The Miracle of Sears’ Desperation – Retailer of the Year, 2014


SEARS. You remember them? The mega-company of yesteryear? … What’s that? Not old enough to remember their heyday? That’s OK, neither am I, really. But back when people actually went to malls and shopped in physical stores, they were the king. To see the sad story of their fall from grace, I highly recommend reading this very informative blog.

In a nutshell, SEARS is dying a slow death. They have been hemorrhaging money for years. The final nail in the coffin was the merger with Kmart, which has been an absolute disaster. Kmart has no hope, but SEARS still has good solid brands. Craftsman. Kenmore. Diehard. I still think they make good products, and it’s sad to see a once great American retailer slowly dying. It really is painful to watch…they are a company that doesn’t know what it is. They’re trying to be a jack of all trades, but they’re a master of none. They are being eaten alive by the low-end players, such as Target and Walmart, and their core business (appliances) is being stolen by the likes of Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy. They literally do not excel at anything. Couple that with terrible customer service, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Sounds pretty bleak, yeah? Well, what does a company do when it has nothing to lose? Well, it tries some crazy shit! And this is what SEARS is doing right now. They are in the middle of a massive social media marketing campaign / reward program called “Shop Your Way Rewards”.  They also have a service called SYWR MAX, which offers free shipping on many items for a yearly fee of $79. So, in essence, it’s Amazon Prime + Best Buy Reward Zone. Not too shabby. Now SYWR has existed for a few years, but in 2014 Sears has really started to up the ante on what they provide.

I highly, highly recommend reading the fantastic FAQ put together by Ch3apSk8 (via Slickdeals), but here are the highlights on what makes this program so amazing, and what Sears has been doing recently to make it so enticing:

  • Points. Points. POINTS!

The crux of the entire program is POINTS! When I picked up an item at SEARS the other day, one of the associates was wearing a shirt that literally said ‘POINTS, POINTS, POINTS’ on the back. They must clearly know that humans love hoarding digital currency. Hell, I do! I love points! It makes you feel powerful. It’s a great psychological manipulation tool which incentivizes continual purchases. I love it! I wish more companies did this, it makes you feel like every purchase is building toward something. Now whether or not SEARS can turn a profit from this model, remains to be seen. I sure hope so, because I am gaming the hell out of this. I’ll elaborate on this as we go on, but this program has so many different facets, you can literally combine various things to get incredible deals.

From a market share perspective, it stole me away from Amazon, so there’s that. Couple this with Amazon starting to charge sales tax, raising the price of Prime, instituting the concept of “Add-on” items, offering no form of rebates/cashback, and just generally not having very good prices on things any more, I have no incentive to shop there any longer. I just want to have free shipping! I could care less about Amazon’s streaming services; that’s why I have Netflix. SEARS’ MAX program is just a free shipping program…and that’s all I want! But I digress…

Anyway, back to points. Anyone can sign up for a basic SYWR membership. You get 1% back in points on all purchases. SYWR MAX members (think Amazon Prime) get 2% base points back on all purchases. However, there are some deals where I’ve actually earned more points than what the item cost! O_O; … Points expire in one year; unless there’s a specific promo (which normally expires sooner). For more information on points, this is a helpful article.

  • Coupons

Here’s where it gets interesting. SEARS has been going nuts with all kinds of crazy coupons this year. Things like “$20 in points when you use $25 in points”…WHAT?! And the fantastic reusable “10POINTS” coupon which gives you an extra 10% back in points. I bought a mattress. That was a lot of damn points!

But, there are plenty of coupons that just give straight up cash. $5 off $35, $10 off $50, etc.

And what SEARS is doing, which is really smart, is it’s offering new coupons every week, which have very short expiration times, requiring you to continually keep checking on what’s new. It’s a very smart ploy to keep an engaged customer, and I will admit, it’s totally worked on me.

Coupons are distributed either digitally or through targeted email promotions. Every time you buy something, you normally get a new unique coupon. There are also common non-unique codes that are active for months. Again, see Ch3apSk8’s Slickdeals guide for the latest coupons.

  • Cashback

I’ve covered this in other blog posts, but a quick recap. Do you like free money? You should! SEARS has many relationships with different affiliates that give significant cash back just by buying through their links. Discover card defaults at 5% and during many times of the year, it can go up to 10% cash back. This stacks with coupons!

  • Free Shipping

SEARS has a fairly high minimum free shipping threshold at $59, but there are several ways around this. The first is to just do in-store pickup. The second is to become a MAX member and this minimum is waived. Not all items are available for free shipping though. Almost anything heavy is pretty much guaranteed to have some form of shipping added on, unless there is a special deal going on.

  • In-store Pickup / In-store Details

Did I mention in-store pickup? This is a great competitive advantage SEARS has here. They’re closing stores left and right, but if you have one (or more) in your area, this is a great option. You get bonus points for picking up in store, it is guaranteed to be ready for pickup in 5 minutes after you arrive (otherwise they give you coupons for your inconvenience), and now if you use the SYWR app, you can have it delivered to your car without ever going into the store. That’s pretty compelling if you ask me…

Also, it’s important to note that the entire SYWR program works in-store. You can either print out a membership ID and have them scan it, or you can provide your phone number or account number at checkout. If you do regular shopping at Kmart, this is important to note (I don’t; there are no Kmarts left near me).

  • Free Trial of MAX / Special Offers

SYWR MAX normally starts at $79 a year, but it comes with a 90 day free trial (which doesn’t automatically renew; that’s crazy!). When the trial lapses, most likely the trial will either be extended another month (or 90 days), or you will be offered a discounted rate. I was first offered $39. I didn’t bite…a couple days later, I was offered a year of MAX for $19! That’s crazy…I couldn’t pass that up. YMMV here, but SEARS really wants you to sign up for this service. They are obviously trying to grow the business and need customers. They are willing to give it away for free, basically. For more information on the MAX program, you can find details here.

  • Instant Pricematching

SEARS has begun to attack Amazon by actually posting in ‘big in-your-face font’ on certain items, “price lower than Amazon”. And if Amazon has a sale, it’s matching Amazon’s prices. No one does this!

I love it. I have so much more incentive to buy from SEARS over Amazon. I have the convenience of free shipping (thanks MAX!), and the flexibility of instant gratification with in-store pickup (more points if you go this route!). Plus returns are waaaay less complicated. Amazon returns are not fun. SEARS is crushing Amazon, I have absolutely zero reason to ever shop there any longer.

  • RoeBuck Rewards

OK, so this is pretty confusing, but I’ll try to explain the best I can. SEARS has a kind of  hidden ‘game’ you can ‘play’, which in the end, gives you more points. You start off with a 5×5 grid of empty squares. Before you buy something, you need to add the item to one of these squares. When you’ve made a purchase, it will get marked as “complete”. Fill in a row and you get additional points added to your account. Each row you fill out escalates in point potential. The first row is 1x points, the second is 2x, the third is 3x, the fourth is 4x, and the fifth is 5x.

The point potential here is pretty compelling if you work this correctly. It’s a long game, but if you fill out rows with cheap items and save the last rows for expensive things (like appliances, furniture, grills, tools, etc), you’ll end up getting a pretty significant return (I’m going to make at least $50 here). Not bad for playing a game that’s free!

I love stuff like this. This is an innovative and engaging way to interact with the customer.

Finally, this page also has a hidden exclusive coupon on the left panel. The only downside here is that you can forget to add items to the board (I have), and it doesn’t work for any items purchased in store, so…it makes me have n0 incentive to ever go to the B&M store to shop. I buy everything exclusively online. Is that the point? I’m not sure, but that’s the effect this game has had on my shopping (not like it mattered, I don’t shop in store anywhere, but this just ensures I never will).

This game can be found in the header, at the top of the site, next to your login information. You can directly link to this game here.

  • Surprise Points

SYWR MAX members get $3 a month ($36 a year) in points that can be applied to any purchase, which expire midway through the month.

There is currently a Craftsman Tool of the Month promotion where, if you buy tools over $199 in one transaction, you will receive $10 in surprise points each month for a year on the 1st of every month. That’s $120 in free money every year.

Finally, there are just random points given out by SEARS throughout the year (and it’s been a lot this year) for absolutely no reason. No one has any idea why certain people get more than others, but it normally ranges from $3 to $10 in no questions asked money. Only catch is that is normally expires very quickly. But SEARS has been doing this promotion almost every week for months now!

The great thing about surprise points is that it is not a coupon. You can stack coupons, use surprise points, and any other points you have on one transaction! Surprise points have made SEARS the retailer of the year for me. This is literally free money, and I wish more retailers would follow this model. Why spend money on advertising? Just give it directly to the consumer. I love it, and I hope it will have an effect on revenue and profits for them; I really do. It’s certainly driving a lot more traffic from me, personally. I get excited thinking about what kind of free stuff I’ll get next.

Only thing to note here is that SEARS is playing a dangerous game getting people hooked on free stuff. Who knows how long this will continue? If the gravy train stops and people get addicted, you may just end up having pissed off customers, we’ll see how it plays out, but for now… Yay! Free!

  • Local Ad Events

There are random events that occur throughout the year. It seems like it’s every one or two weeks. Here’s the basic premise: At 9AM EST if there is an event going on, there will be a “Local Ad Point” reward going on in the right hand panel of the main website. Simply click on this banner as soon as possible (on both Kmart and Sears), and you will get free points to use (normally at a later date).

It varies on what is given out, but it’s normally in the $2 to $4 range, but has been higher than $10 in some instances. Normally, the event lasts for a few days, and you only have a chance to do it once per day, but sometimes, there have been glitches (on purpose?) where you can cash in on multiple days.

Again, this is free money. No forms to fill out, no stupid Facebook posts to like or anything. You just need to have a SYWR basic account, which is free. You can’t beat free. These events seem to be specifically crafted to target the deal communities throughout the internet, such as Slickdeals. These always turn into “Hot Deals” and get a lot of interest. Again, who can say no to free money?

  • Craftsman Club

Want better prices on Craftsman tools? Special events? Just want to join a manly community? Craftsman Club is free to join, with no catch. You literally just “join” and you now get better prices. Pretty simple. Details on this program can be found here.

  • VIP Membership

Pretty much like Best Buy, SEARS also has a VIP program, where the more you buy the more perks you get. Spend $2,500 a year, and you get a Silver membership, $5,000, Gold, and I believe $10,000 is Platinum (who spends $10k a year on…what exactly?).

This isn’t mind-blowing stuff, but Silver is definitely attainable, and one of the nice perks is that you get bonus points on your birthday month. Since mine is during BLACK FRIDAY, I’m going to actually try to achieve this. POINTS!

For more information on VIP membership, you can consult this page.

  • Deal Heist

Sort of like Amazon’s Deal of the Day, but…a whole bunch of stuff. Changes daily. The first few items are normally 24-hour items, everything else might be weekly.

  • Other Random Events

Post a picture of somebody with a weird mustache? $5 in points. Play a weird bikini matching game? $5.

SEARS / Kmart continually run these “social media” type events where you perform some innocuous action and you get free money. OK!

SEARS has also been pretty aggressive in the pre-order sector for video games and other media. They are normally offering $10-$20 in points for ordering early. Best advice I can give to find events like these is to create a “deal alert” on Slickdeals with “sears” as a keyword.

OK, well, there’s probably more to say, but I think that’ s enough. I just wanted to make people aware of great deals you can find at SEARS, as they have significantly strengthened their online presence in the last year or so. They have knocked off Amazon as my go-to internet retailer for the convenience of in-store pickup, a rewards program, and some wicked deals with multiple layers of coupons / cashback. The only thing they’re lacking is the customer service…which is hit or miss.

Or…maybe you should just avoid SEARS altogether? Looking for deals has become a daily…almost hourly job. But, I really can’t complain. As someone who just bought a new house, I’m on the lookout for all kinds of random things, and this boon couldn’t have come at a better time. Now if only I could find some use for that tablet I just bought for $100 that I got $90 back in points for…

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