Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores
Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores

Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores (SHOS) Uses Yext to Help with Local Discoverability of Franchisees, Owners, and Licensed Dealers

"I walked into the meeting with Yext and immediately thought, 'This is exactly what I have been trying to do!' Yext technology was solving a huge need. I just hadn't known anyone was out there solving it. I have been Yext's biggest fan ever since."

David Buckley, CMO
1,100 Stores
194% Lift in search impressions
750 Reviews Captured in First Three Months

Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHOS) is one of America’s largest retailers focused on selling home appliances, hardware, tools, and lawn and garden equipment, with over 1,100 stores throughout 50 U.S. states as well as in Puerto Rico and Bermuda. With a wide range of products available, SHOS’ customer base is accordingly eclectic. "We define our customers as the typical homeowner, who can range from a young married couple buying their first home to a single mother or father to a retired couple, and the list goes on," describes David Buckley, SHOS’ Chief Marketing Officer. SHOS is also an early adopter of Yext’s technology and a trailblazer in the digital location-based marketing arena.

SHOS’ marketing team touts that because its industry is product-focused, and major competitors such as the Lowes and Home Depots of the world sell similar brands, local awareness and customer experience are keys to maintaining SHOS’ competitive edge. "People shop the product first, the retailer second. Once they find the product they want, then they think, ‘OK, who carries that?’" explains Buckley. "When you look at the reasons people pick retailers after deciding upon a product, it comes down to proximity, price, and prior experience. Those are the big drivers for purchases." To that end, when Buckley took on the CMO role in 2011, he immediately recognized that because most of SHOS’ stores are in stand-alone, destination locations, local discoverability needed to be priority number one. Buckley adds, "If I am a consumer thinking about where to buy my product without doing any searches, I will think of a store in a mall which might be 50 miles away from me. However there might be a strip mall closer to me outside my normal shopping pattern, of which I might be simply unaware; thus, a big thing for me as CMO was making sure that SHOS maximizes our local discoverability."

Accurate Listings are the Cornerstone of Local Discoverability

Back in 2011, not many retailers were thinking about accurate business listings as an important element in digital marketing, but Buckley and his team recognized early on that ensuring accurate business data was a critical foundation for establishing local presence in an increasingly digital-dominated environment. "I was swimming upstream, trying to solve for how I could ensure my data was clean. I wanted us to figure out the source of all this data, where it started to go wrong, and how could we fix it," explains Buckley. "We were in 1,000 stores at the time, so there were plenty of places and ways it could be wrong. I was trying to find the source of wrong information and solve the problem with brute force." Buckley soon realized his manual efforts were not going to cut it, and he set out in search of a comprehensive technology solution.

Then Buckley heard about a company named Yext that had a digital location management offering. "I walked into the meeting with Yext, heard what they were saying, and immediately thought, ‘This is exactly what I have been trying to do!”" recalls Buckley. Yext soon launched SHOS’ locations on the PowerListings Network of over 100 top app, map, directory, search engine, and social media partners, including Google, Apple, Bing, Facebook, Foursquare, Yahoo, and Yelp. Yext’s proprietary integrations that use ‘lock and control’ technology allowed SHOS to update one or all of its business listings across the web in real time, ensuring that searching customers always find accurate and engaging information. Adds Buckley, "Yext technology was solving a huge need. I just hadn’t known anyone was out there solving it. I have been Yext’s biggest fan ever since."

Local Empowerment for Real Results

A major added appeal of Yext’s technology is the extensive customization of access and privacy controls that it allows, since local dealers and franchisees own the majority of SHOS’ ~1,100 locations which vary across four types of formats: Hometown Stores, Appliance and Hardware Stores, Home Appliance Showroom, and Outlets. SHOS has always placed great importance in empowering the local franchisees, and through Yext’s unique capabilities Buckley’s team can enable the local storeowners to personalize their business presence while allowing his team to maintain control of consistent brand messaging at the corporate level.

The decision to partner with Yext has paid off. Since launching with Yext, SHOS has effectively overhauled its complete digital presence. SHOS increased its business listings presence from 24,583 to 61,168, and it corrected over 237,000 names, 131,000 addresses, 29,000 phone numbers, and 273,000 website URLS. It also added 470,000 photos and 565,000 business descriptions. The improvements enhanced its local presence, leading to a 194% lift in search impressions. This digital presence management of course is on-going and not just a one-time fix.

Leveraging Online Reviews for Customer Engagement Innovation

Once SHOS’ marketing team ensured a clean and accurate presence across the web, Buckley began to consider the next milestone in their customer engagement strategy: in-store experience. "In big-ticket retail, most customers make purchases every few years, so every interaction with our brand matters," claims Buckley. This ethos prompted SHOS to establish its Say Yes customer satisfaction program, dedicated to doing whatever it takes to fix customer problems or issues. "That’s what led me to online reviews — I began to wonder how we could start capturing these more efficiently to improve customer engagement and response," adds Buckley. "Unlike most retailers who silo social into a separate category, we place the same amount of weight on both in-store and online reviews."

The complication with social reviews is that traditional social listening scrapes the internet for mentions of the brand name or key words, but when customers leave feedback on a local Yelp or Facebook page including the brand name is redundant, which means that feedback does not get picked up. Yext’s Review Monitoring capabilities solve for the problem – Yext’s technology scans all of the reviews posted on local SHOS pages across Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, and so forth and integrates them in real-time into one dashboard on the Yext platform, providing SHOS with a comprehensive tracking system to monitor its customer engagement. "Yext went above and beyond to help us accomplish our review monitoring goals," lauds Buckley. "We had been already been leveraging software for our in-store survey program, and the Yext team developed a custom integration with that software so that we could track in-store survey feedback and social reviews from one cohesive platform."

The customized online review dashboard further facilitates the SHOS emphasis on local dealer and franchisee empowerment. Regional and district managers have their own log-ins, and they can see all surveys and reviews pulled from Yext in real time and then respond immediately. Yext’s technology also lets SHOS’ employees notify other associates and the employees of SHOS’ dealers and franchisees about particular reviews, improving the flow of communication and enabling even faster response to customer feedback.

In the first three months alone, Yext’s technology captured over 750 online reviews. Of the 23% that reported experiences which were not to the high standards of SHOS, 90% of these customers were able to be contacted by members of the SHOS field leadership team immediately, which helped solve the issues and recover and secure customer loyalty. This SHOS program exemplifies a huge shift in how established, household name brands have historically interacted with customers at the local level. Through Yext, SHOS has embraced customer voice through digital platforms, and has revamped and pivoted its customer engagement strategies.

"The Yext team is amazing! We have really enjoyed working with them over the years," praises Buckley. With 194% lift in search impressions since launch and an award-winning social media customer engagement program under his belt, Buckley is keen to explore other opportunities for growth with Yext’s platform. Buckley sums up, "In today’s consumer world where mobile dominates, location is the ultimate context. That is why I am so happy that we have Yext in our corner."