Bad Holiday Sales Leads to Sears, Kmart Store Closings

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Sears bad salesNEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Sears Holdings on Tuesday reported a sharp drop in holiday sales compared to a year ago, and said the results will force it to close 100 to 120 Sears and Kmart stores.

The company said the stores to be closed have yet to be identified.

Sears Holdings said sales at stores open at least a year, a closely watched retail measure known as same-store sales, tumbled 5.2% in the eight weeks ended on Christmas Day. That came from a 4.4% drop in sales at Kmart stores and a 6% slide in sales at domestic Sears stores.

"Given our performance and the difficult economic environment, especially for big-ticket items, we intend to implement a series of actions to reduce on-going expenses," said Lou D'Ambrosio, CEO of the company.

Kmart bad sales store closingsShares of Sears Holdings (SHLD, Fortune 500) were unchanged in pre-market trading following the announcement. Shares are down 38% year-to-date. The company is the nation's No. 4 broadline retailer with more than 4,000 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada.

The Sears and Kmart sales results were in contrast to the broader industry. The National Retail Federation forecast before the start of the year that holiday sales would be up 2.3% this year, a target that was helped by record Black Friday sales following Thanksgiving. Final sales figures are not yet available.

But Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, said thar while he thinks the final holiday sales gain will be a bit better -- up 2.5% to 2.6% -- that will represent flat to slightly lower sales when adjusted for inflation, given the increase of prices in items such as clothing this past year.

He said the continued weakness in the economy, which has depressed wages, coupled with the increased competition from online competitors, has made it difficult for brick-and-mortar retailers such as Sears and Kmart.

"There's been a significant shift online because of the sales tax savings," he said. "Consumers see it as instant discount and most online retailers are delivering for free. That puts Sears and other land-based retailers at a significant disadvantage for the foreseeable future."

He said that he believes most of the company's closings will be Kmart stores outside of its home base in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. He said Kmart has been caught in the crossfire of a price war between stronger discount retailers Target (TGT, Fortune 500) and Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500).

Flickinger said that Sears has made some progress in fixing past problems in recent years. He said its Lands End store-within-a-store concept is working well and its customer satisfaction with Sears now rivals top retailers such as Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) and Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500).

But even with the improvement, he said some Sears stores could close because of problems in some of the malls they anchor.

"Shopping malls across America have record vacancy rates of 11%," he said. "Shopping mall owners have not done a good job keeping malls up to date and getting the tenants needed to support anchor tenants."

Sears Holdings signaled that additional store closings may lay ahead for poor performing stores.
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