Before the advent of online shopping, department stores reigned supreme.
There were many giants within the industry, but perhaps none so diverse as Sears. The past few decades have been moments of trial for department stores, but Sears is one brand that has survived.
As they continue to make sense of their role in the 21st century, Sears is experiencing just one more metamorphosis after already having evolved many times.
A Little Bit of Everything
The name “department store” pretty accurately depicts the way that Sears rose to prominence. By housing clothes, appliances, home goods, and more under a single roof, Sears revolutionized the way that people shopped.
Today, they still use this same sort of method, relying more heavily on the appliances (and other large gear) aspect of their business than ever. For the most part, Sears locations can now be found inside larger venues, like shopping malls.
The concept behind the department store is sound—it’s a basic one stop shop—the problem is that the Internet, too, houses virtually everything a customer could want to buy.
20th Century Giant
Sears was founded in 1886 as a watch company; they would mail customers watches after receiving their orders based on a catalog offering. In the few years that followed, Sears quickly expanded to offering all sorts of jewelry.
In the early 1900s, Sears’ offerings expanded significantly. They provided mail-order products to rural parts of the country that had never before had the option to buy clothing or appliances from a metropolitan store. Sears even sold homes out of their catalogs, many of which still stand today.
Once cars became more commonplace, Sears instituted their retail stores as consumers were now interested in physically shopping. For about 50 years, until the 1980s, Sears was the largest commercial retailer in America, surpassed eventually by Walmart.
Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018, but was saved when it was purchased by a holding company.
Fighting to Stay Relevant
To say that Sears currently faces steep competition would be an understatement. Without even getting into the virtual retailers (like Amazon) threatening all brick and mortar stores, Sears still has a number of competitors.
The largest physical competition for Sears are Walmart and Target. As of now, both of these stores are outperforming Sears significantly.
Sears’ current status on the brink of ruin isn’t their first scrape with trouble. In the 1990s, the company was scrutinized for the fact that they seemed to be recommending unnecessary repairs.
Although it might be precisely what’s dragging down the company (because it makes it difficult for them to update), Sears’ long history invites nostalgia, which has long made it an incredibly recognizable brand.
Despite all of this turmoil, Sears still ranked at 172 on the Fortune 500 in 2018. This was a jump of about 50 spots in the wrong direction, though, and profits continued to fall rapidly thereafter until it was purchased.
Now is the pivotal moment where the once-great retailer will either return to their former glory, or fade into history.