- Kmart, the beleaguered discount unit of Sears Holdings, is bringing back the Bluelight Special, its fabled sales ploy, Reuters reported.
The Bluelight Special debuted in 1965 as flashing blue sirens in the center of Kmart's stores that would go off to direct shoppers to a discount item, as an announcement was blared on a loudspeaker, “attention, Kmart shoppers,” a term that became part of the American lexicon.
The retailer revived the blue sirens in 942 stores last week to kick off 15-minute deals. Kmart will launch a marketing campaign to highlight the move with a TV ad on "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, Reuters reported. The retailer phased out the Bluelight Special in the early 1990s.
The comeback of the Bluelight Special is an attempt to inject some excitement into Kmart’s underperforming stores. It resulted from months of research that revealed Kmart shoppers’ positive remembrances of the sales tactic from shopping on their own or with their parents when they were children, Kmart president Alasdair James told Reuters.
"It's part of our DNA," he said. "We think there is a real positive buzz coming out of it and we expect to see an increase in sales."
This is not the first time Kmart has revived the Bluelight Special. The retailer brought it back in 2001, and filed for bankruptcy the following year.
The gimmick has returned intermittently as part of one-off holiday campaigns since then, but this reintroduction marks the Bluelight Special’s full-fledged comeback, the company says.
"It is all about bringing fun back into the shopping experience," Kelly Cook, Kmart's chief marketing office, told Reuters. "We are giving you that spontaneous rush which is at the heart of why the Bluelight Special works."
Kmart has posted two consecutive quarters of comp-store declines, but its problems go deeper than that. Sales at the retail chain have been on a nearly steady downward trajectory since 2005. That's when Eddie Lampert, Sears’ largest shareholder and CEO, orchestrated its merger with Kmart. Lampert’s critics say Kmart’s troubles in part reflect his lack investment in the chain.
What’s clear is that the retailer has failed to carve a meaningful niche amid low-price leader Wal-Mart and cheap-chic discounter Target, a far from its heyday in the 1980s, when it was the nation’s biggest discounter.