Sears tries to avoid Toys R Us' fate with holiday push

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Sears tries to convince shoppers it's open.
Sears tries to convince shoppers it's open. Credit: Sears

Weeks after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Sears is hoping to convince consumers that it's still open for business this holiday season. The Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company, which also owns the Kmart brand, is running emotion-based messaging and hoping to capitalize on feelings of nostalgia for the once-mighty retailer.

"We're open to serve you online and in stores, both at Kmart and at Sears," says Peter Boutros, chief brand officer for Sears and Kmart and president of the Kenmore, Craftsman and Diehard brands, and a three-year veteran of the company. He adds that, "There is a significant switch in what we're doing this year by tapping into consumer sentiment versus previous years."

This week, Sears is promoting a "Sleighing the Holidays" internal rallying cry among employees; publicly it's pushing messaging around "Holly Jolly" and "Dashing through the Deals." The company is promoting itself on social media and in print with a "Thanks for the Love" message.

But to truly slay this season, Sears is going to have to avoid the same fate as another once-beloved retailer which also entered Chapter 11 ahead of the holiday season. After Toys R Us entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a year ago this fall, the brand invested in a marketing push during the holidays, but it suffered inventory issues in November and December, alarming consumers planning their gifting wish lists. Three months later, in March of 2018, Toys R Us announced plans to liquidate. Already, reports have circulated of vendor pullback for Sears from merchants who lost dollars from the demise of Toys R Us. Boutros says that suppliers have committed, however.

"I'm pleased to say our largest and most important vendors have committed and are very supportive to Sears' and Kmart's long-term success," Boutros says. He noted key categories like home appliances, tools and apparel. Though he did not initially specify toys as a focus, he did say the Kmart brand is stocked on brands like LOL Surprise and Hot Wheels when asked about the category.

The Sears holiday push was all done internally. Boutros declined to specify the size of Sears' in-house team, citing a competitive advantage. Earlier this year, the company significantly thinned its marketing ranks, eliminating the roles of senior executives such as chief marketing officer and chief content officer.

Boutros would not say how this year's holiday marketing budget compares to previous efforts. The retailer has been decreasing its investment in recent years. Last year, Sears spent $4.9 million on measured media in the U.S. in November and December, a fraction of the $56.6 million the retailer spent during that time in 2016, according to Kantar Media.

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