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Kelley Main, Associate Professor of Marketing and Head of the Department of Marketing at the Asper School of Business

In the News: Asper prof talks Sears closures

June 23, 2017 — 

Sears Canada announced recently it will close 59 stores and cut 2,900 jobs across Canada. One of the stores to close will be Winnipeg’s outlet store at Garden City Shopping Centre.

In an interview with Hal Anderson on CJOB Radio, Kelley Main, associate professor of marketing and head of the Marketing Department at the Asper School of Business, says it’s hard to say if there’s a future ahead for Sears, but the company may do well to leverage the value of Sears’ long history as part of Canada’s consumer culture and heritage.

On the other hand, she says, “It’s hard to be all things to all people,” which is what Sears tried to be.

The company would have to struggle to have a place in today’s retail landscape, she adds.

“Expectations have changed on the part of consumers, so they’ve gotten used to having all information available to them all the time. Which means they don’t have to wait until the physical doors open in the morning” to compare product prices and features, for instance. “It’s hard [for a large company like Sears] to catch up with those changes.”

Main would advise a company like Sears to “build on its strengths” — such as low prices or personalized service — and capitalize on those.

In an interview with CBC News, Main said any tenant moving into the space vacated by Sears will need to avoid making the same mistakes:

“We see stores that have a similar model that have had similar difficulties,” Main said. “We’ve had Target come and go and Zellers come and go and Kmart come and go.”

Sears, like many other department stores, has a long history and good brand recognition. But with that past also comes baggage, and large brick-and-mortar stores may not be the most nimble in adapting to change, Main said.

“Very large stores [have] very large real estate footprints that make it hard to adapt. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how to change course when you’ve been on the same course for so long,” she said. “Sometimes it’s easier to start all over.”

Customers are now more savvy when it comes to comparison shopping and need something special, like rock-bottom prices or niche goods on offer, to draw them into a retail store.

“Consumers are becoming more demanding and when they find retailers that can respond to those demands they’re going to patronize those, and those are the ones that are going to succeed,” Main said.

Main wonders what businesses will be interested in a large footprint at Garden City left by Sears, given that Canadian Tire, Walmart and Home Depot already have a presence in the area.

“It’s difficult to know who might be able to fill that spot given the other larger retailers are close by,” she said.

Whatever happens, Main is hesitant to predict the future.

“I think this environment is in a bit of a state of change right now because there’s lots of new opportunities that are coming,” she said, such as transformations in online shopping and home delivery.

“It seems that it can be difficult to keep up with all of those changes.”


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