As Sears Holdings lurches toward liquidation, which could begin next week if former CEO Eddie Lampert does not increase his bid to buy the company, there is a precedent that Sears.com could live on. Other retailers that have closed all or most of their stores have kept an online presence. And its two large branded websites, Sears.com and Kmart.com, have tens of millions of visitors.
Each of these websites has a great deal of brand awareness because of decades of operation and what were once large store footprints. Operating a website or two costs much less than having physical locations. Inventories can be kept low as some items are only bought and shipped once they are ordered.
Among retailers that have gone under and still have websites are Radio Shack, Toys “R” Us and Brookstone. The sites give the financial organizations that owned the debt of these companies and were left with nothing but the modest yields of liquidation with an ongoing stream of revenue, even if it is modest.
Sears.com and Kmart.com are fully functioning websites with large numbers of products. For the online consumer, the fate of the Sears Holdings portfolio may not matter. Sears still offers its own credit card. The site has sections for exercise equipment, home furnishings, jewelry, mattresses, electronics, auto supplies, shoes, tools and toys. The inventory the site offers is comparable to what more successful retailers keep at their sites.
Research firm SimilarWeb shows that Sears.com had 78 million total visits in the fourth quarter of last year. Kmart.com had 25 million. That likely is enough traffic altogether to drive a small but successful business.
Sears may be dead soon. Kmart likely will go with it. Each brand may continue to live online and produce a stream of revenue for new owners.