With Sears' sales and profits rapidly deteriorating, it's rare to see headlines characterizing the company as a best-in-class retailer.
But according to a new study by think tank L2, Sears was one of only three stores to earn a "genius" ranking for its digital IQ, which evaluated 56 department stores on their website, digital marketing, social media and mobile capabilities. (See below for the top 10.)
According to L2, Sears—which instituted its buy online, pick up in store initiative more than 12 years ago—is one of 28 stores examined that offers a click-and-collect option. It also allows in-store pickup across its Sears and Kmart brands for loyalty members, and shoppers can select in-vehicle pickup so they don't even have to get out of their cars. If the pickup takes more than five minutes, customers are given a $5 coupon for their next purchase.
Sears is also part of 68 percent of stores that allows in-store returns for online purchases, and one of the few whose app is equipped with a barcode scanner for in-store use. Its Shop Your Way Try On app allows shoppers to curate their fitting room in advance by scanning items throughout the store.
"Sears has a strong site [that's] well-integrated with its loyalty program, providing in-depth product information," L2 Research Director Danielle Bailey said. "Sears is leveraging digital—via site, mobile, and social media—to attempt to provide a higher level of customer service."
The findings are a bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture for Sears, which posted a net loss of $573 million in the most recent quarter. Experts have criticized the retailer for years of underinvesting in its store base, which has led some to call for the chain to liquidate.
Still, CEO Eddie Lampert has remained steadfast in his goal to right the ship at Sears, with some of his top priorities including building out its online capabilities and its Shop Your Way loyalty program.
"We have continued to show progress in our transformation, as demonstrated by our year-over-year increase in online and multichannel sales, and with our member sales now representing 73 percent of eligible sales," he said following the company's most recent earnings report.
Bailey said that despite the retailer's strong performance, being a "digital genius" doesn't change the fundamentals of Sears' business.
"Sears is definitely trying to leverage digital as a life raft, but digital alone cannot pull them out of the hole they have dug for themselves," she said.
Sears ranked behind only Nordstrom and Macy's—two retailers that consistently land on analysts' best-in-class omnichannel rankings. Bailey said that while Sears' performance was impressive, these two competitors "are still in another class."
"Sears checks a lot of the digital boxes, but the devil can be in the details," she said. "Its mobile app, for instance, is the most-reviewed of any department store, but suffers from low ratings, and the brand could boost its social performance."
L2 conducted a similar study last year, but it did not evaluate Sears.
—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson