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By Bob Blandeburgo
While economists generally agree the recession has bottomed out, rising energy prices and a high national unemployment rate is prompting the No. 1 appliance retailer in the United States to give concerned consumers a safety net should they lose their jobs.
Starting July 6, Sears Holdings Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) will credit one-twelfth of the purchase price of any appliance bought that is $399 or higher should a consumer lose their job between 60 days and one year after the purchase. Those unemployed for more than a year will have the full debt cancelled.
The Sears offer requires consumers to use its branded credit card, backed by Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C).
The move is similar to previous promotions earlier this year by Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), General Motors Corp. (OTC: GMGMQ) and Hyundai Motor Co., but with one important difference: While the debt will be forgiven after a year for those unemployed for a year or more, consumers will be able to keep the appliance.
The Sears promotion more closely resembles one by JoS. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. (Nasdaq: JOSB), which in March offered consumers who involuntarily lost their jobs to get a refund on the price of a suit up to $199 while keeping the suit.
"It's a differentiated program, and we believe that that's going to get people to choose us over the other guys," Sears Chief Marketing Officer for Home Appliances Kevin Brown told Bloomberg News.
Sears' same-store sales-a key measure of retail performance-dropped 11.7% in stores open 12 months or more for the quarter ended May 2. While the retailer did not go into great detail, it did blame the adverse effects of the shabby housing market for a drop in appliance, lawn and garden and tool sales.
Since those earnings were reported, rays of light appeared last week for the durable goods category as a whole, when the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that. Shipments were down 2.1%, but inventories have shrunk five consecutive months to 0.8%.
Sears' promotion comes at time when the recession is slowing down and headed toward a bottom, after which it is expected to go through a "jobless recovery" that yields better financial results for companies but no hiring due to lost profits in the past.
Sears' shares rose more than 4% yesterday (Monday) to close at $67.67 a share.
News and Related Story Links:
The New York Times:
Ford and G.M. Offer Payment Protection
JoS. A. Bank:
JoS. A. Bank Clothiers Introduces the "Risk Free" Suit Promotion; Will Give Money Back if Customer Loses His Job
Sears to Let Jobless Stop Payments, Still Keep Fridge
Sears Holdings Reports First Quarter Results and Extension of Its Credit Facility
Best Buy Reports First-Quarter Diluted EPS of $0.36
U.S. Department of Commerce:
Is the U.S. Economy Headed for a "Jobless Recovery?"