Sears and Kmart bring Christmas to July

christmas treeIf you're the type to be annoyed by the ever earlier appearance of holidays, you're going to really hate this: Christmas Lane (beware: there's Christmas music that autoplays) at Sears and Kmart, an online holiday shop. Open now.

That's right. Sears Holdings (Kmart's parent company) is promoting and selling gifts and decorations in the heat of summer. But is this Christmas "creep" of the highest order or smart marketing?

There's a reason why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. It's the traditional start of the winter holiday shopping season, and the day when retailers expect to move from red to black -- from losing money to being profitable.

Not all retailers lose money the remaining 10 months of the year. But for those that are struggling, the holidays are do or die. And Sears and Kmart are struggling.

After emerging from bankruptcy, Kmart acquired Sears in late 2004, and neither retailer has been able to grow top line sales. The kind where goods sold to customers increases as opposed to improving the bottom line by cutting costs and closing stores. If a retailer can only make money by eliminating overhead, then it's not much of a retailer.

Under the direction of Eddie Lampert, Sears and Kmart have tried so many things to stimulate business it's impossible to list them here. New store formats, selling Kenmore appliances at Kmart, giant supercenter-like Sears stores, apparel lines from so-called celebrities. Not much has worked, at least not well. Except for the resurrection of an oldie but goodie, layaway.

Last year, Kmart heavily promoted its layaway program during the holidays and hard hit shoppers took advantage. Sears soon followed and both retailers benefited from the program. Christmas Lane seems to capitalize on last year's success, letting customers select holiday merchandise and begin making layaway payments well in advance.

Right now, Christmas Lane is strictly online, so we'll be spared the lights and music in stores. At least until after Back to School season is wrapped up. Then it's all Christmas, all the time.

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