Sears was the Amazon of the 50’s

January 18, 2019

I was reading an article that was listing several retailers that were essentially “in trouble.” I was surprised to see J.C. Penney, Pet Smart and Guitar Center on the

Mike Wilcox Editor/Publisher

Mike Wilcox

list. I wasn’t surprised to see Sears, and thus with great chagrin my mind wandered back to the “good ole days” when Sears and Roebuck were king of the retail world.

I’m probably showing my age, but I remember vividly checking the mailbox each day for the latest Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Once it arrived my brother and sisters shared the 3-inch thick monster catalogue, looking at page after page of sale items. I remember my mom telling us each time we could order one item each from the sale pages. Once the order was placed it then became a waiting game to receive the item. Sometimes it took four weeks, sometimes six, but back then we were good with that.

Nowadays my child gets agitated if his Amazon order isn’t received in two days. The same can be said when I order office supplies from Quill. Everything now is instantaneous and thus retailers like Sears and Kmart are headed for the trash heap.

Actually Sears, and others of its ilk, were first done in by suburbanization and the shopping malls that were a result. In the 1960’s and 70’s malls popped up everywhere. As a teenager, like others, I was no longer interested in the Sears catalogue, instead opting to spend my time hanging around and shopping in the large, multi-store shopping malls.

Sears survived the mall crisis by placing brick and mortar stores as mall anchors. They were able to adapt and compete with other department stores. But then came Walmart, and Target, and Costco. These stores, especially Walmart shirked the mall concept and provided products cheaper than Sears could. Soon these discount stores were everywhere, and many malls joined the scrap heap of failed retailers.

Sears still managed to limp along, however. So did Kmart. That is until big bad Amazon became the rage. The speed and convenience, and next day delivery offered by Amazon couldn’t be matched by Sears. Amazon provides all the products available at Sears, even more, at the stroke of a keyboard from your easy chair. They are the Sears of the 1950’s, and like its predecessor, Walmart, has sent a cadre of retailers to bankruptcy.

Now Sears can’t blame Amazon totally for their demise. They did have a problem carving out a distinct identity. It used to have the bestselling appliance brand Kenmore, but quality issues sent the Kenmore brand to the middle of the pack. It tried to be everything for everyone- clothing, home goods, home improvements, tools, etc, but in reality it wasn’t good enough to be any of those. Sears also attempted to have a major presence online. Sadly, however, that company that made its name on mail orders couldn’t figure out how to compete in a world of email orders.

Sears isn’t dead yet, but it is teetering. I, for one, hope it can find it wings. But if it doesn’t it won’t be the end of the world. History provides us with a roadmap of failed retailers- food giant A & P, Toys R Us and Borders Books to name a few. Someone always takes their place. Walmart the dreaded retailer that many blame for the destruction of downtown America, is struggling to compete with Amazon. Will they be next? And who will replace Amazon? History tells us it will happen.
Today’s consistent profits that made the Waltons and Jeff Bezos the richest people in the world, are tomorrow’s liquidation sales.

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