Eddie “Hedge Your Bets” Lampert

As Sears continues to collapse financially, and its stores increasingly look like they are victims of arrested development, (see accompanying photos),  Edward “Eddie” Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings, the brilliant financier, but arguably clueless retailer,  seems to be “hedging” against the situation Sears is in, namely at the end of its retailing rope.  However, it’s not the kind of financial hedging he’s used so successfully to reduce risk in the markets.  This is an “abracadabra” psychological hedge.

In an exclusive interview with CNBC, “hedge your bets Eddie” said, “A lot of businesses will have profitless prosperity and we’ve got to adapt, and I think that companies like Amazon and eBay, they’ve turned this into a big opportunity, and we have to be able to compete with them, not just Walmart, Target, etc.”

Did you catch the “hedge” in that statement?   He’s preconditioning his investors and any other interested party that they can expect further losses coming out of Sears.  However, he’s cleverly hedging their negative bet that the losses will be due to the same failing business practices that have been running Sears into the ground since he took over.  He now wants us to believe that he’s awakened to some profound new strategy to purposely lose money to gain market share, as Amazon has successfully employed since its inception.

This is another, in a long history of abracadabra moments.  It’s truly astonishing how he can spin magic illusions out of thin air, while Sears in the real world, continues relentlessly downward.

And, Eddie, the “profitless prosperity train” has left the station for Sears. If you want to follow the Amazon strategy, you first must have developed a differentiated product that preempts competitive knock-offs or other start –ups, to reach share dominance ahead of them.  To do so, Amazon priced its Kindle below cost to gain dominant share fast, just as it did with books and several other categories, that were not necessarily differentiated, but for which Amazon believed it could sustain a leading market position.

For the life of me, I don’t see anything in the dying Sears model that remotely parallels Amazon enough to even entertain such a strategy.  First of all, the many iconic brands that Sears, in its heyday, brilliantly created, all had dominant share when the business was being intelligently run.  And, they didn’t even have to price them at a loss to gain that share.

And what happened?  Not only have those brands’ dominance fallen since the “Eddie Era,” he’s starting to sell/lease them off to prop up his bottom line.  It’s not only way too late to think about an Amazon strategy, in my opinion, Sears has “zippo” to attach that strategy to.  And, with each passing day, the end gets closer and closer.

In fact, recently Eddie had to dip into his hedge fund to, and get this, buy “receivable put agreements,” used to protect vendors if Sears were to file for bankruptcy.  They felt compelled to do so when factors had stopped loaning some of their vendors who were awaiting payment for goods received by Sears.  And some vendors threatened to stop shipping.

Now this is the kind of hedging Eddie understands.

So, Eddie, a word of advice: keep your hedging in finance where you know something about it. You ain’t no Jeff Bezos.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.