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Sears Declares Bankruptcy. What's Next for Retailers?

Before there was Amazon, there was Sears. A retail titan in every sense.

At one point in the middle of last century, Sears accounted for one of every $100 American consumers spent.

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The Sears origin story was that of the American dream, and the realization that goods could be bought, sold, and traded in an emerging marketplace. Founder, Richard Warren Sears, began the business by selling pocket watches.

Over time, the retailer grew into an impossibly large force that encompassed, much like Amazon today, other industries, verticals, and sales channels. If you recall a time well before the internet, you'll know that if you wanted to buy something, you got inspiration from catalogs. Back in the day, as they say, Sears was the original platform -- their behemoth 500-page catalog was considered a Consumer Bible, and was the optimal way to reach costumers in rural areas, preceding their storefronts greeting waves and waves of post-agricultural migration to urban centers. By the mid-century, Sears was the place to shop. Their slogan: Where America shops. In fact, former associates used to pride themselves by saying if an item wasn't in stock at a store, you didn't need it.

The announcement that Sears was filing for bankruptcy yesterday is an important story to tell in the ever-evolving narrative of retail and the future of how we buy things. Some will argue that Amazon is what caused the former to its brink. Yet, others will say the failure to change happened even earlier -- with Walmart. Others will argue that a combination of mis-management, lack of focus, and an inability to innovate led to its current downfall and potential demise.

Here's some of the best reads that look into the Sears saga more deeply:

  1. Outgoing CEO Eddie Lampert rallied troops a day after declaring bankruptcy, telling over 1,000 associates and employees that it would be a 'do or die' holiday season: "We need to show material progress over the next few months to establish to our senior lenders that a reorganization of the company is realistic and to avoid a shutdown and liquidation," he told them from Sears' Hoffman Estates HQ. Read more about his speech via: CNBC

  2. One Sears location in Decatur, Georgia used to generate $54 million in sales every year. Employees there continue to meet for reunions and recently, a post-reunion trip to the store filled them with sadness because the store was virtually empty. Some of the employees shared their insights on how Sears missed opportunities. Read via: NBC News

  3. The bankruptcy declaration indicates the end of Sears is near, but a series of lawsuits could stretch out for months. Read via: MarketWatch

  4. Sears may be nearing its end, and while many argue about its failures, one writer suggests looking at the story with a more positive light -- and eulogizing the retailer, which has been around longer than the four most valuable companies in the world, combined (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft). Read more via: The Atlantic

  5. Does the end of Sears mean the end of other retailers? Why some think JC Penny could be negatively impacted by Sears bankruptcy. Read more via: Yahoo! Finance

  6. Remember Sears Grand and Sears Great Indoors? Probably not. One of Sears biggest mistakes was emulating Walmart when it should have been 'pre-empting Amazon.' Read more analysis at Crain's Chicago Business

  7. From Allstate to Crafsman, here's a look back at many of the Sears assets and ventures through the years. Read more at USA Today

  8. So, what retailers will benefit from Sears bankruptcy? Barron's sees five retailers who could step in and benefit. Read more at Barron's

Taylor Pipes

Taylor Pipes

I write stories about people that interact with technology that solves human problems. I love exploring and finding compelling stories at the intersection of technology and the future of work.

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