- Sears and Kohl’s are both having issues.
- Sears narrowly avoided liquidation in February when it was bought by the company’s chairman, Eddie Lampert. It also recently laid off 250 employees at its corporate headquarters and announced multiple store closures.
- Kohl’s reported a 2.9% drop in sales of in stores open for more than a year in its second-quarter earnings, though the company’s partnership with Amazon has increased foot traffic in stores, Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass said.
- We visited both stores and saw issues in each. But Kohl’s clearly had the advantage for a few key reasons.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Among struggling retailers, it doesn’t get much worse than Sears.
For years, the company has been fighting to stay alive. Its sales fell from $53 billion in 2006 to less than $US17 billion in 2017. It filed for bankruptcy in mid-October 2018, but was then bought by Sears’ chairman, Eddie Lampert in February.
Kohl’s has issues of its own, most recently reporting a drop in sales of 2.9% in stores open for more than a year in its second-quarter earnings.However, the retailer has a few secret weapons that have helped it survive, namely the fact that nine out of 10 Kohl’s stores are in suburban strip malls and not standard shopping malls, which means declining foot traffic in malls isn’t as much of a threat.
More recently, Kohl’s partnered with Amazon to accept returns for the e-commerce giant in its stores, a move which helped boost traffic nearly 24% in the three weeks after the partnership began, data from InMarket revealed.
We went to both stores and saw for ourselves why Kohl’s is outperforming Sears in more ways than one. Even though they carry similar merchandise and both stores were somewhat messy, Kohl’s did a better job of adapting to the modern customer with its in-store and digital perks.
Here’s what we saw:
Our first stop was a Kohl’s in a Jersey City, New Jersey mall.
Right away, we were notified about a service that allows customers to shop online and then pick up their purchases in the store. We would be looking out for this kiosk on our journey.
Another sign we passed as we entered told us about the Kohl’s app that can help customers save while they shop. So far, we were impressed at the ways Kohl’s was appealing to the digitally-inclined shopper.
To help make the browsing process easier, Kohl’s offered handy shopping carts to load up with items.
The first section we stopped at was the women’s clothing section. The offerings here were prominently boasting pastel colours.
We found clothes from casual to formal. But overall, we everything here seemed completely out of style and not reminiscent of the trends of the day.
“Chic” and “trendy” are definitely not the words we would use to describe the clothes we were seeing. Plus, the prices weren’t great either. This unappealing two-piece Vera Wang pajama set was going for $US56.
Still, a lot items were on sale, including The Vera Wang sleepwear, which was having a buy one, get one 50% off sale.
Next, we headed over to the kid’s section. Here, we found a few hangers on the floor and some items out of place.
We were shocked at the way the clearance section looked. The racks were bursting with clothes and many items were spilling onto the ground.
Nearby, a table of shoe boxes was threatening to topple over before our eyes.
However, we did scout out a few cute finds here, like this little Fortnite sweater originally priced for $US40 but on sale.
But there was still a lot of mess to be found. Some of it even continued into the aisles, where we found some carts carrying merchandise.
We moved onto the shoe section and were relived to find some organisation there.
The brand names here were a definite bonus.
Moving on, we found a large section of kitchen and home appliances.
There were different tables highlighting the store’s partnerships with various brands and everything seemed to be of good quality.
We loved the section of home goods for a few reasons. Firstly, the items were adorable …
… secondly, the displays were organised and aesthetically appealing …
… and thirdly, the prices were reasonable. Kohl’s definitely made a good impression on us with its home goods section.
Kohl’s was also selling a variety of toys and games, some of which featured classic Disney characters.
Near the back of the store, we found some lockers that held items that customers had ordered online for in-store pick-up, a great feature of the store for shoppers who don’t have time to browse.
Nearby, there was a kiosk for customers to drop off their Amazon returns. This move was probably one of the store’s best ideas, as it helped boost traffic nearly 24% in the three weeks after the partnership began, data from InMarket revealed.
Source: Business Insider
We didn’t find a huge electronics section at Kohl’s, but we did find this small stand for Fitbit wristbands.
Downstairs, we found some more clothes for women, as well as a large men’s section with everything from jeans …
… to athleticwear. Here, we found products from top brands like Nike and Adidas. We also found some Under Armour products in another section.
Though messy and slightly out of style in some places, Kohl’s was clearly making moves to keep up traffic and sales online and in stores. The company’s partnership with Amazon as well as its own buy online, pick up in store locker feature were clear advantages.
Next, we stopped by a Sears in Brooklyn, New York’s Flatbush neighbourhood, the last one in New York City. It took us some time to figure out how to find the entrance to the store — we had to walk through a parking lot for a bit.
Eventually, we found the entrance, which was slightly underwhelming.
We walked in unsure about what to expect. Our first impression was that the whole store felt like a warehouse that was overcrowded with racks, similar to a Marshalls or TJ Maxx.
We started our journey in the women’s section, where — like Kohl’s — we found a lot of items that were clearly out of style.
Even the mannequins looked unappealing, a feat that is usually hard to accomplish.
However, we couldn’t complain about the prices. Items were going for ridiculously cheap.
Some signs indicated that the store was having a huge blowout event.
Some of those green signs featured hand drawn prices, which gave the store an unprofessional touch. What’s more, in this section labelled “men’s,” we found only women’s bathing suits.
In the women’s section, we found a lone fan airing out the space, yet another weird touch.
We also found some large hats that looked like something we’d pick up for a costume or character party.
We periodically found some fake-looking flower vases on the display shelves. All of these strange, tacky elements in the store created a weird atmosphere overall.
In the handbag section, we found these cardboard boxes overflowing with various trinkets and smaller accessories.
The men’s section had the standard selection of pants and shirts, but there was also a massive section devoted to neon traffic vests and construction attire.
Otherwise, the clothing here was similarly tacky like the women’s section.
The athletic department had some items from Champion, but a store associate told us that we would not be able to find anything from Nike or Adidas, two major brands that Kohl’s had carried prominently.
Though there was a similarly large display of Levi’s here.
The shoe section didn’t have much that caught our eyes — that is, except this small, yet delightful display of Crocs.
The first floor of Sears had various jewellery stands located throughout the aisles as well as a central jewellery counter in the middle of the store. There appeared to be a semi-annual jewellery and watch sale happening when we were there.
We also found an unmanned kiosk that was advertising the Sears membership program …
… as well as various monitors set up to assist customers in searching online for items that they couldn’t find in the store.
Upstairs, there was a sizable, yet basic section for home goods.
And some areas here were almost completely empty.
If they weren’t empty, they were notably punctuated with messiness and clutter.
We found some signs telling us that we’d be able to order items with free shipping if we didn’t find what we wanted in the store — a nice feature.
In the kid’s section, we found a large selection toys, clothes, and cribs.
We oddly found a massive area devoted to nightgowns near the intimates section. If nightgowns were back in, we had no idea. But Sears was certainly banking on its shoppers being into them.
Not far away, we found a plus-size section, something we hadn’t noticed at Kohl’s.
We checked out the register on this floor, only to find it completely empty.
Our last stop was the bottom floor, which housed all of Sears’ major appliances like refrigerators …
… and power tools.
On this floor, we stumbled into Sears’ optical centre.
Half of this floor was devoted to Kmart, which is owned by Transform Holdco — the company formed to acquire Sears Holding’s asset, and the same parent company as Sears. This area of the store was clearly different from the rest and seemed better kept overall.
Source: Business Insider
From its outdated offerings to its tacky store appearance, Sears did not appear to be in good shape. Kohl’s was also messy and outdated, but it was clearly making strides to avoid the same fate as Sears with its Amazon partnership and lockers for online orders. One visit to both stores made it clear that Kohl’s is making the right moves.
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