"A good loyalty program, which gives a company better intelligence about what its best customers really want, can be a strategic advantage," said Jim Sullivan, a partner at Colloquy, a loyalty marketing firm. "But it's a truism in our business that even the best loyalty programs can't fix a fundamentally broken brand."

Sears has been unsuccessfully counting on various technology strategies to revive its flagging sales for years. Investments in its website have yet to bolster the bottom line.

"They need to get back to retail 101," says Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand. "This stuff about hounding everyone for their email address, it's never going to move the needle quickly enough."

Sears, though, says the information it is collecting is changing how the sales floor is arranged, like moving workwear over to where tools are sold. It has also altered the way Sears designs promotions to entice shoppers. For instance, after noticing that many jewelry customers were men who bought tools, Sears created a Valentine's Day special for Shop Your Way Rewards members that dangled $100 in credit for $400 spent on jewelry. To drive home the point, an ad featured a necklace strung around a nail and said, "It's Valentine's Day -- You Better Nail It."

"The multiple of what people are spending using the points has exceeded our expectations," said D'Ambrosio. Meanwhile, the company continues to struggle retaining executives: Last week it said that the head of its appliances business, Dev Mukherjee, was leaving after a year and a half.

The well-tended Woodfield Mall Sears, one of several hundred that was recently remodeled, according to store operations chief Deidra Cheeks Merriwether, is an example of what Sears stores can be when they're gussied up.

Outdoor clothing from Land's End, which Sears owns, dominates the area near the main mall entrance. Pastel women's tops from Covington, another Sears brand, line the main hall.

"Think Middle America, minivan, 1.8 kids," says Ron Boire, the former chief executive of Brookstone, who was hired by Sears in January to oversee its merchandising and store formats. With a little more time and customer information, he says he is confident he can make the store experience much better.

Consumers "are descendants of the people who picked the shiny rocks out of the river," Boire says, explaining that people always want a place where they can touch and feel merchandise. "We can tell the story a lot better in stores."

Stocks mentioned in this article include Sears (SHLD, news), Target (TGT, news) and Macy's (M, news).

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