Why You Can Buy a Rolex From Good Old Sears: It's Taking on Amazon, eBay

SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) — Wearing a $35,000 Rolex can certainly help spruce up one's image.

But what about selling such an expensive watch? How far does that go toward image improvement?

The seller in question is Sears , a retail giant most Americans have long associated with value shopping and items such as washers and dryers, refrigerators and tools.

The selling of luxury items, however, including Rolex watches, Stella McCartney clothing, Jimmy Choo shoes and Chanel handbags has garnered the company a lot of press in recent weeks.

The items are being sold by third-party vendors on a part of the Sears website known as the Marketplace. Their appearance among the more than 85 million items Sears sells online has many journalists and retail analysts wondering if Sears is trying to upgrade its blue-collar image — or even positioning itself to take on two other e-commerce giants — Amazon and eBay .

A Sears representative says the company has been selling various ultra-expensive items on its website for quite some time.

"We are adding items at an incredible rate. Last year we had 70 million items. This year it's more than 85 million, and that number will continue to grow across all product categories," Sears spokesman Brian Hanover says.

"Sears traditionally is maybe not known for those brands, but if you look at Sears' history, we've long been a destination where you have aspirational products and very accessible products as well," Hanover says, pointing out that Sears used to sell houses in its catalogs back in the day.

The luxury items will not be sold in the company's bricks-and-mortar stores at any point, Hanover says, declining to reveal sales figures for the more expensive items or comment on how well they are selling. He was more forthcoming on whether Sears is trying to challenge Amazon and eBay with its ever-expanding online offerings:

"We are. When it comes to having a comprehensive marketplace, we're focused on becoming world's greatest integrated retailer," Hanover says.

Whether the strategy will pay off remains to be seen, analysts say, as adding luxury items to the Sears Marketplace may simply leave consumers befuddled.

"The consumer is confused by Sears and what it is selling and representing," says Matthew Feltner, managing partner of Strategic Sales, a consulting firm specializing in business strategy and sales strategy. "Sears is trying to gain more market share with the high-end products, but their strategies are all over the board. Sears keeps changing its tactics and strategies every two to three years, which leaves the consumer confused. I think this strategy will be another short-lived tactic, which will damper brand loyalty. Sears for years now has struggled with brand loyalty and consumer satisfaction, which explains their different directions."

With 97% of Sears' revenue coming from its bricks-and-mortar stores, Feltner says the retailer would do better to focus on improving that part of its operations. As for taking on giants such as Amazon and eBay, that too may be a tough fight.

"Amazon will still price products competitively lower than Sears. They have the cash. They've been around longer, and the same with eBay," Feltner says. "This whole Sears Marketplace hasn't been around that long and people haven't heard of it."

Meanwhile, Hanover says there's more to the story than media attention over Rolex sales.

"That's nothing we've made secret. Our chairman and CEO emphasized it at our shareholder meeting in May: No matter where you interact with Sears, you can get anything you want," Hanover says. "The bigger story here is our more integrated retailing ... We are focused on a whole shopper universe, both on a national and local level."

"It's an entire experience," he says. "It's about providing a wide breadth of products."

— By Mia Taylor

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