What Happened to Sears?
Many are asking the same question. “What happened to Sears?” What was once known as America’s Department Store endured a major identity crisis. The next thing you know, poof!
Or was it that simple?
The truth is there were many factors to blame for the fall of Sears, so we’re going to focus on Sears’ branding. While their identity crisis wasn’t the only factor, it was a major player in their downfall.
The Original Retail Titan
During the age of print, Sears dominated the retail market with their catalogs. They contained informational content for consumers that showcased Sears’ products while promoting their brand.
These catalogs were convenient, featuring a variety of items, from clothing, to jewelry, small appliances and leisurely products all in one place. Consumers had seen nothing like it.
But as we know, nothing lasts forever.
In the early 1960s, companies like Wal-Mart and Target entered the retail market, representing a more affordable alternative to Sears. They took a chunk of the market by appealing to bargain buyers, leaving Sears with loyal middle-upper class shoppers.
At this point, they mostly appealed to loyal customers, many who still remembered getting their “back-to-school” clothes at Sears. For many, it was just what you did.
Sears offered a higher quality than Wal-Mart and Target, but not quite to the level of a Macy’s.
Sears got lost in the middle and this was when it started to lose its footing.
Analyzing Sears’ Branding
From a retail perspective, Sears let competitors make up ground and failed to adapt to the changing market. The loss in business hurt, but it wasn’t fatal until Sears found themselves without an identity.
When a consumer heard “Sears”, what came to mind?
Think about it. Wal-Mart was known for low prices; Target for trendy merchandise and Macy’s for quality. Sears, who dominated the retail world at one time, wasn’t able to adopt a successful niche.
The word “Sears” no longer had meaning to consumers, other than a store. Their loyal customers thought of it as home, but this did nothing for new customers. Their competitors’ brands all aligned with their niches. Sears did not.
Instead of developing a strategy to distinguish its name, Sears instead opted to brand itself through its two biggest product lines, Craftsman and Kenmore. This helped push sales among existing customers, but again, did very little to attract new ones.
Transitioning to eCommerce
Sears wasn’t the only retailer to have difficulty transitioning to eCommerce but they were the slowest to adapt. With stores closing across the country in the early 2000s, digital appeared to be the safest investment for a brand losing its way. It was a golden opportunity for Sears to recover market share.
They failed to do so.
Their hesitation was likely due to older consumers that made up a large portion of their clientele. Naturally less receptive to new technology, older consumers preferred doing business in-store.
Failing to update their brand’s image plagued Sears’ ability to expand to new demographics, making eCommerce a missed opportunity. Ironically, the fear of losing existing customers prevented Sears from attracting the new audience needed for survival.
Nobody is too big to fail. This just goes to show that no matter how profitable you are, no matter how innovative your brand or business is, the market will come for its share and if you don’t adapt to the changing landscape you will be overtaken.
As of 2018, Amazon is the largest eCommerce company, but that only remains because they have perfected their niche and are diversifying their business. As new technologies emerge, so will the way consumers purchase and if any business fails to keep up (if not lead), regardless of market position, they will be putting themselves in serious jeopardy.
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