In an effort to drum up sales, Kmart has brought back its iconic Bluelight Specials. Kmart, whose sales have steadily fallen as shoppers shop at alternatives, hopes to attract customers back into its stores searching for the elusive deal.
It will fail. Again.
Bluelight Specials began in 1965 but were stopped in 1991, years after becoming a retail icon. In 2001, Kmart brought the Bluelight Specials back, less than a year after Kmart filed for bankruptcy, which at the time was the biggest retail bankruptcy filing ever. The Bluelight Specials have been used sporadically in limited areas with a bit of a push last holiday season. Kmart President Alasdair James promises this time will be different because it will be part of sustained campaign.
I actually have no issue with Bluelight Specials themselves. In fact, they were part of what made Kmart successful in the 1980s. What I do take issue with is Kmart’s management thinking the specials are some kind of magic bullet to suddenly get shoppers back in its stores in hopes of finding the nostalgic blue light flashing. The reality is that the hope of finding Bluelight Specials is not going to be enough to get new consumers into the store.
Why Bluelight Specials won’t create preference for Kmart.
Nostalgia is great and Bluelight Specials were once a good idea, but consumers have changed, their expectations have changed and the way they conduct their business has changed. Since at least the beginning of this century, Kmart has consistently failed to both recognize and respond to the changing marketplace. It is not the low-price leader (Walmart is) and never staked out any meaningful position in the minds of consumers. For all but the most loyal Kmart shopper, Kmart is forgotten. Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and others out maneuvered and out positioned the once great discount retailer.
Kmart’s problem is not a tactics problem. It’s a brand problem. While consumers have fond memories of Bluelight Specials, they do not give consumers a reason to go to the stores. The hope of finding a Bluelight Special is not persuasive enough to get consumers to change their behavior. Kmart’s brand is not persuasive and, unfortunately, no number of Bluelight Specials will fix that.