Monday, May 12, 2014

A Correspondent Visits Sears and Radio Shack at the Mall of America $SHLD $RSH

The Mall of America is grim, except for a limited area on the ground-floor that has been brightened. The 3rd-floor is dark and dingy. Many of the business locations on the 3rd-floor are fast-food outlets offering food you wouldn't want to eat, prepared by people you wouldn't want to touch your food. The 3rd-floor also has T-shirt shops, jewelry stores offering necklaces for $2.79 and a Radio Shack store.

When we visited the Raadio Shack store on Monday afternoon, there was a homeless man and a kid looking at some antennas. There were no other customers in sight until two people entered the store as we were leaving it. About a third of the merchandise was cell phones. There was a display of Beat headphones at the front of the store. It looked like a jukebox with flashing lights. There were few radios and very few TVs. There were cables and connectors for linking various already-manufactured electronic objects. There were no raw materials for making anything.

We entered the mall's Sears store from the 3rd-floor level. There were narrow aisles clogged with display tables laden with clerance merchandise--dull, low-quality clothing. Regular display tables had aimless, messy piles of clothing. There were no customers in sight on the whole floor. There was one sales person. Otherwise, we were alone in this desolate space.

We next went to the 3rd-floor level of Nordstrom for comparison with Sears. Its aisles are wide and comfortable. The space is neat, clean and well-lighted. Clothing merchandise on Nordstrom's 3rd-floor level is stacked in squared-off piles on counters or neatly hung from racks.We saw half-a-dozen customers and several Nordstrom clerks.

Next, we went to the 2nd-floor level of Sears. It was grim. Listless, unappetizing piles of clothing lay jumbled together in messy piles on counters. We saw no customers. There was one clerk. There was a new sign of low service. It was a check-out station next to the main entrance to 2nd-floor Sears. There were no cashiers at the check-out stations. 2nd-floor Sears had one sad little sign of quality, an 800-square-foot area that sold Land's End-brand clothing for children and women (nothing for men, however). The Land's End clothing seemed lighter and brighter and of a bit higher quality than the rest. The stacks were neat and squared-off, too. Someone was trying.

Next, we went to 2nd-floor Nordstrom. It was a light and bright, neat and clean space. There were quite a few customers and quite a few clerks. Merchandise was well-chosen, in tune with the season  and well-cared-for. Somebody smart and skillful cared, all along the line.

Next, we went to 1st-floor Sears. It startled us, and not in a good way.

Right at the main 1st-floor entrance, where you would see a cosmetics department if you were in Macy's, was an appliance department: refrigerators, washing machines and kitchen ranges. Amazingly, there was a riding lawn mower and various other merchandise one might find in a hardware store--hand tools, for example.

So the Sears store at Mall of America is two floors of low-quality clothing, possibly from Bangladesh, and a ground floor combination hardware store and appliance store--and this is decades after the merchandise mix at covered malls has evolved away from hardware stores. The Mall of America Sears store shows no grasp of merchandising at any level. It's a chain on the way out.

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