Sears Is On the Brink of Bankruptcy: Can the Major Retail Outlet Be Saved?

Bankruptcies among large-scale retailers have been an unfortunate yet ongoing trend as consumer shopping habits evolve. In fact, there were a total of 8,980 Chapter 11 bankruptcies filed in the United States during 2013 alone. And in a recent turn of events, Sears’ former chairman and CEO Alan Lacy says the chain is unlikely to survive based on the bankruptcy histories of previous chains.

“Obviously, many people have said it, it’s doubtful and unlikely that a retailer that goes into a Chapter 11 process comes out of it and stays out of it,” Lacy told CNBC.

Sears was once considered the largest retailer in the country before becoming saddled with debt for years. And the e-commerce rise didn’t help matters much: U.S. e-commerce revenue is about $423.3 billion and is steadily climbing. As a result, more brick-and-mortar retailers are simply finding it too difficult to keep up with the online competition.

Sears officially filed for bankruptcy last October after closing multiple stores over several years. According to the U.S. Census, retail sales in 2017 hit a record of $5.7 trillion, yet this bankruptcy is considered the largest among dozens of major retails to file since the same year. This includes Toys R Us and The Bon-Ton.

Billionaire investor Eddie Lampert has put in upwards of $5 billion in an effort to resurrect the once-glorious clothing and home goods retailer from bankruptcy. Though he stepped down as CEO of Sears Holdings Corp., the company behind Sears and Kmart brands, he remains chairman.

Earlier this year, Lambert and his hedge fund were awarded a $5.2 billion bid to purchase the brand from bankruptcy. But creditors without security are continuing to object to the deal while placing blame on Lampert as well as the fund and others for “misconduct.” They feel these factors may have played a major role in the retailer’s downfall.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge is scheduled to discuss ESL Investments’ deal on February 1. If the deal is approved, it could salvage a total of 400 stores as well as 45,000 jobs.

Lacy expressed criticism at the Sears buyback strategy prior to and during the 2008 financial crisis. Between 2005 and 2011, Sears spent around $6 billion to repurchase shares. Lacy feels as though this money should have been invested back into the business as a whole.

The global clothing and textile industry is currently worth an estimated $2.560 trillion, and with the rise of e-commerce sales around the world, brick-and-mortar retailers will have to continue to adapt their business strategies to align more accurately with the needs of the modern consumer. Lacy feels that this lies heavily in re-evaluating online presence, which the company is hesitant to get involved in since it hasn’t made a profit since 2010.

There are plenty of professionals, however, who do feel as though the 125-year-old company has the sales savvy needed to bounce back and return to even a part of its former glory. Until then, it has quite a long way to go until it catches up with the competition.

“It’s possible, in my view, that Sears winds up with a going concern that’s basically based online because more stores could close post-bankruptcy,” Lacy said. “Online seems to be one area that Eddie has paid a lot of attention to, invested behind … and stores that are left probably do have some retail value.”