Kenmore. DieHard. Artisan. Discover the map. Allstate Insurance. This collection of iconic, albeit somewhat disparate, brands all share a common ancestor.
These (and many more) were created by a certified American pioneer: Sears.
With a deep sense of nostalgia, we are now marking the closure of the last Sears store in the state where it all began: Illinois. As digital transformation reshapes the retail map, there is something oddly appropriate about the current owner of Sears, Transform SR Brands LLC, or Transformco for short.
Transformco has just announced plans to close its last Illinois Sears store, located in the Woodfield Mall about 80 miles from where founder Richard Sears and his partners opened their store in 1893. Like CNBC reported On Thursday (September 16), the Woodfield Mall store will shut down on November 14, leaving Sears without a presence where it all began a century ago.
A handful of Sears and Kmart locations are still operating in the United States, as are Sears.com, Transformco’s ShopYourWay.com (a “social shopping destination” and rewards program), as well as the leading provider of product repair, Sears Home Services.
Sears’ retail problems are by no means breaking news. As Business Insider observed, “Sears was once the world’s largest retailer, grossing billions of dollars in profits. With a head office located in the Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world. It wasn’t that long ago that a copy of the Sears catalog could be found in a preponderance of American households. Talk about ubiquity.
But after a series of strategic missteps and the invention of something we like to call the Internet, that all changed and Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018. Since then, it feels like a done deal.
Right now, Sears’ story may be more interesting than its future. Heirs like Amazon and Walmart may be able to learn from the fate of an absolute American retail original.
See Also: Sears To Close Last Store In Home State Of Illinois
Anchored in payment history
From a payments standpoint, talking about Sears is a walk down memory lane.
If the name Dean Witter Reynolds sounds familiar to you, it makes sense. At one time, Wall Street’s largest retail brokerage, Sears acquired the operation in 1981 as part of the grand scheme of the Sears financial services network, which at one time also included Coldwell Banker real estate.
In what some saw as the corporate wandering From its convenient location in large mixed-merchandise stores, Sears then launched the Discover card in 1986. This far-sighted financial instrument was the first among credit cards to offer cash rewards and no annual fees.
Sears’ foray into finance was not to last, however – in 1993, the Dean Witter, Discover & Co. unit merged with Morgan Stanley, and is today the giant Discover Financial Services.
Today, it’s nothing unusual for retail giants to issue branded credit cards. The NerdWallet personal finance company recently compared the relative strengths of the Walmart Rewards Mastercard compared to its rivals, namely the Visa Signature Amazon Prime Rewards card. Business is booming.
Too bad Sears has not made the big digital switch. We might be faced with a vastly different retail and payments landscape if it had been outfitted differently.
Learn from the past at digital speed
Fast forward to the current situation, and the same market dynamics are still at work.
A recent article from PYMNTS The headline, “Amazon’s Department Store Plans Could spell the end of Walmart’s retail manager” sounds ominous. Does Sears’ Story Matter? May be.
See Also: Amazon’s Department Store Plans Could spell the end of Walmart’s retail manager
As the article notes, “In every category where Amazon has taken the lead in Walmart, it has done so by slowly and steadily reducing Walmart’s lead with its ever-growing digital business.” It sounds eerily like analysts remembering the great force that really brought Sears down: Walmart.
Hedge fund manager Edward Lampert bought Sears, then Kmart, in search of a silver bullet to compete with Walmart because its big box concept captured the imaginations of American consumers, as did the internet and online marketplace. ‘Amazon did it today.
Is there a lesson? We’ll let you decide, as we mourn the loss of the last Sears store in Illinois.