Kmart wants to bring the ‘fun’ back to shopping

Discussion
Apr 18, 2016

In a continuing effort to “to bring fun back to shopping,” Kmart recently introduced a new series of t-shirts for its store associates as part of their dress code.

The shirts are “Bluelight” blue and have one of five different sayings on the back, including “Your one-stop Zombie Apocalypse shop!,” “SSHHH! Ninjas are everywhere!” and “What do you call a fish with no eye? FSH!”

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

Kmart noted that the chain is going through a brand transformation that’s “all about bringing the fun back to the shopping experience.”

The transformation included the reintroduction last fall of its Bluelight Special, in-store surprise deals that now incorporate a mobile component along with the iconic tagline, “Attention Kmart Shoppers.” The discounter also released a number of whimsical commercials, updated its in-store signage, and introduced Freebie Saturdays, in which stores handed out free popcorn, small toys and candy (while supplies last) for kids under the age of 12.

“Our store teams and associates are energized and excited to show our members what we mean when we say, “Shopping is fun again!,” Kmart said in a blog post. “We encourage you to shop our stores and see for yourself. Don’t be alarmed if we’re having too much fun!”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
What do you think of Kmart’s fun-themed transformation? How might slogan t-shirts add to the customer experience and associate morale?

Braintrust
"If the store fails to deliver any brand promise for consumers, it doesn’t matter how the retailer dresses its employees."
"This campaign almost seems disingenuous and beyond belief for consumers who would like to start by finding the items they want and checking out in a timely fashion."
"Has anyone evaluated Kmart employee satisfaction by objective measures? If so, does Kmart have a motivated group of associates, and will new t-shirts help?"

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26 Comments on "Kmart wants to bring the ‘fun’ back to shopping"

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Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I think they might be better served finding some fun merchandise to SELL.

In fact, I used to buy very cheap sleeping shorts from them in festive designs. They were sold under the Joe Boxer label and were 100 percent cotton. They were (and are) fun, and incredibly comfortable. And,they were made in Latin America.

Now, in the Lampert era, they have stopped selling them completely. I can buy polyester (no fun), but no loose, comfy patterned shorts.

Honest to God … when will retailers remember that customers buy merchandise, not gimmicks?

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

If the store fails to deliver any brand promise for consumers, it doesn’t matter how the retailer dresses its employees. Unfortunately, Kmart doesn’t have a core story, operates old stores and has been kicked to the curb by its corporate overlord. It’s going to take much more than t-shirts to bring back a once-proud brand.

Tom Redd
Guest

Not sure how FUN the t-shirts are for shoppers. I estimate that this is an internal hype-up to make employees want to work and make sure that they see Kmart is fun. Good part for Kmart. Most of the late Millennials and Generation Zers were little kids when Kmart nosedived.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Loads of other retailers have done this and it definitely brings the fun. Visit a Five Guys burger joint to see it in action.

That said, for Kmart, it’s too little, too late. Why shop there?

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

At first glance, which is how I think most customers would see them, I thought these were for a restaurant. Big miss, but then couple that with “sh*t my pants” marketing and Lampert’s structuring of deals where Sears/Kmart pay more than four times higher the average retail note and I think it’s right on their corporate mindset.

There’s nothing funny here and yet in another sense, sadly, there is.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Essentially the merchant’s focus on fun is a great approach to re-branding, however I can’t see anyone making a choice to shop at Kmart because the associates have fun shirts. Some free popcorn and kids stuff might help to draw shoppers a little bit, but in the end it’s going to come down to the basics of contemporary retail: price, convenience, availability, overall shopping experience, etc. Hopefully for them they have a lot more in their bag of tricks.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

While the t-shirts might add some fun for store associates for a couple of weeks, what happens when the “buzz” wears off?

These kinds of events and promotions may have stimulated some interest in stores a couple of decades ago. Today’s consumers have a multitude of omnichannel places to shop and their expectations for a quality shopping experience are increasing every year.

Guess you have to start brand transformation somewhere, but this campaign almost seems disingenuous and beyond belief for consumers who would like to start by finding the items they want and checking out in a timely fashion.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It is a very good idea. We all agree that there has to be more to attracting customers than just product. Malls are becoming more entertaining, Apple has an informal uniform as do other retailers. Fun is contagious. Associates like to work in a fun place too. Whether this fixes any of Kmart’s other issues or not is a totally different question but the potential results are worth the effort.

Mark Burr
Guest
1 year 2 months ago
One of our favorite spots is Texas Roadhouse, not because of their t-shirts, however their servers wear t-shirts that say “I Love My Job” on the back. If I don’t forget, I ask the server, “Do you really love your job?” The answer is always, “Absolutely!” Now this may be a trained response, maybe, but who knows. There are two things here. One is they say it with a smile and a grin. They also always answer “Absolutely!” The first step in consumer engagement is associate engagement. I’ve done fun shirts on many occasions at retail. What do they do? Exactly what they are intended to do. Fun! Work is work. Work with a little bit of fun is a little bit less like work. A smiling or grinning associate is not a bad thing. Sure, we can think all kinds of things about Kmart. Nevertheless, they are on the right track here. Too little too late? Does it matter? They are toast no matter what they do! Those arguments can be made about the business overall, but not on this topic. This is simply text book associate engagement. It will not singularly transform their business, just as no single… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

While this can’t hurt, it’s not going to solve any problems either.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

I’d rather see Kmart invest in merchandise that consumers actually want to buy, clean and easy-to-navigate stores and associates available at the check-out and in aisles to assist consumers. T-shirts and free popcorn only go so far.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I wrote this last week about Target. Substitute Kmart for Target and note it is just as appropriate. “While this may be a good initiative by Target, Target management always strikes me like they are looking for that silver bullet to solve their problems. Their moves always seem to be tactical responding to whatever is hot and never strategic for the long term.”

“The Target management must step back and look at the whole and ask, ‘what are we and where are we going?'”

The second part of the question is the really tough one for Kmart, because the answer isn’t ever going to be “be a better retailer.”

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

It’s what I call Marshmallow Marketing. Light, fluffy, feel-good, not much substance.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Has anyone evaluated Kmart employee satisfaction by objective measures? If so, does Kmart have a motivated group of associates, and will new t-shirts help? If not, what will really address issues of employee morale?

Otherwise, I agree with fellow panelists that this is another attempt to grasp at straws (like the repositioning of Sears as a “membership club”) without addressing fundamental issues of the merchandising strategy or the store experience.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Themed t-shirts have generally been associated with bars or very casual dining. Neither of which fits the Kmart model. In fact, I am not sure what fits their model, are you? As Paula said, maybe they should find something fun to sell. I do not remember the last time I was in a Kmart store, nor do I know what would bring me back. I am afraid this is too little too late. The Kmart shopper has moved on.

Bill McCall
Guest
Bill McCall
1 year 2 months ago

Creating a fun place to work is critical for all retailers. I might add that this approach can add fun for the associate, get them more engaged and raise their morale. I would bet their higher levels of energy will translate to a greater customer experience.

Add this to their relaunch of their Blue Light in-store surprise deals and Kmart is positioning itself to be the place to shop.

Nice job!

Brian Kelly
Guest
1 year 2 months ago

Depending upon the shopping goal, “fun” is a relative term when it comes to retail. It’s not all jokes and laughter especially when a mom with two sick kids is trying to get in and out friction-free.

I think the slogans are a waste of time unless they are genuine, transparent solutions that lead to customer satisfaction.

That starts with right product, right price and right time. You know, the basics. Hold off on the t-shirts until the basics are in place. Or it will be correctly perceived as another failed Kmart effort to be relevant.

Or as we like to say, “retail ain’t for sissies!”

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Who’s Kmart again? … Remind me.

Diana McHenry
Guest

Companies need to attract customers’ business with unique value. What does the brand stand for currently? What should I expect in merchandise, price and service? Why would I spend my limited time and budget somewhere? The t-shirts and programs aren’t relevant if people aren’t shopping there.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

The store associates might get a kick out of it at first and then it will die. Popcorn Saturdays? Ok, but what am I coming in there to buy?

Hey, I love the concept of making shopping fun, but you have to give me a reason to make the trip.

This is half baked, IMHO, and that’s my 2 cents!

Cyrus Tookes
Guest
Cyrus Tookes
1 year 2 months ago

Clearly not a thoroughly vetted program! This should be interesting….

Carlos Arambula
BrainTrust

I understand what Kmart is attempting to do, but I fail to see how “fun” will bring back consumers. Humor is an effective marketing tool, but without addressing the “price of entry” for a retailer (merchandise, value, customer service) it falls flat.

The t-shirts are gimmicky, and worse, it is “market-leader” behavior for a retailer that has not seen the lead in decades so it opens the brand to ridicule.

Arie Shpanya
Guest

While Kmart’s transformation sounds great on paper, I’m afraid its execution only comes across as a gimmick. The company will have to make it a point to hire fun, energetic sales people if they want this to work, because if you put a fun shirt on a grumpy employee their personality hasn’t changed, just the way they look.

While I’m all for making shopping fun again, I think the best way to improve the customer experience is to look to other retailers with impressive customer service records, and go from there.

I’m definitely excited to see how this works for Kmart, as it’s refreshing to see a retailer tap into its shoppers’ “fun” emotions, but I believe that convenience reigns supreme in retail in 2016. Shoppers will choose the retailer who can make the shopping experience easier and cheaper, not necessarily where the salespeople are wearing witty t-shirts.

David Livingston
Guest
1 year 2 months ago

There is nothing fun about Kmart. Only things to make fun of.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Kmart desperately needs to attract younger shoppers and making shopping fun for both customers and the associates is a smart move. With more than half of its customers 45 or older, Kmart needs to increase awareness and spark interest among Millennials and younger generations — the future shoppers.

Many consumers enjoy the theater of shopping and the treasure hunt to find a great deal, and this campaign hits on those desires. However, many younger shoppers are not even thinking about Kmart as a shopping option. Putting the fun back into shopping will go a long way in attracting the interest of Millennial shoppers and increasing the motivation and morale of Millennial associates. The key to success of this campaign will depend on if Kmart can extend the message on social media in a way that attracts the right demographic and it resonates enough to engage them to “like” and “share” the messages with their network of friends. Perhaps they should take a page from Target’s book and try to pick someone other than Jaclyn Smith (age 70), Adam Levine and Jillian Michaels to represent the brand.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
1 year 2 months ago

So are these t-shirts also part of dress code during the liquidation sales which are ongoing?

Based on the merchandising, pricing, and store conditions, management hasn’t been taking things very seriously for the past decade or more so why not have t-shirts that continue that theme?

There is no right answer for them anymore, this operation is way too far gone … this will neither help nor hurt them.

Sad thing is, if you can get past the ugly stores and sloppy presentation and just look at the merchandise itself, they have a nice product mix in home goods and seasonal … better quality than Walmart and Target, but also much higher price points and far less aggressive clearance.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If the store fails to deliver any brand promise for consumers, it doesn’t matter how the retailer dresses its employees."
"This campaign almost seems disingenuous and beyond belief for consumers who would like to start by finding the items they want and checking out in a timely fashion."
"Has anyone evaluated Kmart employee satisfaction by objective measures? If so, does Kmart have a motivated group of associates, and will new t-shirts help?"

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