Sears in great shops giveaway

Sears, the troubled retail conglomerate, is finding it so difficult to sell its unwanted shops that it is giving away chargecards and up to pounds 6,000 in spending money to property agents who buy them on their clients' behalf, writes Nigel Cope.

As part of a promotion called "Play Lucky Lettings" Sears is trying to offload 135 properties. Some stores are the former Facia-owned outlets which returned to Sears after the stores group run by Stephen Hinchliffe, the Sheffield entrepreneur, collapsed into receivership.

Agents who acquire properties for clients can claim a free Sears chargecard with up to pounds 6,000 to spend. The amount depends on the shop's location. Sears is also offering cash payments and rent-free periods of up to six months. Sears denied it was a desperate measure. "It is something we have done for the past three years," a spokeswoman said. "Other retailers do it."

The company said it was a marketing initiative.

Sears is in the throes of a break-up process which will see the Selfridges department stores demerged next year while the Freemans mail order business is being sold to Littlewoods. A company doctor has been appointed to sort out the group's problematic footwear division.