Sears' holiday shopping season is off to a rough start

Foot traffic down in Sears, Kmart stores

By CHRIS ISIDORE, CNN BUSINESS
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A sign on a closed Sears store in San Rafael, California.

(CNN) - Sears' make-or-break holiday shopping season didn't get off to a very good start.

Foot traffic was down at Sears and Kmart stores last weekend, according to research from inMarket, a location-based research firm that tracks customer traffic at brick-and-mortar stores using anonymous GPS data from the smart phones of 50 million shoppers. Sears and Kmart make up Sears Holding, which filed for bankruptcy on October 15.

The data shows foot traffic at Sears and Kmart was down 14% over the three days that followed Thanksgiving, compared to the same holiday weekend a year ago. Traffic was down 17% on Black Friday, 7% on Saturday and 16% on Sunday, according to the research.

The research factors in the hundreds of stores that Sears has closed since the end of 2017 and only looks at foot traffic at stores open during both shopping periods.

Sears has yet to disclose any sales or traffic data for the start of the season. A spokesperson for Sears Holdings declined to comment.

The company is hoping to use the bankruptcy process to shed costs and close additional stores and emerge as a profitable and competitive retailer. But its own bankruptcy court attorneys have said that a strong holiday shopping season is crucial for its ability to stay in business.

"The weeks that are coming up are really critical for the company's ability to reorganize," said Ray Schrock, its attorney, at a bankruptcy court hearing a week before Thanksgiving.

Schrock predicted the company would be able to post an increase in sales compared to sales at the same stores a year earlier. But Searos has a string of sales declines dating back to 2010.

Last year, as rival department store chains like Macy's (M) and Kohl's (KSS) and even troubled JCPenney (JCP) all reported improved holiday season sales, Sears and Kmart sales fell 16% on average.

Sears' sales figures could take an even bigger hit this year as nearly 200 of the 700 stores it still had at the start of the holiday season are in the process of holding closing sales. Those sales include deep discounts on the price of its remaining inventory, and no restocking of items once they sell out.

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