I have been a customer of Sears all of my life, and now that relationship could be ending as Sears fights to stay in business. Please don’t laugh; there are real reasons why Sears has been sentimental for me. First of all, my mother worked there for over 20 years from when I was a kid all the way though my college years. I too worked there the summer between high school and my first year in college in their warehouse. Mom helped me get the job.
We weren’t a wealthy family, as I have written previously, and many of my clothes were handed down to me from my Dad’s boss’s son when I was growing up. The only other clothes I ever had until I was about 18 came from Sears & Roebuck.
Reliable, Sturdy and Affordable Sears
Sears clothes may not have been the most popular or fashionable clothes in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s (as if they have ever been!), but one thing you could say about them is that they lasted forever. My wardrobe of “Roebucks”, the Sears version of Levi’s and Wrangler’s jeans, wore like iron and lasted forever. In fact, I could probably still wear those same ones from back then today if my waist was as small as it was 50 years ago!
Besides the early link I had with my wardrobe, I learned a lot about Sears just from the fact that Mom worked there. I found out about their quality tools, “Craftsmen”, and their “satisfaction guaranteed” promise which they actually kept all though those years. It was what made them great.
A Little Bit of History for Perspective
For a lot of America, Sears was the biggest link to shopping for wanted goods through the Sears catalogue which began back in 1896. And then there was the humongous Sear’s “Christmas Wish” big book each year. Every Christmas toy ever was right in that book. The catalogue stopped its long run in 1993 when Sears was beginning to stumble in the 1980’s from its lofty position as the “king” of retail.
Walmart Replaces Sears in #1 Spot in 1989
What happened in the retail world between 1980 and 2002 is really mindboggling. Sears, once the largest retailer in the country, saw its competition gaining rapidly on them and their place in retail fell dramatically due to a whole lot of bad decisions and a changing scenario in the shopping habits of the country. The name Walmart also has a lot to do with that demise. By 1990, Walmart replaces Sears as the retail “king”.
At the same time K-Mart, a store which sprang from the 5 and dime Kressge’s back in the 1890’s, opened its first store in 1962. By the 1990’s, K-Mart was bigger than Sears, but it was a rough road to gain on the Walmart earthquake and after some real difficulties, K-Mart declared bankruptcy in 2002.
K-Mart Pulls Off a Miracle
The shocking turnaround and recovery of K-Mart in 2004 surprised everyone. By returning to profitability, K-Mart had a very good reason for thinking that an acquisition like Sears would give them extra volume of sales and a dramatic cost saving in operations with consolidation. The distribution of Sears’ biggest assets—Craftsmen, Kenmore, and the like—would be a big added resource. So K-Mart bought Sears for $11 billion. For a while, it seemed to be working. But the recession of 2008 and the surging power of online shopping had changed retailing. Taken along with the fact that Sears and K-Mart are part of the “dinosaur era” stores which just didn’t change rapidly enough for a new generation of consumers and it’s easy to see why they are on life support in 2017.
A New Loyalty Rewards Program
Are you familiar with the Sears and K-Mart Shop Your Way program? Back in 2009, it was conceived as a way that these stores could help stimulate their sales and offer a rewards program for loyal shoppers. Great idea? In theory, yes it is. But it has turned out to be a huge drain on the company’s profits and it has been almost from the beginning.
The idea is that you get 1% credit on any purchases you make at the store or online (a modest amount in today’s world), and you can use it in-store or online the next time you shop. A $100.00 purchase gives you a $1.00 credit. They also offer a “surprise” amount of money as a credit periodically to inspire your purchases. For example, they will send you an email giving you $9.00 of “free” money on your next in-store or online purchase. I love that, and here’s why.
The Ridiculous and Deadly “Shop Your Way”
There are literally no strings on that “surprise” gift of $9.00. As long as you spend at least $9.00, you have fulfilled the obligation and can literally use it to obtain a free item or two. Just in the last week, I have been offered twice a $9.00 surprise. Last week, I ordered online a bathing suit and a long sleeved shirt (on sale too!) which totaled exactly $9.00. After applying the points, my total came to $0.45 cents, the state sales tax. I picked them up for free at the local K-Mart the next day. Not too shabby for me, right?
To my surprise, yesterday, I got a new $9.00 free gift surprise from SYW rewards in my email. Once again, I went online shopping and I ordered two beach towels (to go along with my new bathing trunks!) on sale for $4.99 each. I applied my points and my total came to $0.98 plus tax. So, for $1.05, I got my new towels which I picked up last night. By, the way, the store is very close to where I live so it’s no biggie to pick up and pay no shipping.
In just one week, I had purchased one bathing suit, one shirt, and two beach towels, all for a total of $1.52. I saved over 92% on my purchases (and that was on items that were already on sale)!!!!
This has happened to me over and over again and I am not a regular shopper at either Sears or K-Mart. For the most part, I only go there to use my surprise SYW points. The last major purchase I made at either store was over 3 years ago when I purchased a new mattress set at Sears (and by the way, I got lots of points for doing it!).
I’m not the only one who has caught on to this great for me and not so great for them proposition. I recently read that nearly 75% of all sales at these two entities in 2014 were made through Shop Your Way transactions. And that number is rising each year! I wonder how many of those purchases were purchases like mine at 92% off sale prices?
The bottom line for me is that I have done nothing more than what they have asked me to do. Shop MY Way, using discounts and any freebies they throw at me! It certainly isn’t helping their bottom line nor frankly has it made me a loyal customer other than when they practically bribe me to shop there. Many other stores seem to be doing similar things these days (like Staples, but that’s another story to tell down the road), but Sears and K-Mart are the world leaders at this and I’m sincerely afraid that the plug will be pulled on their life support system very, very soon.
So, do you belong to the SYW program? Would you feel any guilt in getting something for almost nothing even if it meant that these icons of retail will cease to exist if they keep losing money as they have been for years? Will you miss theses stores when they’re gone? The experts give them almost no chance of survival. Is Sears going out of business? Flat lining is probably the new future for these former kings of retail.