Sears, Roebuck and Co. credit card customers can now view and pay their Sears bills through any of the nearly 200 Web sites that offer CheckFree Holdings Corp. bill payment services.
Andrew Crowe, Sears' director of credit and e-commerce, said electronic billing represents an opportunity to increase revenue and interaction with customers.
"The bill is one of the most valuable online services that you can offer," he said. "The customer has chosen to establish a monthly relationship online."
Research has shown that "for many customers, interest in online billing increases exponentially when they can pay more than 60% of their bills in one place," said Mr. Crowe said. Also, Sears considers online bill payment a "safe environment," he said, "because not too many people want to pay somebody else's bill."
CheckFree caps customer liability and guarantees all payments. The guarantee also protects customers from unauthorized transactions and processing delays, the companies said.
Their arrangement was announced last month.
CheckFree has partnerships with more than a hundred banking companies, including Bank of America Corp., Chase Manhattan Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., Bank One Corp., and First Union Corp.; with several brokerage Web sites, including those of Merrill Lynch & Co., Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., and Charles Schwab & Co.; and with Web portals including Yahoo and Excite.
Sears, with 63 million credit card customers and $27 billion in outstandings, is the largest issuer of private-label cards and the sixth-largest credit card issuer overall. It is trying aggressively "to move into the top four," said Mr. Crowe, and electronic bill payment is part of that strategy.
Recently the company began pushing general-purpose Sears-branded MasterCards to some of its cardholders. The card carries a 9.9% fixed annual interest on Sears purchases and a floating rate in the midteens for other purchases. Holders of general-purpose Sears cards will get the same perks as private-label cardholders, including sale announcements and 0% financing deals on certain items.