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Editorial: Sears today, gone tomorrow

The owner of the Avalon Mall says it has negotiated a lease buyout with Sears Canada and the space will be factored into the $54.5-million property redevelopment project already underway.
The owner of the Avalon Mall says it has negotiated a lease buyout with Sears Canada and the space will be factored into the $54.5-million property redevelopment project already underway.

This is what market forces look like. Tuesday, Sears announced what’s probably been the writing on the wall for years: it now plans to shut all of its operating stores, liquidate its inventory and lay off some 12,000 employees.

During the next few weeks, you can expect to hear plenty about the Sears-that-was.

There will be stories about the arrival of the Sears catalogue in lonely outposts on the Prairies, some perhaps enlivened by descriptions of the uses that catalogue pages were put to once the ordering was done. There will be stories of the arrival of Sears orders at small outlets like the one in Broad Cove, Conception Bay North, and invariably, discussions of the dreams launched by the Christmas Wish Book, a catalogue that let children get their holiday demands in place as early as September.

Nostalgia will no doubt reign supreme, a rich and sad vein open for media strip-mining.

None of that is likely to change anything, (though a last-minute salvation offer before Friday’s court deadline — a long shot, indeed — could).

The problem is that Sears is a retail model from the past: its market has been taken — on one side, by discount retailers like Walmart, and on the other, by online vendors offering cheaper prices, wider selection and at-your-door delivery.

Analysts also point to a clear failure by the company to reinvest and develop its business strategy — the firm sold off its credit card line and its properties, but didn’t put that money into competing with more nimble, newer retailers. You adapt, or you die. Sears did not adapt, so the endgame was clear.

Visiting a Sears store like the one in St. John’s — often a wasteland of open space and quiet clothing racks — could be a sobering message about the future of all general merchandise outlets. (Think Canadian Target stores, Eaton’s, Zellers, and the list goes on.) Others have been more successful by finding niches. Costco by limiting listed inventory, a number of dollar stores by holding to tight price lines and carefully cultivating and knowing their customer base.

At this point, all of the fond memories in the world are unlikely to change the end of Sears.

Why? Because of a simple and obvious fact.

As you listen to the stories of Sears in days gone by, try to imagine the last time the person you hear bemoaning the closure was actually in a Sears store.

Try to remember the last time you made significant purchase there. If you did, you are clearly in the minority.

Sears is a piece of the retail fabric of the nation, a large employer and a once-profitable business empire. But the factors that made it such a success have been overtaken by time, by technology, and by new and different entrants in the marketplace.

The market has spoken.

 

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