The online angst directed at Sears Canada seems to have only grown since the struggling retailer kicked off liquidation sales at 54 stores scheduled to close across the country.
Public chastising of the company’s decision to lay off nearly 2,900 employees without severance has now morphed into calls for an outright boycott of Sears products, with #BoycottSearsCanada and #BoycottSears gaining momentum on Twitter.
And virtually every new post the retailer publishes on its official Facebook page is attracting angry comments.
“As far as I’m concerned the whole company should go belly-up,” one user wrote reacting to a recent dishware ad.
But if Sears were to truly go bankrupt, many more Canadians would find themselves without a job or severance, noted Robert Levy, president of Toronto-based BrandSpark International.
“I actually think this boycott could backfire.”
Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner at Retail Advisors Network, agrees. “I’m afraid people aren’t thinking logically right now, they’re thinking emotionally.”
Sears said it employed 17,000 people when it announced it would let 2,900 of them go as part of its corporate restructuring efforts.
That means there are still over 14,000 Canadians whose jobs depend on the retailer’s survival.
The demise of Sears in Canada would probably leave a gaping hole in many smaller communities across the country, where the company is an important local employer, noted Levy.
And in many cases there likely wouldn’t be another retailer ready to scoop up those workers. A lot of stores that were left empty when Target pulled out of Canada in 2015 are still sitting vacant, he noted.
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Boycott unlikely to affect liquidation sales
Calls for a boycott “won’t impact people who are looking for a good deal,” said Levy.
What will likely make or break the success of the liquidation process is whether consumers believe they are truly getting steep discounts, he added.
When Target Canada went bust in 2015, many Canadians complained its liquidation discounts fell short of expectations.
Several shoppers told Global News at the time they discovered the price they had paid at the liquidation sale was actually higher than the price the retailer had been charging just a few weeks earlier.
Back then a spokesperson for Target declined to comment other than to say the company had handed over the liquidation process to third parties.
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But it could have a long-term negative impact on the company
Boycott hash tags rarely translate into a significant sales dip for companies, in part because those who vow to use their consumer power to punish a brand often don’t actually do so.
Still, #BoycottSearsCanada could prove unusually painful for Sears, for two main reasons.
First, the idea could gain traction among the company’s core consumers, who tend to belong to an older demographic.
The decision to cut jobs without severance may have tarnished the retailer’s image as a trustworthy establishment, and “older folks are really, really into trust,” said Winder.
“They are used to companies being loyal to their employees, so this is going to resonate even more negatively with them.”
Second, the boycott calls add to the negative press the company has been receiving since filing for creditor protection on June 22.
All the bad the news may contribute to the perception that Sears is destined to go under, or that it is already bankrupt, said Levy.
“It’s all part of the noise around ‘oh, Sears is going out of business.'”
Worries about whether the company will continue to exist could then deter Canadians from shopping there, especially when it comes to big-ticket items like home appliances, said Winder.
That, if not the boycott itself, could lead to a “radical drop off” in sales, he noted.