What Killed Sears?


Sears was the Amazon of its heyday, but now it's a zombie. Only 118 stores remain open across the country. It's easy forget that Sears was once young and bold. Starting at the end of the 1800s, the company built an empire on the back of a then-revolutionary home catalog that was hundreds of pages thick. It was so influential that it was nicknamed the "Consumer Bible.” Sears funneled its profits into a diverse portfolio of business endeavors, and by the 1980s Sears ruled over its kingdom from the world's tallest skyscraper in the heart of Chicago. It even partnered with IBM and CBS to launch an Internet-like computer portal in 1984 called Prodigy. Alas, Sears didn't go on to invent the commercial Internet. Prodigy was sold in 1996 for a fifth of the collective $1 billion Sears and IBM had sunk into it. By that time, Sears had been slipping for years as Walmart ushered in the big-box era with a focus on low prices. The catalog had ended in 1993, and a sale to K-Mart in 2004 didn't stop the bleeding as expected. Sears is now a zombie, losing 85% of its stock value in the last half-decade and shuttering nearly a third of its stores. It has now racked up so much debt that its credit score is deep in junk territory. Now, people are just waiting for the company to finally keel over.