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Sears Unveils New Prices, Ending Era of Big Sales

March 1, 1989

Undated (AP) _ Shoppers swarmed to Sears, Roebuck and Co., which reopened its 824 stores Wednesday after cutting prices on 50,000 items to introduce its new ″everyday low pricing″ policy and mark the end of an era in retailing.

The nation’s biggest retailer switched to more name-brand merchandise and discount prices in hopes of luring shoppers away from cut-rate competitors like K mart and Wal-Mart, which have grown rapidly at the expense of Sears and other old-line general retailers.

″I think it might cheapen them a little bit but they’re a grade higher than K mart,″ said Pam Cage, 31, one of about 3,000 shoppers who crowded a Sears store at Miami’s International Mall on Wednesday.

The 103-year-old company added some suspense to the changeover by closing all its stores for 42 hours, from 6 p.m. local time Monday until noon Wednesday. Store managers and employees around the country worked late into the night Tuesday, retagging an estimated 1.5 billion pieces of merchandise and erecting colorful signs touting the new prices.

In Atlanta, about 200 people gathered outside of Sears’ Southlake Mall store to get the first crack at the lower prices - though not all of them were convinced the change was for the better.

″My mother said if they cut all those prices it would be like K mart. I say the day they do that is the day I stop buying here,″ said Marcy McCullough of McDonough, Ga.

But in the past, she said, Sears has been ″charging too much for stuff that’s not really worth it.″

Prices under the new policy may vary among the retailers’ 24 regions, but Sears officials are convinced the strategy will win approval.

″When customers come in and see we’re not fooling around when we say we’re reducing prices, they’ll be very impressed,″ predicted Ken Smith, manager of a Sears store on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

Shoppers found markdowns Wednesday that approached 25 percent on some items, including a house-brand Kenmore 18-cubic-foot refrigerator slashed to $550 from $730 in Smith’s store.

He said the new price would be Sears’ everyday price on the refrigerator.

Sears’ switch to everyday low pricing, a strategy pioneered by discount chains and adapted successfully last year by Chicago-based Montgomery Ward & Co., makes Sears comparable to the discounters in price but not in looks.

Although shoppers found some merchandise displayed in warehouse-like stacks, most of the goods were shown in the more decorative fashion familiar to Sears shoppers.

The strategy marks a departure from the traditional retailing technique, which Sears practically invented, of hyping goods through periodic sales. Sears said it will continue to have sales, but they will be fewer and thinner than in the past.

Gilbert Wels, 44, of Sewaren, N.J., said he was worried that the drop in prices could mean a decline in quality as well.

″I will still buy at Sears but I will check out the quality,″ he said.

But not all customers were pleased.

Lynn Carver of Barkhamsted, Conn., said she drove to a West Hartford Sears store to exchange some bedsheets and found the price was about 20 percent higher than the week before.

Operating Manager Larry Glowa said the sheets had been on sale last week and were not among the items reduced in price on Wednesday.

The new policy is a major component of a restructuring plan that also includes the proposed sale of the company’s towering headquarters building in Chicago and a realignment of Sears’ financial network - Allstate insurance, Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage services and Coldwell Banker real estate - to focus on consumer business.

Sears stores will continue to change in coming months as more name-brand goods are introduced. A major addition will be the opening of Brand Central electronics superstores inside 400 Sears outlets.

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