To use a Thanksgiving-appropriate football analogy, it’s fourth down and 20 yards to go at Sears Holdings Corp., the parent company of both Sears and Kmart. The company desperately needs a touchdown this holiday season to get back in the retail game. It has registered some $4 billion in losses in the last two years, and is getting trounced by everyone from Target, to Walmart, to Home Depot, to dollar stores.
Kmart, a once-proud retailing innovator that has fallen so far it became the subject of a book titled Kmart’s Ten Deadly Sins: How Incompetence Tainted an American Icon, is throwing a hail Mary: it will open its doors at 6 am Thanksgiving Day and keep them open 41 straight hours, closing at 11 pm Friday. That’s the earliest opening of any major retailer. Sears, on the other hand, won’t open until 8 pm Thanksgiving Day. This disparity between the sister stores’ Black Friday sale strategies speaks volumes about the state of each retailer.
The initial reaction
Kmart has actually opened at 6 am Thanksgiving for the last three years, but in the past it also closed for a few hours to let employees spend time with family. This year’s marathon event hours quickly drew a stinging backlash on social media, and has the markings of another misstep for the floundering retailer. “I will not shop at Kmart because you are opening at 6 am on Thanksgiving,” one shopper posted on the company’s Facebook page. “Shame on you for taking your employees from their families on a holiday!”
Kmart execs responded by saying that customers want more flexible shopping hours, and they intend to give it to them. Shoppers who do show up in the wee hours may find few crowds – there is an online call to boycott the stores to protest the early opening – and good deals: advertised specials include a 40-inch LED TV for $279.99 and a 7-inch Android tablet for $39.99.
Two very different trajectories
Is it plain desperation that’s driving Kmart to longer hours? Brian Sozzi of Belus Capital Advisors recently visited Kmart stores and posted pictures of his experience on his company’s website. “The research and photos presented below show that Kmart, believe it or not, may be in worse fundamental shape than Sears!” he wrote. “By fundamental I mean dreadful to visit, borderline unsafe stores that are sending the division’s financials down a path of no return.”
Sears’ later Thanksgiving Day opening might reflect the notion that the brand still has more relevance to consumers. Though Sears has taken its lumps right along with Kmart, shoppers still associate Sears with names like Craftsman, Kenmore and DieHard, as well as with stylish, affordable fashion. Shoppers looking for these household names will find Thanksgiving evening deals on appliances, tools, clothing and more as outlined in Sears’ 64-page circular. They’ll also find an updated app (that also works at Kmart and other Sears Holdings properties including Lands’ End) called ShopYourWay, which Sears touts as a merger of online bargain hunting, social networking and in-store buying convenience.
Will Kmart’s extended hours boost sales, or simply prop them up? Will Sears’ inventory of household names and sleeker shopping experience slow its spiral? Time will tell, but the play clock is running out.
Sears photo courtesy of Flickr.