Sears: An End To An Era Of Retail?

December 14, 2018

Where does your family shop? At a store? Online? We’re willing to bet that a lot of your family’s shopping has moved from going to a store to going online. After all, it’s not just clothes and toys that can be purchased online and delivered directly to your door, but all kinds of things like groceries, TVs, meals, and pretty much anything you can think of. Now hold that thought while we share a story about a man named Richard W. Sears …

Winchester Journal, Indiana [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 1886, Mr. Sears opened his first watch shop. But it wasn’t any old watch shop; it was a shop where people could order his watches through a catalog and then later receive what they ordered in the mail. You might be chuckling a bit at how this might be considered innovative, but at the time, it was extremely forward-thinking since people went to stores, bought the goods that they saw at the store, and then took them home. The idea of ordering from a catalog was truly new and innovative, and if you think about it for a minute, quite similar to how we order things online now. Mr. Sears, you could say, was ahead of his time. He built his small watch business into a mega multi-billion-dollar retail company that sold just about everything. Ever walk into a Sears? There’s clothing, shoes, appliances, toys—you name it, they sell it. Now, if you paused when we asked, “Ever walk into a Sears?” and thought, “No, actually I’ve never walked into a Sears … ” you’re probably not alone.

Miosotis Jade [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Over the last decade (or more, depending on who you ask), Sears has been struggling to get customers to buy things. In October, they filed for bankruptcy—Chapter 11, to be more specific. What does this mean? It means that the company’s assets (or things that the company owns that are worth something, like buildings) amount to less than its debt (or how much they owe their lenders, like banks). While some companies like Toys R’ Us also declared bankruptcy earlier this year and decided to stop operations altogether, Sears is hoping to turn things around by closing some of its stores, selling some of its retail spaces, and getting investors to lend them money. While that’s helping them stay open for the short run, it doesn’t look too good for the once thriving company. Will Sears be able to pull themselves out of bankruptcy and get people to shop at their stores again? What do you think Sears could do to get their customers back?