Not unlike the “cash for gold” peddlers on late-night television who encourage consumers to hock that old pendant of Great Grandma Sue’s, Sears Holdings Corp. is helping customers exchange their old jewelry for cash, so they can buy nice shiny new things in its stores.

Customers can go to any Sears or Kmart jewelry counter, pick up a mail-in packet, and ship their items off to Pro Gold Network, a gold purchaser and refiner in Madison Heights, Mich. Pro Gold sends a check directly to the consumer, so the transaction doesn’t actually take place in the store. But Sears keeps a small percentage of the payment for helping to facilitate the exchange. The company would not disclose the fee, but said it’s “nominal.”

The buyback service was first offered in October 2009, and due to its popularity, the company rolled it out to all 3,900 Sears and Kmart stores in May.

“The real benefit to Sears and Kmart lies in generating consideration for jewelry at both retailers, and in offering a service that our customers have requested,” said company spokeswoman Amy Dimond in an e-mail.

“They may use that cash to make other purchases; they may also simply consider us in the future as a retailer of jewelry when they're in the market,” she said. “Because we sell so many different types of merchandise, we're not always thought of first in this specific category.”

Sears has been making a more concerted push into alternative financial services lately. Separate from the jewelry exchange program, the company is testing a financial center-concept in eight of its Chicago-area Kmart stores where consumers can go to cash checks, wire money, pay bills and get prepaid cards.

Sears was once on its way to becoming a financial powerhouse, offering everything from mortgages to investment advice. The company divested those businesses in the early 1990s to concentrate more fully on its retail operations.

But the temptation to return to financial services has proved to be too great.

Underbanked consumers, who tend to get shut out of traditional banking and use these alternative services the most often, are the very customers that Sears and Kmart cater to. This market is “ripe for growth,” said Susan Ehrlich, who oversees financial services at the company, in an interview last month. “And we’re excited to be playing a role in that.”