Generational Gaps Killed Sears

Most people don’t grow up.  Most people age.  They find parking spaces, honour their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity.  What that is, is aging.” – Maya Angelou

Growing up as a baby-boomer the arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish catalogue was one of the simple joys of the time.  The Sears closure not only marks the end of a Canadian business icon but emphasizes the importance of understanding your demographics.  If you continue to focus only on the core of your business, your base, eventually you will lose.  Demographics are very fluid, relying on your core is like preaching to the choir.  You will probably always have them behind you but the seats in the hall start getting pretty thin.

A popular mantra of my generation was “never trust anyone over thirty”.  It was attributed to Jack Weinberg, an early environmentalist and one of the founders of the “Free Speech Movement” (FSM).  The FSM, incubated in the mid 60’s helped feed the growing civil rights movement while laying the foundations of the baby-boomer generation.  The average life expectancy at that time was 73 which made policy makers of the day the 30+ age group.  These were the staples of the Sears wish-book and represented everything many baby-boomers were rebelling against.

Picture of small rocks with the inscription "Inside every senior citizen is a young person wondering what the #$%# happened!!
The rock garden of age

The generation that grew up embracing that mantra now make up the bulk of the very age group they were rebelling over.  However that mantra, buried deep in the foundation of their belief system, now makes it easier to deny aging.  We have modified that mantra to justify our own aging while abandoning the Sears approach to commerce.  Sears lived in a state of denial regarding their shrinking share of the market while baby-boomers live in a state of denying our own aging.

Sears is now the corporate poster child of what denial of demographics can do and no where is recognition of differing demographics more apparent than the adoption of technology.  On that Sears not only failed but dropped the ball on the bulk of their demographics, those the least likely to make the transition to e-commerce.  Not only is technology making a major impact on commerce but is also changing the face of FSM.  Technology and social media has thoroughly blurred the lines between free speech and effective communication.  In todays business world marketing is all about social media and if you don’t understand you will go the way of Sears, both as a consumer and a business.

There was a time when we thought of aging as a crossroad of life but today that crossroad has become a traffic circle.  Without that acknowledgement important dialogue can get lost in translation.  While some of us are looking at the impact of biometrics others are more concerned with probiotics.  That distinction is a definite indicator of the generational gap.

It was much easier to deal with aging when we only had the sandwich generation.  With the traditional generation living longer, baby-boomers denying aging, the sandwich generation now watching as the millenials come of age and social issues that are in continual flux we now have more of a “buffet of generations”.

When I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the annual Christmas Wish List catalogue my parents were busy booking that annual Sears family Christmas photo.  That photo could often include a three generation picture.  Today it is not uncommon to see four generation photo’s being shared on Facebook and taken with your cellphone.  Sears lost most of their core and failed to find ways to cater to the new world.

Technology, life extending healthcare, changing cultural demographics and the polarization of current ideologies are creating new social issues.  The pressure to do more with less is creating new challenges.  Online government programming and e-commerce may work for the sandwich and millenials while creating systemic issues for many baby-boomers and traditional generation.

Four generations and going strong

This is something that not only business owners need to take into account but policy makers as well.  Technology doesn’t “grandfather” anybody however policies should never create a systemic barrier to the generations unable to adapt.  The “silent generation” should not be penalized for the inability to adapt, they’ve fought their fight.  Most baby-boomers are in transition and still have time to adapt.

Are you a probiotic person or a biometric person?  Think about that the next time you have a discussion with someone twice your age.  This type of recognition leads to wisdom and maturity, not aging…





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