Sears Continues Retail Death Spiral, Still Sells A Few Useful Things

(Great Beyond)

(Great Beyond)

For the ninth quarter in a row, Sears Holdings Corporation has lost money. Even as the company closes stores, rents out remaining stores, and tries desperate moves like opening early on Thanksgiving Day and making fun of itself in its own ads, the company continues to sell itself for parts in a sad retail death spiral. Yet is there anything that you should consider buying at Sears while it still exists? Are Americans who sneer at Sears missing out? Maybe.

The chain has been trying more brand synergy, selling Kenmore and Craftsman appliances in Kmart stores if you can find one. Whether this is a good thing depends on what type of appliance you’re looking for. Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports test items from a wide variety of companies, including house-brand items at Sears. They recently made a handy list of things that you should consider buying, and things that you should stay away from. No, “Sears stores” are not one of those things.

Of course, these lists only include hardlines items that you can test in a lab: it’s harder to objectively test a sweater or a bracelet. Also, many of our readers complain about the service they receive in support of products they buy at Sears, not necessarily the products themselves.

Not surprisingly, the items that did well on tests are merchandise that Americans have traditionally bought at Sears. Consumer Reports recommends DieHard car batteries for some makes of cars (Ford trucks and SUVs in particular) but not others. They’ve also been impressed with the performance of washers and dryers, refrigerators, snow blowers, and vacuums in the house-brand Kenmore and Craftsman brands.

Items that they can’t really recommend include house-brand leaf blowers, ranges and ovens, Sears-brand paints and stains, push lawn mowers, and leaf blowers.

Sears Holdings is still looking to sell its stake in Sears Canada, which until recently was actually making money, and is also looking to sell the entire Sears Auto Center business, perhaps not realizing that it’s the first word in the name of the brand that’s really holding it back.

Manifesto-writing CEO Eddie Lampert insists that better days for Sears will come any time now. “In the next 6-12 months, we intend to work with our lenders and others to evaluate our capital structure with a goal of achieving more long term flexibility,” he told reporters and analysts in a pre-recorded conference call. If you want to rent out part of a Kmart for some reason, apparently now is your chance.

Sears posts loss for 9th straight qtr as sales fall again [Reuters]
What to get at Sears and what to forget [Consumer Reports]

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  1. mrkake says:

    Sears needs to decide where it wants to make money and really focus in that area. No one is interested any longer in all of these stores that sell mediocre things at full retail prices.

    For example, Sears sells TVs. But they aren’t cheap – they are the same price as everywhere else. And the selection is not as good either. You can’t find the best of the best tvs there … instead it’s similar to shopping for a TV at target or something. It’s all middle class TVs at full retail prices.

    Same for clothes, sears has a weird selection of clothes including some major brands and some brands no one has ever heard of (before going to sears)… they sell these clothes for like $50 a button up shirt, unless there is a sale… basically the same price as going to the retail store. Or levi’s jeans… the same price as the levi’s store…. etc… and now that there are outlet malls popping up, and malls with more actual brand stores… it’s just cooler to shop at those places where you know they will have the selection you want, and the price isn’t even any different.

    Sears needs to either create a focus on providing a better selection of a few specific things and getting out of the market for some other things entirely. For example if they want to be a clothes store, maybe stop selling lawn mowers and get more clothes. Or just get rid of some of the cheaper brands and stock more styles from the nice brands. Or get rid of the nice brands and stock more cheaper stuff. But stop trying to do both, because this is why they are failing.

    They are using this model in every item they sell, and they have a mediocre selection of everything.

  2. dullard8 says:

    It would also help if they would improve customer service which has been horrible for a long time. I no longer buy major appliances from Sears, not because there is anything wrong with their products, but because their customer service is non-existent. Among other things, they don’t deliver on time and they don’t care. I’ve been treated as an annoyance rather than a person they want to keep as a customer. One time I wanted to buy a couple of small items from their automotive section and they wouldn’t take payment without entering my personal information in their data base. I went inside the store and paid for my items where I wasn’t asked for any personal information.

  3. webalias says:

    Hearing CEO Eddie Lampert’s optimistic though ludicrous view of Sears’ future, I can’t help but remember “Baghdad Bob,” Saddam Hussein’s information minister during the 2003 Iraq War. He was the guy who assured us of the invincibility of the Iraqi army, becoming a source of much amusement as Saddam’s regime crumbled. I hear he’s still living in United Arab Emirates. Maybe Sears should try to hire him.

  4. Liberal says:

    I was in my local sears today and it must be one of the few that is busy. i saw two old timers looking at garden tractors and lots of people in the tool department and some in the appliance area. I guess they could close the rest down and no one would notice.

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Hell, I will look around the tool and electronic departments sometimes when I’m waiting for family members to finish up elsewhere at the mall. But I’d no more buy something there than I would choose LaserShip as my shipper of choice.

  5. MarkyMark says:

    I have a Sears Outlet near me and I was looking at appliances. I was there for 30 minutes before someone approached me and even then his attitude was less than ideal. They need focus on tools and appliances or even spin off that part of the business. Let everything else go.