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Attention Kmart Shoppers: Retailer Pokes Fun at Itself in New Marketing Push

There is nothing fun about the decline of the once-mighty Kmart.

The discount retailer, which in the early 1990s was bigger than Walmart (WMT), has seen sales fall consistently and precipitously for years, hurt by more nimble competitors and, many analysts say, woefully inadequate efforts to update its stores and its merchandise.

So now, in an attempt to stop a five-year slide in comparable sales, Kmart, a unit of Sears Holdings (SHLD), is trying something new: having some fun and bringing more liveliness to its drab stores.

The retailer, which generates 40% of its parent company’s sales (as sister chain Sears also faces enormous difficulties in its business) recently gave its store workers t-shirts with the iconic tagline “Attention Kmart Shoppers,” among other slogans, as an attention-grabbing ploy.

“The sayings are a fun spin on pop culture aimed at getting our members and associates talking,” Sears Holdings said in a blog post this week.

Kmart has also launched a series of quirky commercials and changed the font of some of the signs in its stores. “Our brand transformation at Kmart is all about bringing the fun back to the shopping experience,” the company says.

Courtesy of Kmart
Courtesy of Kmart
The store recently brought back its Bluelight Special sales, a tactic it first introduced in 1965 to clear slow-selling merchandise but discontinued in 1991; it involves the sounding of blue sirens to signal surprise deals of short duration. And Kmart has introduced Freebie Saturdays in which the first x-number of shoppers to come to a store will receive something free, like a miniature football.

While the efforts are a welcome development for critics of the chain, who say Kmart let itself get outflanked by discounters like Walmart and Target (TGT), it’s unclear this will halt Kmart’s decline.

The retailer continues to close stores; its store count now stands at 941, down from 1,307 only five years ago. And Kmart is having problems selling apparel, consumer electronics, and household items. Given how everyone from Walmart to Target, Kohl’s (KSS), and (AMEN) is raising their game in this area of retail, it will take more than clever t-shirts and new signs to win back customers.