South elevation highlighting the relationship between the original store (stone) and the addition (metal siding)
Jan.9.2018

‘Too little, too late’: Sears a cautionary tale for other retailers

The closure of Sears stores in Ottawa and across the country on Monday is a reminder that the company didn’t adapt at a quick enough pace to the shifting retail landscape, according to one retail analyst.

Barry Nabatian said Sears had a business model that was outdated and while they made changes toward the end to reach younger customers, it was “too little, too late.”

“It was really the kind of department store your parents would shop at, not young people,” he said, adding that people are looking for a different experience now, at “stores that are more dynamic, more attractive and have more of an ‘oomph’ to them.”

Sears locations at Carlingwood, St. Laurent and Pinecrest were open for the last time Monday, officially leaving 323 employees without jobs. Liquidation sales started at the end of October last year after the company received court approval.

Across Canada, 130 outlets closed and left approximately 12,000 employees out of work. The company had been in court-approved creditor protection since June 2017.

A new era for retail

With the closing of Sears stores, many malls have been left without the traditional department store to serve as an anchor tenant.

Though other retailers might step into the cavernous spaces left behind, new tenants will likely require malls to subdivide those spaces at an expense, Nabatian said.

Despite the challenges, Ottawa’s retail market is still healthy, he said — thanks in part to the relatively high average income of the population.

In 2015, the median income for a family living in Ottawa was $104,070, the second highest for a Canadian city after Calgary, according to Statistics Canada.

While discount stores and luxury retailers are both doing well, Nabatian said it’s the stores in the middle that are struggling most.

“It’s the mid-quality, traditional retailers that are not doing well,” he said, a category Sears found itself in last year.

With the popularity of online shopping and the fickle tastes of consumers, Nabatian said brick-and-mortar retailers need to be asking themselves some tough questions.
“What kind of incentives can they offer in order to make millennials and high-income people change their shopping patterns?” he said.

“They’re old, they’re dated … they have to reinvent themselves.”

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