This could finally be Sears’ and Kmart’s last holiday shopping season

The two series are just a coincidence of what they were when the holding company that owns both emerged from bankruptcy less than three years ago.
At the time, the holding company — which goes by the overly optimistic name Transformco — still had 223 Sears and 202 Kmart stores nationwide. This was already 87% less than the 3,500 stores between the two brands when they merged together in 2005 to form Sears Holdings. But the percentage drop in stores since the company emerged from bankruptcy in February 2019 has been even steeper.

Today, there are only 21 full-fledged Sears stores in the mainland United States, and two more in Puerto Rico, according to the store locator on Sears’ website, once the recent closings have been cancelled. The other seven stores listed on the site are limited to selling hardware and, in some cases, mattresses, rather than the full range of offerings that were once a hallmark of both chains.

By the end of the year, there will be only six kilometers left in the US mainland, along with another six in Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

“For me it has always felt like a liquidation. This has been going on for years,” said Reshmi Basu, an expert in retail bankruptcy at Deptwire.

Many retail experts blame Eddie Lambert, principal owner of Transformco and Sears Holdings, for the demise of two chains.

“He’s letting leases expire, he’s giving up stores. And he’s keeping them open if it’s appropriate to keep them open,” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University. “Obviously they will all be gone soon. You can count on that.”

Sears and Kmart aren’t the only retailers experiencing shifting shopping habits to big-box retailers like Walmart (WMT) And targeting (TGT)And online retailers like Amazon (AMZN). JCPenney and Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy when the pandemic broke out in 2020, and Lord & Taylor went out of business.
But Lambert’s critics say he is responsible for the sharp decline in the two companies, investing little in the stores themselves, and selling many of the more attractive properties and brands once owned by Sears, such as Craftsman Tools, Diehard auto parts and End Lands.

It’s been in terminal decline for some time,” said Neil Saunders, managing director and retail analyst at research firm Global Data.

There is little chance of salvaging either chain in the current retail environment. Sellers are having trouble providing stronger retailers with the inventory they need, given current supply chain problems. This makes it more difficult for Sears or Kmart to get the products that shoppers want.

“We know suppliers prioritize their own deliveries. They deliver to outlets that add more value to the brand,” said Greg Portell, senior partner at consultant Kearney’s global consumer practices.

And the job market – with nearly record numbers of vacancies – is making it more difficult for struggling chains to attract the workers they need.

“The war for talent in retail is very real right now,” he said. “They’re not just raising hourly wages, they’re looking for other elements to attract workers, college tuition, benefits, things that Sears and other troubled retailers will have a hard time matching.” Portel.

If this is indeed the end, it will be the sad demise of two series that both date back to the late 19th century.

Kmart started in 1899 when founder Sebastian Spring Krissge opened a five-cent store in downtown Detroit named after him. The Kmart brand did not appear until 1962. The chain grew rapidly for several decades, claiming the discount segment of the market now dominated by big box stores such as Walmart and Target.

Kmart is famous for its 15-minute “blue light specials”: the store will flash a blue light and announce “Kmart shoppers’ attention” via the public speech system, and customers will rush to buy discounted merchandise. Promotions began in 1965 but were discontinued in 1991, although Kmart attempted to bring them back several times.

The history of Sears is more anecdotal. The company was once the country’s largest retailer — both Walmart and Amazon during its heyday. At a time when the majority of Americans lived in rural areas, her catalog allowed many consumers to purchase goods they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Sears stores have taken over the retail arena, forcing many locally owned Main Street stores to stop operating in the way that major retailers once caused department stores to close. Many Sears were the mall anchor that helped grow the American suburbs. It was literally a company that changed America.

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