses enhance their existing
customer loyalty programmes, which vary from women’s fashion chains at
the top of the market to the shoe companies at the bottom. Businesses
are then asked to put in some money of their own. ’We expect them to
show some commitment,’ Roberts says.
In the next 12 months, the unit will focus on two or three of the
group’s more robust brands, and intends to broaden its scope to other
Eventually, when it has done its educational job, the unit may disappear
altogether, with database management and analysis devolved back to the
credit card business. Meanwhile, creative thinking will be put back
entirely on individual marketing departments.
Recent relationship marketing programmes have included working with
Wallis and Richards to make the most of the stores’ already considerable
customer lists by facilitating brainstorming sessions among brand
Roberts and his colleagues dealt with issues such as how to improve
shopping evenings, sale previews and regular communications - often in
quite unorthodox ways. ’We’ve even poked around buying departments to
find things like old-fashioned shoot pictures and videos, which we then
find ways to use in customer communication. People love them,’ Roberts
Nor is the unit reluctant to get tough when it comes to strategy.
Roberts and his colleagues recommended that Sears scrapped its ’points
make prizes’ scheme, which gave store card-holders pounds 5 vouchers
with every pounds 100 spent.
The programme had apparently outlived its usefulness because it ’threw
money unnecessarily’ at often affluent customers who were not kept
’loyal’ as a result.
The unit is also masterminding an overhaul of the Selfridges Selection
catalogue, in an attempt to make it profitable. The book is being sold
to Littlewoods, pending approval from the Monopolies and Mergers
’We’d like other stores to have catalogues, because we’d like existing
customers to have a choice. But we can only do that once we’ve proved
Selfridges Selection can make a profit,’ Roberts says.
It is still early days for Sears Direct, but so far the signs are that
the unit’s existence is welcomed internally. Fiona Davis, the marketing
manager of Wallis, says that she has worked closely with Roberts on a
number of schemes and adds: ’Having support on relationship marketing is
The affable Roberts is pleased to hear the vote of confidence. ’So far,
I don’t think we’ve trodden on too many toes,’ he says. ’Our rationale
is to provide enthusiasm and get things off the ground - even if that
doesn’t last forever.’
The project is being seen as a test for other stores, most of whose
goods feature only in the Freeman’s catalogue.
and although Sears’ brands will remain in it for the next few years,
additional outlets would be desirable.
Partly funded by Sears’ credit card business and the Sears’ corporation,
its philosophy is to act as ’cornseed’, helping marketing departments
with ideas and providing some funding.