Tuesday, December 27, 2011

from the headlines: Sears to close 100 to 120 Kmart, Sears stores

I just read today that both Kmart and Sears stores will be closed due to disappointing Christmas sales. I normally do not comment on such stories, but shopping at a Walmart on Friday for a cheap fake Christmas tree, I overheard a lady on the phone giving a friend advice on where to go for bargains. While Target and Walmart were options, she made it very clear that the local Kmart on University Dr in Durham was not worthwhile stopping in because the offerings were ridiculous. There were not enough items on sale to bother to even drive there and what was on sale was still too expensive for a postChristmas sale.

That quick summary came to mind when I read the story about the store closings today. I rarely stop by at the Kmart store and may make an annual visit to a Sears store. I go less often to Sears because it takes me longer to get there, but the Kmart is close to my house and I used to shop at Kmart quite a bit when I was living in the Midwest. Back then, Sears and Kmart had decent prices, good products and the stores looked like places that were not a disaster area. Yes,  disaster area is an exaggeration, but the Kmart on University Dr needed a facelift years ago and still has not gotten one. They try to reorganize the shelves and regroup the areas, but like the article states, the stores just need a facelift overall and do not seem inviting.

If a store feels half-empty like the Kmart on University Dr with barely any shoppers inside, at least make the store look inviting so the people inside feel like looking around. Whenever I stop by the store, I grab whatever I need and get out. The place just does not invite you to linger and look around the aisles.

In the article, the retail analyst B. Sozzi sums up the issue nicely regarding the problems for Sears calling a visit to Sears "a depressing shopping experience." Warehouse clubs likes Sam's do not offer a fancy stores with decorations and lounge areas either; similar to Aldi for grocery stores these stores are bare bones. Items are on shelves, minimum staff is around to help you find stuff and the selection is what it is on that day. Aldi does not accept coupons or offer rainchecks - but these stores offer low, low prices and good quality products. The people go there expecting low prices on products and do not go for a retail experience.

Kmart and Sears on the other hand seem like minimalist stores, but the prices are in line with Target and other department stores that offer a much better and inviting retail experience. I also think that for department stores the approach that Aldi and Sam's offer, minimal service etc to keep prices low, may not work that well at the department store level. People go to department stores to buy items like furniture, linens, and cosmetics. While these items may not be luxury items, they are not as essential as groceries. So people do make a choice based on how the store looks. If the store looks drab, do you really feel like buying perfume or some nice new linens for the master bedroom? Selecting something like perfume or cosmetics, you want to take your time, look around and try things out - in other words, you linger at the store and you want the store to look inviting.

While some part of me is said to see that a traditional name like Sears is in trouble, I do believe that the management has made mistakes and lacked a clear line on how to position itself on the spectrum of departments stores that includes the low budget Walmarts and the higher end Targets. I hope that Sears can recover, but I am not quite as optimistic as the Sears management that actually believes that Sears will bounce back and come back stronger. I see a long road of recovery ahead of Sears because too many people over the last few years have stopped shopping there and once gone, it is hard to win these customers back.

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