Voice of Customer programs could have saved these 5 retailers

Voice of Customer programs could have saved these 5 retailers

After 130 years of existence, Sears found itself under the US creditor protection act on October 14. What lesson should be learned from this major event? Never stop listening to your customers and implementing Voice of Customer (VoC) programs.


Some stock market analysts consider Sears’ bankruptcy as the culmination of a 50-year decline. Over the years, the former giant of the American economy had to drop its iconic Canadian subsidiary, as well as its famous brands like Craftsman (tools guaranteed for life), Diehard (batteries) and Kenmore (appliances), as well as its tower in Chicago, which was at one time the tallest in the world. Sears was dropped from the Dow Jones index, was reduced to a penny stock and forced to close stores to survive. But it was all in vain.



When Sears launched its catalogue in 1888, most people made their own clothing and furniture. Sears introduced mass consumption by selling the first manufactured products. Washing machines and dishwashers completely changed domestic life. Sears helped create vast suburbs in post-war America by contributing to the success of the shopping mall concept. Sears was the largest employer in the United States for a long time. Not so long ago, Sears was like Wal-Mart and Amazon combined.


But Sears completely missed the shift to the internet, neglected to invest in its brand as did its rival Macy’s, and opted for failed mergers with Kmart and Lands’ End, which was sold at a loss in 2014, and now experiencing success. Over 10 years, customers began deserting their gigantic stores in droves. Some stores had to hang curtains to hide aisles devoid of merchandise.


In fact, Sears executives never recognized the threat from the web nor the rise of big-name box stores over general stores with out-dated decor, wrote the Globe & Mail.


Fortune magazine cited three key factors that accelerated Sears’ decline: the denial of no longer being the leader, the “insularity syndrome”, in which the big bosses are confined in an ivory tower and isolated from bad news, and paralysis, while vast segments of the Sears empire were too busy protecting their assets, rather than organizing the company’s transformation.


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Founded in 1930, Eaton’s was the largest chain of stores in Canada. It controlled almost 60% of the large department store market in 1930. This was a share that tumbled to less than 11% by 1997. Eaton’s went bankrupt in 1999, after 130 years of existence. Before the turn of this century, everyone in Canada had purchased or knew someone who had purchased something at Eaton’s.


The key to its success was the iconic catalogue, launched in 1884, which was the most popular publication in the country. Anything could be ordered from the catalogue, including kit homes! The catalogue was dropped in 1976, causing the loss of 9000 jobs in the catalogue orders department.


Eaton’s was struck head-on by Walmart’s arrival in Canada, and by Zellers, a subsidiary of its sworn enemy, The Bay. The Eaton family made many bad decisions, disconnected from their customers and the new realities of the retail business. Its department stores suffered fierce competition from lavish stores such as The Bay, which provided a shopping experience light years ahead of the tacky décor of the large department stores from a previous century. Today, the Eaton’s name survives thanks to downtown shopping centres in Montreal and Toronto, backing the former flagship stores of the chain. Stores have survived there that precipitated Eaton’s decline!



Les Ailes de la Mode was the most famous retailer in Quebec for a long time…until the opening of the flagship store in downtown Montréal, housed in the old Simpson’s location. Moved at a cost of several million dollars, this location should have been the chain’s iconic location. Instead, the move precipitated its decline.


Why? The gigantic, 223,000 square foot store moved a few meters from vibrant rue Sainte-Catherine, the city’s primary shopping street. It was hidden behind several other stores and its customers lost the habit of going there to shop. The products were too expensive and poorly marketed. Retail giant Fairweather bought the mismanaged chain in 2004, and turned it into a low-end fashion retailer, with relative success.



In 2004, Blockbuster had revenues of $6 Billion USD. At the time Netflix was only a start-up without much prestige and was financially in hot water. Its leaders then offered to boost Blockbuster’s online offer…who refused, seeing no future in Netflix’s business model. Six years later, Netflix was worth $2.2 Billion USD and Blockbuster was bankrupt. Today, Netfilx’s market capitalization exceeds $145 Billion USD.


What happened? Blockbuster’s leaders never considered that streaming would result in the decline of DVDs and DVD rentals. Partnering with Netflix could have helped Blockbuster evolve, which would have likely assured its dominant position. The comfort of the status quo was too much.



At one time, Prisunic was the leading symbol of a popular store in France. Even singing star Renaud sang about it in his songs. Created in 1931, the company had 14,900 employees and operated 130 stores.


In 1997, the chain was acquired by its long-time competitor, Monoprix, and it disappeared. Prisunic was no longer in the game. In fact, the market share of this type of store was declining in the French retail sector. In 1970, it was 3.9%, compared to 4.2% for supermarkets. In 1995, the former occupied only 0.6% of the landscape, against 15.5% for the latter, according to LSA Commerce & Consommation. Customers were deserting for stores considered less cheesy and with better products. Monoprix understood the message and successfully carried out a repositioning effort to become more like a Parisian delicatessen. In 2013, the company was purchased by giant Casino.


Stéphane Desjardins


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