Fall of retail giant a sign of changing times for consumers and business.
Among a number of high-profile retail chains that closed in Canada in 2017, the one that made the biggest splash news-wise, and saddened so many, was Sears, a family staple and national institution for decades.
The closure of Sears Canada, along with the subsequent controversy surrounding its liquidation, was voted the 2017 Business News Story of the Year by The Canadian Press this week, receiving 47 percent of the votes placed by journalists.
A number of popular retailers closed locations in Canada in 2017, including Target and Zellers, as they struggled to compete with internet sales which have nearly doubled in the country in the past five years as part of what some analysts term the “retail apocalypse.”
But the demise of Sears drew particular attention as it was considered by many Canadians to be a national institution, particularly at Christmas when its famous festive catalogue was a staple of many families’ holiday seasons and the stores themselves considered one-stop-shops for all household needs.
Sears first moved into Canada in 1952 as a partnership with Simpson’s national mail-order business, and morphed into Simpsons-Sears.
“It is the end of an era because Sears was once one of the most important and largest retailers in Canada and in North America,” Brian Winder, co-founder of the Retail Advisors Network, told CBC in October when the story first broke.
Nevertheless, the unstoppable growth of online sales was arguably only the latest nail in the coffin of department stores in the Sears mold. Over the years, specialist retailers had long risen to cater to individual domestic appliance needs, pushing out the “one-stop” concept, while discount chains like Walmart had also eaten into the business by offering lower prices, according to former executive chairman of Sears Canada, Brandon Stranzl.
In the months prior to its closure, Sears had repeatedly tried to reinvent itself, adding grocery stores and trying various marketing and tech gimmicks, before the company filed for credit protection in June, and was finally liquidated in October.
“It’s just a sad story,” Jerry Hancock, a self-proclaimed historian of the Sears company in Canada, told CBC at the time, reflecting on generations of customers. “Sears was everything for us.”