Could the plight of Sears have been avoided?

One Man's Opinion
By Doug Collins
July 9, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — The plight of Sears is indicative of what is happening with many of our traditional shopping sources. And it could well get worse before it gets better. The old way of shopping at your old department store has apparently eroded amid a trend for special interest stores, boutique shops and, most importantly, a move to heavy online shopping. It’s disappointing that the Sears store in Kamloops is among 59 stores across the country getting the axe, while several stores in the Lower Mainland will remain open. I assume it’s simply a matter of economics. 

But I really wonder if Sears couldn’t have withstood the trend with better management. Most of us older folk, and those of us who grew up in small towns, remember the Sears catalogue. We used it, and the old Eaton’s catalogue, extensively to do all our shopping. In rural areas, that was just about the only way to shop. But over the years, Eaton’s died, and now Sears is going the same way.

I don’t think it had to happen. I think Sears management just dropped the ball, big time. With its catalogue operation, Sears had the chance to become the first Amazon. In fact, they were the first Amazon. They had the resources to become the hub of online shopping, but for some reason, never acted. Why they didn’t see the opportunities, I’ll never know. They had their own line of products. Good products. Craftsman tools, with a lifetime guarantee. Kenmore appliances, with solid performance. And so on. Dry goods that were second to none. They had all those things in their own domain. They didn’t have to outsource to other places like Amazon did. But while Jeff Bezos “got it” and understood the dynamic of online shopping as it came into play, Sears management fumbled their way to extinction. They could have had it all. They could have transformed that database of Sears credit card holders and shoppers into a great network, and done amazing things. Perhaps some of the smaller catalogue-only stores in smaller areas could have been shuttered, but customers would be able to get their purchases shipped directly to their homes.

Since they started struggling several years ago, Sears has tried to maintain existing sales methods, restructuring several times, and yet never capitalizing on their biggest assets: a great reputation, solid service and good brands. As inventory dropped, and the lifetime Craftsman guarantee became more limited, confidence dropped, and it seems the company was never able to recover. In a recent story, Sears Canada’s comeback would seem to involve selling discounted designer fashions and improving its e-commerce. Personally, lowering the quality of the merchandise isn’t the answer, and it will take a gargantuan effort to improve e-commerce. That particular ship has probably sailed, and people who understood the future of shopping years ago, like the founders of Amazon, have staked a claim that will be hard to overturn.

While some of the department stores may not survive, Sears was one that could have, and should have. A sad state of affairs for a once-proud leader in retail sales.