Even with 2,500 Sears and Kmart outlets and $40 billion in annual sales, Sears Holdings' revenue has plunged by 13.5% in the past four years. In early January, Sears gave analysts the heads-up that it was expecting a $1.4 billion loss for 2013. For the full year, Sears Holdings is projecting an adjusted loss of between $308 million and $408 million, which is an improvement in Sears Fantasyland compared with earnings of $557 million last year.
Its same-store sales have fallen for seven straight years, along with its American Customer Satisfaction Index score. While the S&P 500 has risen by roughly 114% since 2009 and Wal-Mart's share price has jumped by 50% in that span, Sears' shares have sunk 28% -- including a 70.5% drop from its lofty $122-a-share high in 2010. Chairman and Chief Executive Eddie Lampert closed a third of the chain's locations in the past four years and sold assets including Orchard Supply Hardware Stores, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores, Land's End and portions of Sears Canada. Its flagship Craftsman tools are now sold at Costco and Ace Hardware stores.
The S&P 500 booted it from the benchmark index, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average showed its ticker the door back in 1999. Meanwhile, Lampert has treated Sears' remaining flagship stores in downtown locations, stand-alone lots and old malls like real estate holdings. Sears even gleefully lists its available square footage on the company's "realty" site, and it's listening to offers to subdivide its remaining stores.
Those holdout stores look as if they've been encased in amber since the 1990s, as Sears and Kmart spend a scant $1 to $2 per square foot updating facilities, according to International Strategy & Investment Group. By comparison, competitors such as Target and Wal-Mart spend up to $8 per square foot painting, updating registers and replacing tiles.
Why should a company that spends so little on the basics spend $4 million on a 30-second Super Bowl commercial? To defend its thesis. Sears isn't afraid of spending on commercials and did so this holiday season to show that there's stuff worth buying inside that store everyone uses for easy mall parking. Granted, neither Sears numbers nor mall numbers support Sears' picture of untapped consumer potential, but shouldn't the company at least make an effort to tell its side of the story? If photos of disheveled clothes, empty rack and broken windows aren't doing Sears justice, shouldn't Sears bear the burden of proof and at least attempt to show a huge audience it's still alive and well? Shouldn't $4 million for 30 seconds now be considered a down payment on hours of shopping later?
It should, but that's not the game Sears is playing. It hasn't been for some time.