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    Sears to Expand Credit Card Benefits

    HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - Sears, Roebuck and Co. on Wednesday said it is partnering with several entertainment, dining and retail businesses that will accept the department store's credit card by mid 2003.

    HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. - Sears, Roebuck and Co. on Wednesday said it is partnering with several entertainment, dining and retail businesses that will accept the department store's credit card by mid 2003. Sears Cards are now accepted only at the chain's own retail outlets.

    The approximately 40 million Sears Card holders now will be able to use their Sears cards at a variety of partner merchants that don't compete directly with Sears, the company said. A spokesman declined to name specific businesses with which Sears hopes to partner.

    "The changes we're bringing are in response to feedback from our customers," said Kevin T. Keleghan, president, Sears credit and financial services. "Just over 20 million of our card holders have converted to Sears Gold MasterCard, bringing them worldwide acceptance and other MasterCard benefits. However, a number of our customers have told us they want to keep their Sears Card, but are interested in new ways to use their card for products for their home and family that they buy everyday as well as those items that may be special purchases."

    Atlanta-based Global Payments Inc. will be the Sears payment gateway for processing services offered to the Sears strategic partner companies, under an agreement recently reached between the two companies. In addition, Global Payments will work with existing processors of those companies partnering with Sears in order to implement the program.

    Analysts note that Sears aims to jump-start its credit card business, which has fallen well below its $28.95 billion peak at the end of 1997. Last year the company's credit card business yielded $26.32 billion, which accounted for 47 percent of sales.

    Sears' Canadian affiliate, Sears Canada Inc., has been offering its store card users acceptance at third-party merchants since 1996. The subsidiary now has 10 such partners, including drug stores, gas stations and hotels.

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