Sears – Marketers vs. Lawyers

futurelab default header

by: Roger Dooley

Every company is interested in online community and Web 2.0 functionality today, and retail giant Sears is no exception. After seeing a post by Bill Green at Make the Logo Bigger about the retailer’s first effort in this area, I can only conclude that Sears outsourced their community development to their corporate legal team. Signing up for the My SHC Community requires agreeing to an ultra-lengthy privacy policy that Green concluded didn’t offer much privacy. In addition, instead of the standard few words and a checkbox that the user clicks to sign his life away, I noticed that this signup for had even more aggressive language:

I am the authorized user of this computer and I have read, agree to, and have obtained the agreement of all computer users to the terms and conditions of the Privacy Statement and User License Agreement. [emphasis added]

OK, I was going to sign up, but I guess I need to review the terms and conditions with everyone else in the house or office or college campus who might use this PC. Right.

Just about every community has some kind of privacy policy or statement of terms of use when you sign up; from a community building standpoint, there are a few key steps to making this as painless as possible. First, let users who are never going to read the fine print bypass it with a minimum of fuss. Link to the privacy policy rather than forcing everyone to read it; those who are concerned will check it out. Second, if you do have some really important information that affects your signups, don’t bury it in the legalese – make it obvious, and if it’s VERY important, add a checkbox. But keep it simple, like, “I understand that posting obscenities is never acceptable.” Third, make your privacy policy reassuring rather than troubling so that those users who actually DO read it aren’t put off.

Looking around the Sears home page, I noticed a few other community missteps. To begin with, I couldn’t find a link to the My SHC Community site at Maybe it was disguised, but that’s hardly the way to build community critical mass. A later visit did trigger an AJAX popup inviting me to join; even that had some legal-sounding fine print at the bottom. I’m not sure what triggered the popup the second time around, or how many times I’d see it if I returned. While a popup of that type will generate plenty of clicks (and annoy at least a few visitors), Sears needs to accommodate those users who don’t join immediately and might want to later – all that’s needed is a fairly obvious link. As I was searching the home page in vain for the community link, I found not one but three privacy policy links – “California Privacy Rights,” “Privacy Policy (Revised 7/1/04),” and “Children’s Privacy Policy (Revised 7/1/04).” These are in the footer sitewide. Do we really need three separate privacy policy links? Do we need to know that two of these were revised three years ago? These links are in addition to other positive-sounding items like, “Terms of Use,” “License Info,” and “Product Recalls.”

Does Sears want its customers to feel like they need their personal attorney to review the site before surfing it? Every site needs its policies and other legal stateements, but it’s time for the Sears marketers to stand up to the lawyers and restore some balance – at the moment, it looks like the lawyers are getting the last word on everything.

Original post: