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What Consumers are Saying About Sears’ Downfall

In the wake of Sears filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the announced closing of 142 stores across the United States, consumers have a lot to say about the fall of one of America’s first retail giants.

It’s hard to note the settling of the West at the turn of the 19th century without mentioning the impact of the Sears catalog. Americans, especially those in rural areas, could purchase items through the mail instead of waiting for the expensive stock at the local general store to be replaced.

Although few consumers alive today remember the early days of Sears, Roebuck and Company, many still remember the decades-long heyday of the retailer that was once the largest in the country.

“As a baby boomer growing up in a small town in the 70s, Sears was where we went to pick up almost all our clothes,” said Mike Raines, Sears shopper and owner of an insurance agency in Cumming, Georgia. “The Sears catalog was a must have and going through looking at the Christmas toys was almost a Christmas tradition. We only had a retail store where you could order and go pick up the things you ordered from the catalog. It was also the place where we went to sit on Santa’s lap. I can still remember my mom on the phone calling out the order numbers and hopping in the car a week or so later to go pick up what she ordered.”

Meanwhile, some of the most high-profile Sears nostalgia has come from the commander-in-chief. President Trump offered his take on Sears’ downfall last week while speaking with reporters on the White House lawn.

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“It’s a shame. Sears Roebuck, when I was growing up, was a big deal and it’s very sad what happened. Very, very sad. When you look at that whole filing that they did last night—to me it’s very sad. To somebody that is of my generation, Sears Roebuck was a big deal, so it’s very sad,” he said.

Emotions aside, Sears’ downfall has been long in the making and few should have been surprised by the chain’s present fate.

Rachel Shoemaker, a retired firefighter and music teacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma, doesn’t share the same nostalgia about the Sears bankruptcy. “I don’t understand the shock of this to people and their ‘sadness.’ Think about this, when was the last time you ordered from Sears? When was the last time you actually went into a Sears store and shopped? And, if you have shopped at Sears…how often? Times have changed. Sears is not the only mail-order warehouse turned local retail store to go under, and won’t be the last.”

Occasionally, responses even bordered on annoyance over the retailer’s inability to shift with the changing times and offer a better in-store or online experience.

“Sears has been an awful company for a long time,” shared David Reischer, co-founder of a marketing platform for legal services in New York. “My local Sears in Flushing, New York, has had horrendous customer service and I have spent countless hours fighting with management to honor warranties on their products. It is no surprise that the company is finally going out of business. A bankruptcy for Sears was always inevitable. The only surprise is that it did not happen sooner. I do not believe that Sears is indicative of the health of the broader economy. Sears has simply failed to innovate and the consequences were inevitable.”

It didn’t take long for comparisons to Amazon to arise, either. Joe Newell suggests it wasn’t so long ago that Sears and other retailers simply could have purchased Amazon for a fraction of its current value (that is, if Jeff Bezos was intent on selling).

“I’d argue they were the original model for Amazon with their mail order business,” Newell said. “My guess is that you wouldn’t have to go too far back in time when they could have acquired Amazon for cash. Now they are in the pile with Kodak, Blockbuster and AOL.”

Some, like James F. Bell, founder of an investment advisory firm in Oakland, Calif., have expressed relief the Sears saga seems to be winding down after watching the legacy of the store be tarnished over the years.

“My wife and I have been married 34 years, and for the first 20 years of our marriage we bought all of our appliances at Sears—washers, dryers, refrigerators and clothing. About 14 years ago, I began to feel that the stores were becoming dated—they felt old-fashioned and not well-managed so we gradually shifted to specialty appliance stores,” Bell said. “The great thing about American business is that it is structured to let unworthy companies fail. Sears’ bankruptcy is a classic teaching moment. Business owners and managers cannot afford to let things slide. I prefer that Sears disappear, as it has been painful to watch their decline. Otherwise, it is like a famous professional athlete who plays one or two seasons too many and the final exit is a let-down.”

While some Sears stores will remain in operation for now, their success is far from guaranteed.

“I am happy to live in the U.S., where there is a free market competition and the opportunity to shop for the best prices and quality,” said Stacy Caprio, an online marketing professional in Boston, Mass. “Personally, I have never shopped at Sears much because I have not found it to be price-competitive, and it declaring bankruptcy will not affect my life much either way. Sears also plans to continue operating in conjunction with closing a few stores and trying to move forward positively, so it’s not as though it is dropping off the face of the earth.”

Mary Brady, a working mother of three from Alexandria, Va., plans to keep shopping at her local Sears location for the foreseeable future.

“First thing I did when they announced they were closing stores was check if ours was on the list,” Brady said. “It’s not! I am so happy. I don’t go often, but several times a year I do. And aside from Target, which is a weekly stop and shop for better or worse, I probably shop at Sears the most. I choose them because of the quality and the price.”

For most consumers, though, Sears’ bankruptcy may have little impact on their lives.

As Tulsa’s Rachel Shoemaker put it: “Why run to the mall to shop at J.C. Penney’s or Dillard’s when you can shop online at JCP or Dillard’s in your jammies while drinking coffee in the comfort of your own home while watching TV? No traffic either! Or, in a hurry? Amazon Prime will get it to you in two days, no traffic, no having to get dressed and you may even save money! I buy my dog food on Amazon Prime, two bucks cheaper than Wal-Mart and it comes to my doorstep in two days.”

“We will survive this,” she added.

For more Sears coverage, see our infographic of the collapse along with its impact on competing retailers and the mall owners who will be seeking to fill the spaces that Sears will leave behind. Plus, find out what’s expected to come of its supply chain.