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Sears Canada aims for revival, opens Initium Commerce Lab

Initium Commerce Lab

Sears Canada has contributed one of the latest additions to the technology startup community in Toronto. The innovation hub, titled Initium meaning “start” in Latin harbors an ambition to re-engineer the existing Sears operations and business model, opened in March.

Current annual sales from e-commerce and catalogue divisions stand at about $500 million. Sears as a whole generated $3.1 billion in revenue in 2015, half the revenue Sears saw just a decade ago. Over the past few years, Sears has been closing down stores and selling off properties in attempt to mitigate losses. But are we really witnessing the slow death of Sears? Not if its new chairman Brandon Stranzi can help it.

New to the team, executive chairman Brandon Stranzi plans to lead the rejuvenation  with Matt Nelson, a new head of e-commerce, and his team of 25, tasked with flipping the business model upside down. Where websites supported bricks-and-mortar stores once, bricks-and-mortar stores are now supporting online retail. Examples of this include Frank and Oak and Shoes.com, both popular online retailers with brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms, located in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood. “We are working towards being more of a web-based company with stores attached,” Nelson says.

Initium, located at Peter and Adelaide or “Dot.com alley” as Nelson put it houses an organizational culture that differs from Sears HQ. “What’s happening here will be the heart of the entire business,” Stranzi says on the impact the innovation lab will have on the organization at large. Brandon is really getting us all to think differently,” Nelson says.

“We looked at working with partners in Waterloo and here in Toronto. While the available resources are great, we realized that because we have our own clear goals. It was best to start our own lab,” Nelson says.

When does Sears plan on implementing the new strategy?

“Our plan is to be agile and roll it out bit by bit,” Nelson says.“We want to get the developer community involved”. The developer community in the city and Torontonians at large can expect for an opportunity to get involved with the evolution of Sears through hackathons, as part of the larger innovation plan.

How do you think Sears customers will respond?
Sears seems hopeful that their long-standing relationships with Canadians will allow them to evolve successfully.

“We are in our 64th year, and Sears Canada has done a great job connecting with Canadian families” says Vincent Power, VP of Communications. “Many Canadian adults have that memory of their wish list being in a Sears catalogue, with marked pages and circled items. We want to continue having these relationships, but we do need to change the dialogue.”
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