Although product quality, selection and availability are very important, price is still a deciding factor for many customers. Many scour the web not just for the best deals but also for rebates, especially when it comes to larger purchases.
Sears, among other factors, leverages rebates to generate sales for big-ticket items, such as home appliances. Carrying a wide range of top appliance brands that qualify for savings offered through utility, state or federal programs, the retailer strives to make the rebate redemption process online and in-store simple, quick and seamless.
From an execution and customer satisfaction point of view, the Green Leadership team realized there was “no better option than an instant rebate or markdown at the point of purchase,” said Paul Campbell, Director of Sustainability and Green Leadership and Sears Holdings Corporation. The online instant rebate program, powered by EcoRebates, allows customers to see savings on energy efficient appliances in real time. Sears now applies rebates directly at the online and in-store point of sale, taking the time and effort out of the rebate participation process.
“Propensity to participate in a rebate program goes up significantly because of the immediacy of the instant rebate,” Campbell explained. “Whereas, with mail-in rebate forms, you leave some of the responsibility to the customer after they leave a store.”
Allowing customers to get instant gratification, and truly see how much money they’ll save on an appliance, also increases likelihood of transactions, Campbell noted. “When the time comes to spend the money, customers want to know they’re getting a good deal.” With ENERGY STAR products, “they understand over the life of the product they’re going to save some money because it’s energy efficient and they understand it is part of the buying decision. But a greater part of their purchase satisfaction is on he front-end at the time of purchase. When we apply these incentives immediately and the customer sees the price reduced, it has a great impact on their final purchase decision.”
The program now is available online and on mobile devices, helping Sears create a seamless, cross-channel browsing and buying journey. Using ZIP code data, EcoRebates automatically provides customers with information on eligible products and available rebates. For example, if a customer is looking at a washing machine online that has a rebate, a pop-up message will appear with offer details. Once products are placed in the digital shopping cart, customers can complete their transaction with the new price applied — no claim forms, coupons or promo codes are needed.
An Integrated Experience
As a leading integrated retailer, Sears strives to “offer the same valuable opportunities, regardless of a consumer’s entry point,” Campbell said. “These instant rebates are no different. We offered it in the store and saw the opportunity to offer it online.”
Currently, the instant rebate program is available in select locations and online, primarily on the west coast, Campbell reported. However, the retailer is expanding the initiative to other parts of the country, especially as buzz increases through its Sears Shop Your Way program.
Shop Your Way members have access to certain amenities and benefits, such as additional product rebates, that are not available to non-members. This strategy “entices members to participate in the rebate program,” Campbell said. “Once they do, they can earn additional Shop Your Way points, which are redeemable on future purchases.”
In 2014, Sears plans to continue to leverage this benefit, especially as the Shop Your Way program enhances and develops, Campbell noted. “There’s no higher priority for Sears Holdings Corp. right now.”
Transforming The Rebate Experience
The partnership between Sears and EcoRebates initially began in 2009, as federal stimulus programs were implemented across the country. As a mass retailer with a presence in every state, Sears needed a strategy for executing and promoting these programs at a local level.
“It made sense to create a core team to build execution plans, communication tools and metrics that would then be cascaded into our store operations and field leadership,” Campbell said. “So we made sure that programs were administered and sales associates were very knowledgeable of the programs in their state, able to answer any questions a customer may have had.”
Like many retailers, Sears is aware that customers conduct a majority of their product research and analysis online — especially appliances.
“That was a significant touch point we wanted to make sure we took advantage of,” Campbell said. The retailer wanted to “provide the same level of expertise and knowledge for each customer beginning their purchasing journey.”
With EcoRebates, Sears first established a rebate finder that was accessible to both customers and store associates. By simply entering their ZIP code, Sears delivered all rules and guidelines of eligible stimulus programs for specific states. While customers could access this information on their personal devices, associates tapped their own Intranet web portal “so they had access to everything they needed to know about a program,” Campbell said. “It was a simple, interactive tool, and thus became their one-stop-shop.”
Due to positive feedback from the initial implementation from store associates, Sears used the same functionality to create a customer-facing search engine that encompassed all utility rebate programs available nationwide. As a result, customers could easily access the products and rebates available in their specific area.
“While the rebate finder was initially at the state level, we quickly enhanced it by building it out at the utility level,” Campbell said. “It was a simple and obvious transition for us to go from federal stimulus to a longer-term, ongoing energy efficiency program portfolio across the country.”
To help drive program participation initially at the store level, associates even helped consumers register for rebates by filling out mail-in forms. “The initial phases of the rebate finder were focused on mail-in rebates,” Campbell explained. “We wanted to minimize any action consumers had to take because we knew once they left the store there was a chance they weren’t going to follow through. Sometimes the incentive wasn’t enough.”