Does Sears Matter? Its Biggest Critic Says Yes

Jan 10 2014, 1:45pm CST | by

Does Sears Matter? Its Biggest Critic Says Yes

Anyone following retail analyst Brian Sozzi’s Twitter feed knows he’s gunning for Sears. He visits stores and takes pictures of interiors, often messy or poorly merchandised. Then he tweets.

And tweets, and tweets.

On Saturday, Sears Vice President of Corporate Communication, Chris Brathwaite tweeted back. What followed were accusations that Sozzi, of Belus Capital Advisors had an agenda. That he consulted for a competitor or was simply mugging for attention.

Not so, says Sozzi. “We are an independent research firm. My only motive is to bring about positive change.”

He grew up shopping at Sears and says his passion for retail stems from his childhood, growing up with a mother who frequented dollar stores and discounters. Sears is a piece of his past that he is loathe to see wind up in the dustbin of history.

“I always keep in mind where I grew up shopping as a kid,” he says. “We went to Kmart and Sears, and to dollar stores. We were on a tight budget.”

He believes these same shoppers today deserve clean, well-stocked stores like the ones he grew up shopping. “They deserve better than what Sears and Kmart are giving them.” He’s hoping to prompt executives to walk the stores and make changes.

Sozzi has challenged Sears executives to walk stores with him, stores of their choice. “This isn’t a company doing what Sam Walton did, what Mike Duke (Walmart’s CEO) does. They walk the stores.”

In truth, there’s little indication that Sears CEO Eddie Lampert spends much time or money on Sears stores. Brathwaite points to some stores changes as evidenced in Sears’ annual report, moving of cash wraps and some new merchandising, but these are minor efforts with a slight impact.

Sears instead is investing in its online marketplace and the Shop Your Way rewards program, an initiative Sears says engages its best customers.

“We are transitioning from a business that has historically focused on running a store network into a business that provides and delivers value by serving its members in the manner most convenient for them: whether in store, at home or through digital devices,” says Lampert, in a statement issued alongside a financial update. An update that shows continued declines.

For the full year ending February 1, 2014, Sears expects a net loss between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion.

Investing in online and membership is appropriate and necessary, but stores need attention too. Those best customers are going into stores, albeit in ever decreasing numbers.

Sears hasn’t opened a store in, well, Braithwaite didn’t know the last time Sears opened a new location (I asked). He takes issue with the idea that all Sears and Kmart stores are unsightly and neglected.
It’s a fair point, with roughly 2,000 locations, not all will be pristine./>

But there are enough of them to give meaning to why those financials are falling quarter after quarter, year over year.

For every unsightly store, there are many more that aren’t, says Brathwaite. And while that may be true, shoppers go to their local store and if it’s a bad experience, they don’t travel to another. They just don’t go back.

Clearly a lot of shoppers aren’t going back. Same-store sales have been declining for years.

Now Sozzi says Sears is in a death spiral.  That it won’t exist in two years, that Sears will be gone by 2017.

Dem’s fightin words. And the fight is going on via national media outlets — Sozzi makes frequent TV appearances — and on social media.

Does Sears matter? Absolutely. There are 2,000 Sears and Kmart locations — physical stores. There are roughly 25,000 employees and scores more retirees that contributed to pensions in good faith.

And people like myself, like Sozzi claims to be, that genuinely feel a connection to Sears and Kmart stores. People who would shop those stores if they stocked more compelling merchandise or were in better physical shape.

I too, grew up with Sears. In its hometown of Chicago. Like Sozzi, we were on a budget and as a single mother in the 1960s, she was unable to get a credit card in her own name. Only Sears would issue her one, an act that won her business and our family loyalty.

I still look up in awe at what was once the world’s tallest building that bore the Sears name. I shopped for back to school clothes at a store now so dark and depressing, I can’t bear to go in, even though it’s blocks from my home.

A home that sits on a street that shares a name with an iconic Sears brand, although which came first is unclear.

I’m a retail geek of the highest order. I hope Sozzi’s wrong.

Sears does matter.

Follow me on Twitter @lfheller and be a part of the conversation.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Mali confirms two new Ebola cases
United Nations, Nov 26 (IANS) Mali has confirmed two new cases of Ebola, bringing to total number of cases in the West African nation to eight, days ahead of the opening of a new UN Ebola response office.
 
 
Merkel warns of recession in Europe
Berlin, Nov 26 (IANS) German Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday warned that Europe could slide back into recession, media reported.
 
 
India, Nepal ink nine deals; Modi inaugurates trauma centre, bus service (Roundup)
Kathmandu, Nov 25 (IANS) Nepal's happiness "gives us joy", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said here Tuesday on his second visit to the Himalayan country in 100 days as both sides inked nine agreements, further cementing their close ties.
 
 
India, Nepal ink 10 deals; Modi inaugurates trauma centre, bus service (Intro Roundup)
Kathmandu, Nov 25 (IANS) Nepal's happiness "gives us joy", Prime Minister Narendra Modi said here Tuesday on his second visit to the Himalayan country in 100 days as both sides inked 10 agreements, including on $1 billion assistance to Nepal.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

US urges eradication of armed rebels in Congo
Washington, Nov 26 (IANS) The US Tuesday called for efforts to wipe out illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as the number of civilians killed there has risen to some 200 in less than...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Eating healthy tough for Cumberbatch
Los Angeles, Nov 26 (IANS) Actor Benedict Cumberbatch says he struggles to eat health food. The "Sherlock" star says that despite trying his best to maintain his nutritious diet, he often struggles to keep it up while...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
24 killed in coal mine fire in China
Beijing, Nov 26 (IANS) At least 24 workers were killed and 52 others injured in coal mine fire in northeast China's Liaoning Province early Wednesday, the state-owned Liaoning Fuxin Coal Corporation said. The fire...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Jordin Sparks hits out at Jason Derulo
Jordin Sparks has taken a swipe at her ex-boyfriend Jason Derulo in a song. The 24-year-old beauty appears to take aim at her former lover, with whom she had a three-year relationship that ended in September, in her...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Eva Mendes reveals motherhood has brought 'wild nights'
Eva Mendes has had some of the ''wildest nights'' of her life since giving birth to her first child, Esmeralda Amada. The 40-year-old actress, who has been dating Ryan Gosling since 2011, gave birth six weeks ago and...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Cate Blanchett feels judged by other mothers
Cate Blanchett feels her parenting skills are being judged by other mothers. The Oscar-winning actress has three children - Dashielle, 12, Roman, 10 and Ignatuis, six - and says she's held to a different set of...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Jimmy Page reveals his admiration of Leona Lewis
Jimmy Page says performing with Leona Lewis was one of the highlights of his career. The Led Zepplin guitarist was asked to name the greatest moment of his professional life outside of the band and he cited performing...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
UN chief 'deeply concerned' over escalating violence in Libya
United Nations, Nov 26 (IANS) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday said he was "deeply concerned" over the recent escalating violence in Libya, calling on all parties to "end these attacks and prevent further...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Kate Hudson's fitness secrets
Los Angeles, Nov 26 (IANS) If you desire to have an incredibly toned physique a la Kate Hudson, you've got to work your "a** off", says the actress. The 35-year-old, who is a mother of two, says that her svelte figure...
Read more on Celebrity Balla