Shop Talk

UNSOLICITED ADVICE: Sears needs a makeover

Shop Talk is written by OM senior editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Sarah Fischer, OM account executive and fashion maven.

In the 1960s department stores were bustling, social spaces.

Department stores are the divas of the business pages these days. With Sears looking like the washed-up one, we thought we’d sit her down and offer some makeover advice.

The Backstory
Recently, Sears announced it will invest $2 million on its location in the Iris (read: Ikea) location. Meanwhile, The Bay is planning to bring Bloomingdale’s to Canada — using a “shop within a shop” model to act as an outlet for luxury lines like Rachel Zoe and Vera Wang. (FYI: Bloomingdale’s already makes it easy to order to Canada.) While Ottawa might not be one of the “select markets” referred to in the article, we can’t help it if our view of The Bay is swayed by its Bloomingdale’s partnership.

In the past, Sears acted as a foil for The Bay — as an avenue for comparison shopping for household goods, if nothing else, and the trek between either end of the Rideau Centre offered a chance to burn off that Cinnabon. But now that we know that location is closing, well, we have to wonder what’s going on at Sears. With huge competition coming in from the U.S., is it worth saving? And if so, what could it do to reinvent itself?

They know they need to change. Last month, they caused a minor media frenzy with a few announcements of their own, but even these lacked a certain gravitas: “Sears Canada to focus on strengths” just sounded like a grade one report card. And in an industry that covets exclusive lines, plans to downsize their brand line-up seemed like sour grapes. The news Sears plans to revamp its return policy made us look twice — maybe an overhaul of their customer service? Well, if Sears plans to be an “industry leader” when it comes to customer service, it’s going to take more than five hours of training.

And, most recently, it looks like all departments at Sears are lagging.

Electronics or exclusive lines ? This 1960s department store in Paris clearly found its niche in luggage.

So, in the name of creating a better shopping scene for all (and because if someone is going to invest millions in a new location right beside IKEA we might actually check it out sometime), here’s our tip list.

Five things that Sears could do to reinvent itself
1. Follow the leader: everyone loves the exclusive designer collaborations brought in at Target and Macy’s. And everyone seems to want to endorse Canadian designers. Make the connection, make a young designer’s dream come true, and add a bit of character to the Sears brand.

2. Awesome customer service. Maybe even complimentary personal shoppers to help customers feel closer to the brand and the brands they carry? Like we said, it’s going to take a lot of customer service to get beyond the apathy we see among Sears staff these days, but a fun attitude (and maybe a training session at a U.S. department store) can go a long way.

3. A cheap, tasty resto. Like IKEA — better yet, why not make use of that appliance section and host regular cooking demos? Bring in local foods and you’ve got the foodie crowd; have a vegan event and you’ve just hit another market.

4. Celeb endorsements (or even a marketing campaign with a celebrity to make it seem like an endorsement). We like to think we have celebrities here in Canada, even if most of the time we wouldn’t recognize one such celebrity on the street. Have some fun and pick a comedian, or choose a few to represent the various regions. Host a cross-country VIA Rail tour with them all!

5. Tap into the history. The Bay has clearly capitalized on the fur trade folklore that surrounds their beginnings. While not as rugged, Sears has a story, and it’s tied to ordering from print catalogues. There’s a mighty marketing opportunity in waiting — imagine the memories that surround that massive biannual? The anticipation of ordered merch … the Hockey Sweater-esque gaffes … Sears has a decent Facebook page, but from what we see they’re missing the opportunity to leverage their position in the Canadian shopper subconscious.

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