Off the Cuff

Leaders in the world of business share their thoughts on the way we work, spend, and prepare for the future.

Arthur Martinez will retire at the end of the year as chairman and CEO of retail giant Sears, Roebuck & Co., based near Chicago. Correspondent Shira J. Boss spoke to him at the recent Best of Century awards in New York, hosted by Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of retail and foodservice industry trade publications. At the cermony, Mr. Martinez accepted for Sears the award for the "best department store in operation over the past 100 years."

He tells the Monitor about his attitudes toward the high-tech marketplace -and about his approach to a more mundane technological chore.

Has Internet shopping become a threat to regular stores?

"I don't think of it as a threat. Our point of view is, this is an exploding new channel of distribution, [a way] to have more relationships with customers, and we're embracing it as rapidly as we can. If you get hung up in this idea of cannibalization, you're going to lose. The idea is to let the customer choose how, when, and where she wants to shop with us. If she wants to do it from home at midnight, fine, if she wants to come into the store Saturday morning, that's fine, too."

What will eventually bring people into the stores when they can buy online so easily?

"In many, many categories, it's important to ... touch the goods, to know what the fabric feels like, whether the color is true. I don't think customers will ever buy a $1,200 refrigerator without going in, opening the doors, seeing how the drawers go, how the shelves adjust and all that.... The Internet's a wonderful source for information gathering pre-purchase."

Do you shop online?

"Yes, I have - for books and CDs. I 'do the Amazon,' I'll have to confess that."

How do you manage all your incoming e-mail?

"I try very hard to answer all the ones I get. I get extensive e-mail from inside the company. We have something called Arthur's Idea Exchange, which is an e-mail marketplace for ideas and thoughts that people have, and I answer every one of them.

"Our associates give us their thoughts, their ideas, and their problems, and if I can't give them an answer, I tell them who's going to give them an answer, and I send it over to that person.

"I also do an online chat in the company. I just did one this week as a matter of fact. I do one every month, for within the company, where people can come through our Intranet and ask any questions they want, and I'm there.

"My typing skills are not so good, so I have somebody helping me do the typing, but I'm physically there, and I provide all the answers to the questions. It's become very popular."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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