I love studying retail ups and downs, and the fact you can still go walk around a Sears or Kmart today while they decline is a special, real-time gift for those of us in retail marketing to witness an unprecedented decline in this brick and mortar legacy.
If you haven’t lately, I highly recommend you spend a Saturday afternoon just walking through your local shopping mall and be sure to walk through the Sears anchor — if there still is one. I call it “The Prescient Marketer’s Field Trip.”
It’s not that I’m rooting for these companies to fail. It’s that I’m energized at disrupting, and then self-disrupting once you’re on top. And today we can see the real-world impact of category disruption at work more clearly than in recent decades.
Be sure to stop at the Payless Shoe Store, too.
Once, Sears was the disruptor—not the disrupted.
When the Sears catalog first appeared on doorsteps in the 1890s, it fundamentally changed how Americans shopped. Back then, much of the population lived in rural areas, and they bought almost everything from little shops at rural junctions. These general stores had limited selection and charged exorbitant prices. They were the only game in town.
“The Sears catalog had an even bigger impact in 1900 than Amazon has had today,” said Robert Gordon, a professor at Northwestern University and author of The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Like today’s e-commerce powerhouse, the Sears catalog provided shoppers more choice than ever before, and at lower prices. Sears freed shoppers from the tyranny of the local general merchant and improved their living standards.
“The cost of living went down the minute Sears became available,” said Gordon.
Searching for parallels of Sears’s fall through business history, Gordon could find none. “There is nothing like the decline of Sears and Kmart,” he said.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing innovative retailers expanding their offering beyond straight retail. In fact, I have a client who is treating their shopping mall experience as a destination in some really smart ways. And this is why the Scheels taking over the Sears footprint at my local mall will have a 65 foot tall indoor ferris wheel and 16,000 gallon aquarium…
“Unlike a typical sporting good store or department store, the new Eden Prairie Scheels will be a collection of entertainment venues, specialty shops and boutiques staffed with experts who focus on their passions. The 240,000-square-foot Scheels Retail Shopping Adventure will showcase Minnesota’s largest selection of sports, fashion and footwear under one roof,” according to a news release.