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Analyst’s Take: Sears in Review, Ads as Moral Guides

The lessons from the denouement of Sears’ 130-year-plus history as a traditional retailer are so numerous that I think we’re looking at a lengthy parlor game rather than a few lines in Analyst’s Take.
Offhand, here are several takeaways: retail (like some other things we’ve heard about recently) is even harder than it looks; breaking time-honored rules of how to run a retailer (e.g., the notion that it’s a good idea to spruce up stores regularly) will likely eventually school you in why those rules exist; a retailer’s unwinding can take a lot longer than one might expect; and–my favorite–retailers should be run by merchants.
From the archives: here’s a 2006 CNN article on Sears chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert, based on extensive interviews at the time.

Separately, here’s a very good long read in The Atlantic on the recent trends of advertising that has “grown a conscience.” The article is the opposite of glib, and provides a lot of food for thought. Here’s the pull quote:

“And so, this moment of anxiety and creativity and cultural fracturing and political engagement and political apathy has brought a slight plot twist to the long and winding story of American advertising: It has gone and grown a conscience. The commercials that are ascendant at the moment are selling not just what ads so long have—power, prestige, beauty, glamour, sex—but also, more broadly, a vision of how those things can serve society. They are substituting claims about what is desirable for claims about what is right. They are using their particular bully pulpit to moralize and sermonize and offer up, in the end, that most American of reassurances: that a better world can be achieved, because a better world can be bought.”

Faye Landes, co-founder and general partner of Back to the Future Ventures, advises emerging consumer and retail companies on strategy, branding and fundraising. She was one of Wall Street’s leading consumer and retail analysts for over 20 years and was widely recognized for her ability to anticipate sweeping trends, such as the widespread adoption of activewear. She has frequently appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and other media outlets and has presented at industry conferences all over the world. Read her “Analyst’s Take” column here weekly.