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Sears Canada eyes groceries amid transformation

Exec says consumers can expect Whole Foods-level offering at Joe Fresh prices

Sears Canada is looking to expand its plan to sell organic groceries and build so-called dash buttons to help customers purchase their favourite products from home as the retailer better known for tools and appliances looks to reinvent itself.

Executive chairman Brandon Stranzl said Wednesday he expected three to five locations would give some space to a partner grocer to be finalized by the end of this year, including two in Ontario and one in B.C.

"Kind of like Whole Foods at a Joe Fresh price," he said, explaining that shoppers should expect fresh food at a reasonable price.

The company is also trying to amp up its digital efforts, which includes developing new technologies to integrate the retailer into its customers' lives.

"We could have -- hypothetically -- dash buttons that we roll out at some point in the future," he said.

A dash button is a consumer goods ordering service that allows a customer to press a button in their home to purchase a product from a particular store. Amazon, for example, sells dash buttons for laundry detergent, bottled water and snacks, among other things.

Stranzl said people are working on creating these at the company's Initium Commerce Lab, but they haven't linked it to any products yet. They're also working on reinventing the store's annual wish book, he said, to potentially be a customized, digital one instead of a physical catalogue.

Stranzl made the comments after Sears reported a $45.8-million loss in its latest quarter, but noted that same-store sales improved compared with a year ago.

Same-store sales for the quarter ended Jan. 28 were up 1.3% compared with the same quarter last year. The company also said there had been growth in same-store sales through the first two months of its current quarter.

Sears, which has struggled in recent years, said same-store sales were up 6.2% in February compared with the same month last year and up 4.1% in March compared with a year ago.

That compared with a profit of $30.9 million a year ago when the company benefited from a $170.7-million gain on the termination of a credit card agreement.

Revenue fell to $744.0 million, compared with $887.6 million a year ago, due in part to store closures and a decline in its direct business due to a reduction in catalogues, challenges with its new website, and fewer merchandise pick-up locations.

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