Sears, Roebuck: The 19th Century's Amazon
Sears, Roebuck and competitor Montgomery Ward made nearly anything available to Americans anywhere, at low prices, express delivery and money-back guarantees. The order form in the front of a Sears catalog from 1912.
Sears, Roebuck put out its first catalog in the 1890's. You could buy a watch, jewelry and, later on, saddles, sewing machines, silk stockings, even live singing canaries. “The Sears catalog was a bit of a godsend to rural consumers,” says Art Carden, an economics professor at Samford University’s Brock School of Business.
Hello, consumer economy!
The Sears catalog gave people easy access, good quality, good prices, delivered to their doorstep. “The Sears catalog was even good for urban consumers because it meant they didn’t have to shop at the even pricier department stores,” says Carden.
“It is exactly the late 19th and 20th century predecessor to Amazon,” says Daniel Raff, a professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
So where did things go so wrong for Sears? When they are going so right for Amazon? “The large reasons have to do with the rise of internet commerce and the decline of the attractiveness of physical stores,” says Raff.
In 1925, Sears opened its first store. Today, Sears and its sister store Kmart, have twice the retail square footage of JC Penney.
But shoppers don’t want stores. More and more want to shop without leaving home. A model that Sears, at least in the old days, was really good at.