AOL and Sears Forge Aggressive Cross-Marketing Pact

Only months after forging a similar alliance with Wal-Mart Stores, America Online has entered into a cross-marketing pact with Sears, Roebuck and Co. that will include joint branding, special promotions and a focus on high-speed Internet access.

AOL will be Sears’ preferred online service provider, and a special co-branded edition of AOL — with links to Sears — will be developed and promoted to Sears customers in the retailer’s 858 U.S. stores. Additionally, special offers for Sears Premier Card holders and Sears customers will now include the option of paying for monthly AOL subscriptions with their Sears Card.

Sears currently has 39 million active credit cardholders.

Instant Messenger Customer Service

AOL also plans to develop a co-branded AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to enable consumers to initiate online, real-time communications with Sears customer service, as well as with friends, family and business colleagues.

In addition, officials say the alliance includes plans to market and sell broadband access as the market develops, and for joint marketing of Internet-enabled devices. The companies also will work to develop new broadband home improvement content as well as broadband installation and service.

“This is a critical step for both companies to serve the growing Internet needs of our combined and growing customer bases,” Sears CEO Arthur Martinez said.

Promotion Across AOL Properties

As part of the deal, AOL will promote Sears across its wide range of brands, including AOL, AOL.COM, CompuServe, Netscape Netcenter and Digital City, as well as Shop@ online shopping destinations across these brands.

Product categories that will be promoted include appliances, tools, lawn and garden equipment, home electronics, PartsDirect, Wishbook and the Sears Gift Card.

Broadband Service

Sears and AOL also plan to leverage the retailer’s network of trained technicians to offer consumers home installation of broadband service. Currently, Sears’ installation and service technicians provide in-home service 15 million times each year.

Many industry analysts believe that providing broadband installation and support is a natural extension of the retailer’s in-home services.

The companies added that they will collaborate on creating the “Internet-connected home,” teaming up to develop Internet-enabled devices and appliances that “offer meaningful product features, are affordable to middle America and enhance home efficiency and safety.”

Sears says that its vision for the “connected home” includes consumer education and marketing, sales and installation of the new technology. The companies also have plans to offer consumers advice on home maintenance and improvement, as well as do-it-yourself projects.

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