The Fall of Sears from within: How Customer Sentiments Refuted Retail Capital and Authority

Michael D. Harris, Tennessee Tech University
Ismet Anitsal, Tennessee Tech University
M. Mereal Anitsal, Tennessee Tech University

Michael D. Harris is an MBA student at Tennessee Tech University. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Biology and a concentration in health sciences from Tennessee Tech University. His research interests revolve around economics and supply-chain management.

Dr. Ismet Anitsal (Ph.D., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville) is Faye Halfacre Moore Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Marketing at Tennessee Tech University. His research interests emphasize customer productivity, customer value and service quality in services marketing and retailing as well as entrepreneurship, business ethics and online education. He is retailing section editor for Journal of Applied Marketing Theory. He also serves on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals.

Dr. M. Meral Anitsal is a Professor of Marketing in College of Business at Tennessee Tech University. She holds a Ph.D. in Marketing from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research interests include services marketing, consumer behavior, new product development, business ethics and online education. She serves on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals.


This research aims to understand the relationship between Sears Holdings Corporation and its customers, while exploiting feedback from customers to identify reasons for Sears’ decline. The problem statement is dependent on identifying aspects that affect consumer behavior most and linking a connection to the increased number of dissatisfied Sears’ customers. In order to analyze this phenomenon, customer attitudes were compiled over the key four years of Sears history using a customer sentiment analysis. This empirical method of research was chosen because of the large impact that consumer sentiments have on spending, allowing the development of both internal and external views of Sears to fully access the company’s well-being. Store image, store layout, customer disloyalty, and employee mindset were all examined in the production of this study. The research concludes that many of Sears’ customer issues arose from failure to act internally, resulting in further decline of the company, along with miscommunication and the inability to be competitive. Primary issues found in each of the four years studied were identified, with problems in the service and delivery department seen most frequently. Issues involving employee attitudes towards customers were also noted, along with Sears’ failure to work with customers through issues involving products purchased at Sears. This study reiterates the prominence of a robust relationship between a company and its customers. The plunge in Sears’ profits over the past decade have been driven in part by customer disloyalty, exposing the power that a customer holds to Sears Holdings Corporation. Many of the emerging problems from a consumer standpoint arose from the difference between the service expected by the customer and the service that was provided, often with gaps and shortcomings. The analysis of sentiments also reveal issues about reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles that were the five dimensions of SERVQUAL measurement. Further research on sentiment contents was suggested.