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The Incredible Shrinking Sears – The New York Times

For decades, as Americans shifted the ways they shopped, Sears deftly evolved. In fact, it was often at the forefront of changing demands as it moved from catalogs featuring pages of saddles and bridles, to showrooms full of glistening home appliances, to auto-repair shops outside the mall.

As Americans moved from rural communities to larger cities, many no longer needed to shop by thumbing through the catalog; they preferred to visit dazzling department stores. Sears began opening hundreds of stand-alone retail stores, some with soda fountains, dentist’s offices and pet shops alongside tombstones and farm tractors.

The set of “The Donna Reed Show” in the 1960s featured a Kenmore stove, dishwasher and washer and dryer, all must-have appliances in American homes. And as TV culture grew in the ’60s, Sears ramped up its advertising campaigns and signed licensing agreements with celebrities like the baseball player Ted Williams, the golfer Arnold Palmer and the model Cheryl Tiegs.

In the 1980s, as Americans’ fondness for credit grew, Sears introduced its wildly popular Discover card, which was the first to offer cash rewards to customers based on the volume of their purchases. Within four years, 20 million people had the card. Within a decade, credit operations accounted for a big chunk of Sears’s revenues.

When malls became the meeting place of American youth, Sears moved with them. Its stores anchored shopping centers all over the country.

Photo

Crowds at the opening of a Sears store on State Street in Chicago in 1932. Sears was once the store of choice for most Americans, with its famed catalog and large retail presence.

Credit
Sears, Roebuck and Co.

By the 1990s, however, Sears’s dominance of the retail landscape had ended. It was surpassed by the discount shopping retailers Walmart and Kmart, the so-called…

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