Sears, the iconic retailer that has been struggling with slipping sales and fading relevance, is tapping into nostalgia to woo back shoppers — with a modern twist.
For the first time in six years, shoppers can browse the Sears catalog known as the "Wish Book" to compile their holiday lists. The catalog, which debuted in 1933, has been updated to include a digital edition available on tablets, laptops and smartphones.
“We heard story after story about the Wish Book and about peoples’ memories,’’ said Kelly Cook, chief marketing officer for Sears and Kmart. Shoppers “wanted it back, but also wanted a feature that would allow their children to share lists as they’re constantly using their phones and tablets to browse the Web and engage with brands.’’
A digital connection was also critical to grab as many shoppers as possible.
"The holiday season is a hugely critical time for us as a retailer,'' she says. "The interactive digital 'Wish Book' provides shopping convenience this holiday season letting members shop wherever, whenever and however they choose.''
Still, many members of the store’s loyalty program will get the printed version sent to their homes, or be able to get the catalog at a nearby Sears store.
The book recalls the glory days of Sears when the catalogs were as much a part of American home life as visits from the Avon Lady and glass milk bottles left by the back door. Sears was a one-stop retailer where shoppers could go for items ranging from sofas to sewing machines.
The original holiday guide, dubbed the "Sears Christmas Book,'' launched during the Great Depression. It featured such gifts as the "Miss Pigtails'' doll, Lionel electric trains, a toy car that ran on a battery and even live, crooning canaries. Except for two years in the mid-90s, the catalog was released annually for nearly 80 more years.
Dolls and cars are still on display in this year's catalog along with a "Virtual Santa Kit,'' a toy tiger that reacts to sounds, and a combination air hockey/ping-pong table.
In recent years, the nation's one-time biggest retailer has struggled to make a profit as it competes with online giants like Amazon and big-box merchandisers like Walmart and Best Buy that offer similar merchandise, often a more appealing shopping experience and sometimes lower prices.
In March, the chain's parent company Sears Holdings said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had “substantial doubt’’ about its ability to stay in business if it couldn’t borrow more or glean extra cash from assets.
Last week, Sears told its stores that they would no longer sell the Whirlpool appliances that have filled sales floors for more than a century because the company couldn’t work out an acceptable price arrangement with the manufacturer.
Sears has said that it plans on shuttering more than 300 Sears or Kmart stores to pare costs. And earlier this year, when it kicked off a restructuring program to slash $1 billion in costs annually, Sears sold one of its most valuable brands, Craftsman, to Stanley Black & Decker.