SEARS GOES DOWN IN FLAMES – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night on the news, they announced that Sears was going out of business. Destroyed, they said, by the likes of Amazon.

In the course of last night, I ordered two things I needed — a raised toilet seat because I’m finding it really hard to get up from the very low seats in our bathrooms and a raised seat is a lot less than a new toilet. Later, after the nurse called with the results of our blood tests, I learned I was anemic, so I went back to Amazon and ordered a couple of bottles of Vitamin D3. I didn’t have to get out of bed for either order.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

When I was a kid, everyone went to Sears. That’s where you shopped for the “big stuff.” Refrigerators, washing machines, shop tools. You always needed help because these are expensive items that you intend to keep for a long time. You want to be sure they will be what you want — within the limits of your budget, of course.

Meanwhile, sometime during the late 1980s, Sears decided to take a chip from the local department stores and eliminate human sales personnel. For love nor money, you couldn’t find anyone to talk to. At the same time, they substantially cut down on the items for which everyone had gone to Sears — large appliances — and loaded up on dorky kid’s clothing.

Considering that every store carried kid’s clothing but almost no one carried appliances, it was a baffling decision by The Suits who ran the place.

Since then, I’ve never had any reason to go to Sears. Not only do they not have what I’m looking for, but they have hardly any people working with customers and they’ve closed down most of their checkout counters. So did most of the other brick and mortar stores.

There was a time when you could go into a department store and someone would be stuck to you like glue, showing you where your size was on the rack and helping you find the shoe or the dress or the jeans you wanted. Then, one day, all these stores decided we could all fend for ourselves, like a herd of sheep without a shepherd, a dog, or even a fence to keep us from falling off the mountain.

From that point on, which by then was the early 1990s, shopping at a mall became a chore. They would have one frazzled worker supposedly managing multiple departments and you had to wait, often for as long as an hour for him or her to have time to answer a simple question, sometimes as little as “Where’s the changing room?”

Amazon didn’t kill these stores. They committed suicide. They thought that they owned us and we’d keep coming because what else could we do, right?

Along came Amazon. They might not have someone to help you find the item you were looking for, but you had all the time in the world to read the reviews, compare prices … and if something didn’t work out, they were (gasp) NICE to you! That’s right. Nice. Polite. Helpful. And they sent the item right to your door. No battling for a parking space and hauling heavy boxes through the lots.

Our little grocery store — Hannaford — is the smallest store of its type in town. They aren’t fancy. They don’t have a lot of variety, but they also don’t have extremely high prices. Often, their actual prices are lower than Walmart and much lower than “Stop n’ Shop.” If you want help, there’s always someone around to show you where the item is … and they will wait for you to make sure you’re all set before they go back to whatever they were doing before. They never seem to be cross about it, either.

Hannaford

Not only are the nice to the customers, but they are also nice to the workers, many of whom have worked there for years. This has a side benefit of employing people who know something about their products and the store.

Amazon didn’t just join the market and destroy the competition. They found a big hole in the market — department stores who overcharged and acted as if customers were trivial. They made it increasingly difficult to find items and harder to pay for them. Parking lots got smaller to make room for more mall and around the holidays, they were a nightmare.

By the time Amazon loomed on my horizon, I had already made a big shift to buying more from catalogs and less from shops. It wasn’t even a big deal.

Parked cars

Today I bought my toilet raiser for $35 and two bottles of chewable D3 vitamins for $17.00. I wouldn’t have even known where to look for the raised toilet seat … and just one of those bottles of vitamins would have cost me the same price at CVS as I paid for two of them on Amazon.

I’m sorry that Sears is going out of business, but I’m not surprised. They stopped providing customer service years ago. Actually, it’s amazing it took them this long to crash and burn.

The irony is that I didn’t mind paying a little more to shop in a “real” store where I could get help and assistance, but I really minded paying more to get no assistance or help and a general attitude of surly indifference from employees.

I know working retail is hard. My son has worked his whole life (mostly) in retail. It’s hard work and many customers are not nice people. But then again, many of the workers aren’t nice either, so I guess it sorted itself out.

It all started because the shops decided to save a few bucks and get rid of their own workers and now, they are SHOCKED that the shoppers have gone elsewhere.

Parked cars

Our little local grocery store is always busy. The parking lot is constantly full and the checkout lanes are filled with people chatting with each other while waiting to pay. No one gets crazy when a line is slow because a new employee is learning the ropes.

They are nice, we are nice. Even though “Stop n’ Shop” offers delivery, we go to Hannaford because they offer human beings.

RDP THURSDAY – HERD
FOWC with Fandango — Fence

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

51 thoughts on “SEARS GOES DOWN IN FLAMES – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. So that’s why “Kent’s” (local mom n pop grocery store) is so very popular! Took a while for that particular penny to drop – in fact it took your post to make it clear to me. I’ve been in Kent’s and I’ve been in my own personal favorite grocery – Kent’s competition – a biggish (our version is small) conglomerate chain popular in the western United States (and no it isn’t Wal*Mart. I NEVER shop at Wal*Mart if I can help it. They sort of disgust me) Kent’s is more customer friendly overall, but the quality of their goods isn’t great. Maybe I’m just too picky or too ‘citified’ having been in Salt Lake where there were tons of options for shopping for anything you wanted.

    The drawback in the Amazon wave is, in my opinion, that it isn’t “personal’ and you can’t actually see or touch or try on anything you’re buying, you have to hope to heaven that the goods are as advertised. I’ve been burned a few times buying on-line. *sigh* But I suppose it’s the wave of the future and who am I to stand in progress’ way? Adieu Sears. You lost me as a customer when you refused to honor the warrant I bought along with my very expensive Dyson vacuum cleaner. I’ve never been back. Now I’ll never get a chance. Wow.

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    1. Sears stopped caring about customers 30 years ago. What did they THINK was going to happen? Amazon didn’t just “happen.” Stores had been treating use worse and worse for decades, so along came Amazon and suddenly, you could take your time, read the review, return it if it didn’t work, and everyone was pleasant and friendly. Unlike local shops where there was never anyone to talk to — and no one was available to give you a hand.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you on the customer service front… and the convenience of being able to find just about anything and return it with ease if need be. The big stores no longer seem to offer anything like service.

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    1. AND they stopped offering service long before Amazon showed up. They thought they “owned” our business, so they’d save a few bucks and not hire anyone, to work there — customers be damned. Did they think no one would find another way? Were they really that dense?

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  3. I hadn’t heard the news about Sears until your piece cam through my inbox. We have Sears maintenance contracts on all our appliances. Sears has been wonderfully responsive to any issues we’ve had — like replacing a refrigerator, and coming by numerous times after we’d called about a dishwasher problem. I wonder what happens with those contracts. Will we be stuck with dishpan hands?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to laugh at the dish pan hands, a problem for me this particular week. I ran out of dishwasher soap and find my so called allergy free soap for washing by hand is not. It’s a pita to use gloves, if I had any. I also wonder about the warranties.

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    2. They may be good about the contracts where you are, but they are terrible around here. My last experience with them was buying a dishwasher from them. The electrician blew HIMSELF across the room. Apparently, he didn’t know you can’t grab a live wire without consequences. Then he gave me his card! Like I might want to call him back.

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    3. That’s a really good question. I’ve been stuck with more than a few worthless warranties over the years. Sometimes they pass them along to another company, but usually, you’re just out of luck.

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  4. Let me say I still have fond memories of the Sears toy catalog and the weeks of circling items I could only dream about. Then there are the shop tools my husband has to this day that we continue to use. The rest of it, Sears/JCP/Macys vs Amazon is kind of like talking politics these days – I’m going to avoid it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to love shopping. But that was when they had actual people who would help you and one person manned ONE counter, not three. They started down the road of no return long before Amazon. You might say that Amazon is the result rather than the cause. I remember walking about a Lord & Taylor store … unable to find someone to help me buy a fancy dress for a wedding. That’s when I knew we were doomed. There will always be some shops. There are things you simply need to try on. You don’t buy wedding dresses online. Or tuxedos. Or, for that matter, really expensive clothing. But around here, there hasn’t been anywhere to buy it anyway. It’s not that the stores closed. Around here, they never opened in the first place. Rural areas don’t have nice shops. I rather miss them, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yup. I’ve been in some Hannafords and they are indeed pleasant stores. My early experience with Sears is the same as yours, its where you went for big stuff, appliances, tires, tools. And the christmas catalog as a kid.

    We have a local independent hardware store that has great service and knowledgeable staff. I will admit that I only go there sometimes, as its a drive into Boulder, and the Lowes is a mile from my house. And yet, if I need good info, McGuckin’s is it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have one local hardware and lumber yard. Actually, it is a very small chain — there are three of them and one is in Uxbridge. They cost more, but they know their stuff AND they are right next door to (you guessed it) Hannaford.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel the same. Our small mall has a few dept stores but finding help is always a problem. Think I’d rather have that than the over zealous stuck like glue type.

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    1. There’s a sensible balance, but most of the stores are big empty warehouses full of stuff and all of it requires someone to talk to. You could spend days in Home Depot and never meet an employee who can explain which drill is good for what kind of wall.

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        1. I have no idea. I’m not sure they will even tell you how it’s going to work. Odds are, it won’t work. I know my very expensive bed still works but the lifetime guarantee that came with it? Company is long out of business, so service? Really?

          Liked by 1 person

  7. The store we use most now is Target. I park in front of the store and ho in and shop, no walking through the malls to get to the store.
    Macy’s is still good. They are in a mall but have coveted parking next to the store. Service is still good.

    I think the self service stores hurt the department stores before Amazon came along. And Wal-mart was the biggest self service store. Drparustires gad to drop sales staff to cut expenses do Gary could compete on price. But it was a losing battle,

    Macy’s and Oenny’s will probably be the next to go.

    Chalk it all up to the progress of man.

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    1. But they helped make it possible. By greatly limiting service, they eventually made us look for somewhere else to go. It’s not just Walmart. It’s that the stores stopped thinking customers mattered. And we really DO matter. In fact, we are the ONLY thing that matters.

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  8. I agree — though all my appliances came from Sears (ordered online and installed). Amazon didn’t kill anything. If local stores were functioning properly, no one would go to Amazon. My local grocery is a great place with a lot of character, though I don’t shop there often. I go to Alamosa because there is my favorite supermarket in the world that I missed in CA. 🙂 It’s one of the perks of moving back here.

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    1. If the local “brick and mason” stores hadn’t decided that they didn’t need human beings to take care of human customers, Amazon would have had customers, but not as many. They did it to themselves and they did it before Amazon even reared its head. Grocery stores are always somehow the REAL town hall.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sorry about Sears. We have one in Alamosa that does good business. It’s a “Hometown” Sears which means it’s a franchise. Our Penny’s went out of business, too. I think Walmart has had a LOT to do with this.

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  9. My only support for Sears was the Sears Optical department, which I frequented once a year to have my eyes checked or buy glasses. The writing must have been on the wall because last year they just closed up with no forwarding store location. In a way, I contributed to the shutdown. But really who wants to pay for jeans in the paint department because no one is available to check you out? The lack of salespeople and the lack of customers must have encouraged shoplifting in an empty department to some degree. Yes, Sears cut their own throats.

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  10. I was surprised to hear that Sears is even still in business. The old 20th century model of a department store was made obsolete by chains like Kmart, Target and of course my employer in the 60’s and 70’s. Amazon may have been the finishing blow, but the Sears and Penneys and such had to adapt to our business model to compete and they couldn’t without destroying the relationship they had with their loyal customers. Mecca can get away with scant customer service (And is doing so at almost criminal levels the past decade) because we’re still the best overall value and the demographic who shops here will walk through hell and high water to save a couple dollars, customer service be damned. I’m not naive enough to believe that our business model won’t be the next one on retail life support… but I think that won’t come until much later in this century, and likely long after my working days are done (one way or another). Either way, from my point of view at least, I’m not too worried about the Amazon bogeyman. They’ve been around for two decades now, and still haven’t really made a dent in my employer’s business because I think they cater to two slightly different clienteles..

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    1. Amazon also caters to those of us who are older and for whom mall shopping is not a pleasant experience, no matter what the store. Not to mention the issue of delivery which for many of us, is a major thing. Yes, Walmart can get away without customer service because no one expected it … but I sure DID expect it at Lord & Taylor. You can’t have it both ways … treat customers like Walmart customers but charge them high prices. It’s a model that doesn’t work for anyone.

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  11. I believe you are right Marilyn. The department stores started to downsize and carry fewer products long before Amazon was on the scene. Big retailers here pointed the finger at online shopping and because of that we got locked out of Amazon US and now have to pay GST on goods under a thousand dollars which were previously exempt. This makes me mad as the things that I buy from overseas you can’t get here, they are either not sold in Australian stores, ridiculously expensive or they are on the secondary market like the old dolls and toys we buy. It’s put at least ten dollars on to every purchase I make.
    I used to love to shop in department stores but most have either closed down or downsized to the point where all you can buy is clothing and some homewares. Most of the time they don’t have anything I want. It’s worldwide I think. Naomi had always told me what a great time she had shopping in Singapore on trips ten years or more ago but this time we didn’t really see much we wanted to buy.
    I have noticed that many people have a poor opinion of WalMart. Were they always so unpopular? I ask because when I had to go on a training course back in the mid-nineties Walmart was being held up to us as an example of how things should be done. Maybe that’s the attitude that got things where they are today. It’s sad. I miss the good department stores.

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    1. They all decided that paying people to help customers was a waste of money. It’s just like when they quit having documentation for software and hardware. Why spend the extra few thousand dollars? Customers don’t matter, right?

      They like to blame Amazon for their own stupidity and bad management.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. We used to buy all our major appliances and tools from Sears but boy, did their customer service department go downhill fast. I don’t think they can blame Amazon.

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  13. I knew the death nell would ring for Sears years ago. Esp when they joined up with another ailing retailer. The good old days of the catalogs are looong gone and it’s sad. I have nostalgia over that part; but you’re right! They committed suicide. The other big chains will follow suit if they don’t change with the times. I love independent hardware stores, mom n pops, the customer service is key! The chains certainly don’t get that.

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    1. The stores didn’t get it either. When they started stripping the department stores of personnel, it wasn’t because they couldn’t afford the people. They just wanted to make more money. And Sears didn’t start to have problems until they stopped selling what they sold well — appliances and tools, not to mention quality installation and repair. They decided they weren’t making ENOUGH money, so they went into the crap clothing business. Not exactly a great choice. The malls got greedy, the shops got even greedier, customers got disgusted and here we are.

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