Sears Holdings Corp.’s e-commerce sales have been declining since 2014, while the rest of the U.S. e-commerce industry has grown an average 14.8% each year since then. It comes as no surprise then that the once-iconic retail chain filed for bankruptcy protection today amid struggles to pay off its debts.
The 125-year-old retailer filed for Chapter 11 early Monday, saddled with billions of dollars of debt racked up as it struggled to adjust to the rapid shift toward online shopping. Eddie Lampert, the hedge fund manager who propped up the retailer for years with lifelines and financial engineering, is stepping down immediately from his role as CEO. At the same time, Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc. is negotiating a financing deal while also discussing buying “a large portion of the company’s store base,” Sears said in a statement.
As with other some other large U.S. retail chains, Sears has fallen victim to declining store traffic, resulting in store closures and declining total sales. But the pitfall for Sears has been its inability to execute its e-commerce operations properly to retain its shoppers that are increasingly moving to retailers with a seamless online shopping or omnichannel experience, like with Amazon.com Inc. or Walmart Inc.
A historical look at Sears’ online sales shows its e-commerce growth stalled in 2013 and began declining shortly after. Sears’ web sales hit a high of $4.2 billion in 2013 and declined 33% to $2.8 billion in 2017—just slightly greater than its e-commerce sales nearly a decade ago in 2009.
Compounding Sears’ issues is that the rest of the U.S. e-commerce industry, including its top retail competitors, have found ways to grow online. In the same period from 2013 to 2017 in which Sears’ online sales declined more than 30%, the overall U.S. e-commerce market more than doubled and grew 74%. To further illustrate how the retail chain’s competitors outpaced it, Sears’ ranking in the Internet Retailer Top 500 was No. 7 in 2009 and has dropped to No. 24 in the most recent edition…
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