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Sears store. Long Beach, California Photograph by Maureen Sullivan—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

Sears Ranks Below Goodwill Among Women Shoppers

Feb 05, 2016

If you are wondering why Sears (shld) is struggling, ponder no more: women are staying away in droves from the struggling department store's clothes section.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Sears cited a dip in apparel sales as one of the major causes of its 8.2% drop in comparable sales at its namesake department stores. (Sears Holdings also owns Kmart.) A recent poll shows that Sears, which is still one of the largest U.S. retailers despite years of decline, is favored by a tiny fraction of female clothes shoppers.

According to a January survey of 3,917 American women by Prosper Analytics & Insights, Sears is the preferred apparel store of only 1% of female shoppers. Not only is Sears favored by fewer women than arch-rivals Kohl's (kss), Macy's (m), and J.C. Penney (jcp), the iconic department store even lags Goodwill. Respondents were asked to write in their favorite retailer rather than choose from among a list. (Prosper conducts surveys for the National Retail Federation.) Sears declined to comment for this article.

Sears CEO and top shareholder Eddie Lampert claims that he is transforming the company into a membership-based retailer that will be less reliant on its physical stores. All fine. But if Sears is at the point that women, who account for 80% of apparel shoppers, would prefer to buy clothes at Goodwill, it's fair to question whether that part of its business can be rehabilitated at all. Sears declined to offer comment for this story. (In case you're wondering why a store like Nordstrom would rank so low, the survey was national, favoring mass merchants rather than luxury shoppers, who are fewer in number.)

Winning back the favor of women shoppers is going to be tough. Retailers like Penney, Kohl's, and even Target (tgt) are investing heavily in improving their in-house brands. Kohl's is about to relaunch its Sonoma brand next month. If Sears has to fight with Goodwill, that means it will have to heavily discount its clothes, which will be devastating to its margins. Meanwhile, Sears dropped the Kardashian Kollection, the only exclusive brand that the broader public may have been aware of in recent years. It was replaced by the AX Paris line.

Consolation prize for Sears Holdings: sister brand Kmart fared slightly better.

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