Sears, Roebuck and Co., seeking to bolster its share of an increasingly competitive market, said yesterday that it would offer warranties against wear and tear on children's clothing and give discounts to frequent shoppers.
Discount stores such as K mart and Wal-Mart have aggressively entered the children's clothing market with inexpensive, private-label clothing and some brand names.
And specialty stores like the Gap (Gap for Kids) and Toys 'R' Us (Kids 'R' Us) have been rapidly expanding the number of their children's wear stores. As they have done so they have challenged department stores such as Sears and J. C. Penney, which traditionally dominated the market.
Sears has started selling more brand names, like the popular Oshkosh B'Gosh line.
The warranty is part of a merchandising program called KidVantage that Sears hopes will attract more parents.
Under its Wearout Warranty, Sears said that it would replace free any item of children's clothing that wears out as long as the child still wore the same size.
Gary W. Ramsey, national merchandise manager for children's departments at Sears, said that Sears had not clearly defined what "worn out" means. "It depends on the circumstances," he said, "but we're going to take care of the customer regardless of what it takes."
He said that the program was developed after research found parents were concerned that their children too often wore out their clothes before they outgrew them and that they outgrew them too quickly.
Customers who make frequent purchases of children's clothing will receive discounts that can be used in the Kids & More departments at the more than 800 Sears stores nationwide.
Shoes, catalog and outlet merchandise are not included in the warranty or frequent purchase program.
Analysts said that although the warranty and frequent purchase programs were innovative, adding brand names to the Sears inventory was the best aspect of KidVantage.
Sears is offering two new programs on children's clothing. They do not apply to footwear, catalog or outlet merchandis.
* If clothing wears out while the child wears the same size, the customer can return it.
* Sears will replace it free with the identical item in the same size or a similar item of equal price in the same size.
* The warranty covers all sizes from newborn through 20 in boys and through 16 in girls.
* Customers with $50 in purchases at Sears Kids & More will get a 10% discount on a future purchase.
* $100 in purchases will get a 15% discount on a future purchase.
SOURCE: Knight-Ridder Tribune News/Chicago Tribune, Sears, Roebuck and Co.