Does Kmart’s Hilarious New Ad Acknowledge That Kmart Stores Are Hopeless?

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In just over a week, Kmart’s 30-second “Ship My Pants” spot — go ahead, say it quickly — has received close to 13 million views online. The viral hit should give the struggling retailer some much-needed buzz. It might also call attention to why some shoppers stopped going to Kmart.

Let’s be honest: Kmart isn’t cool. In the pantheon of big-box general merchandise retailers, Walmart is the 600-pound gorilla, inexorable in its pursuit of efficiency and cheap prices. Target is sort of the hip one. And Kmart, well, it’s just kind of there, right? If you associate the Kmart brand with anything these days, it’s a kind of Martha Stewart-flavored aspirational respectability, or perhaps layaway, or bankruptcy court.

That’s why the retailer’s irreverent “Ship My Pants” ad, released last week, is so surprising. Not because of the faux-scatological content per se — though that did raise a few eyebrows – but because this somewhat edgy and definitely funny ad came from such a tired snooze of a retail brand.

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The commercial highlights the store’s Ship to Home service, which Kmart launched a year ago, offering customers free delivery on any item they can’t find in stores. Andrew Stein, Kmart’s vice president and chief marketing officer, says the company wasn’t trying to make a viral ad. The goal was to just create a funny, compelling commercial that promoted the service. About a month ago, the “Ship My Pants” ad ran in a town hall meeting of Kmart employees. Stein says everyone loved it.

“The outpouring of affection, the goodwill and the laughter that we got internally told us we really had something here,” he says. The video had been uploaded to Stein’s personal YouTube page, and the only way to view it was through the specific url, which was getting passed around from employee to employee following the town hall. The next morning, Stein discovered the video had been viewed 2,500 times on his page.

Since then, it’s had about 13 million views on YouTube and has already become the 37th most shared ad of all-time, according to Unruly Media, a firm that tracks viral ads.

But while the ad brings Kmart a bit of much-needed attention, it also seems to point out that shoppers have been frustrated with the in-store shopping experience. The numbers reflect Kmart shoppers’ frustration, or perhaps apathy. Same-store sales declined 3.7% in 2012, and over the last seven years, there has been only one year of positive growth. The number of Kmart locations has shrunk from 1,305 at the start of 2012 to 1,221 today.

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The stores also look awful. As both Target and Walmart remodeled their brick and mortar locations to become a one-stop shop for customers, largely by adding expansive grocery departments, many Kmart stores languish, clearly in need of renovation. They’re unlikely to get it from CEO (and billionaire investor) Eddie Lampert, however. Former executives quoted in a recent Yahoo! Finance story describe Lampert as someone who hates to spend money even “to clean up dirty stores and repair potholed parking lots.”

Retail analyst Brian Sozzi says that sprucing up the stores is just not a priority for Kmart executives. “They have massively underinvested in their stores,” he says. “They invest the lowest percentage of their total revenue into their stores of any retailer. Their focus is not on modernizing the stores. The new CEO views them almost as a lost cause.”

Instead of putting money into stores, the focus has shifted online, where sales for Kmart and sister retailer Sears grew 17% and 25%, respectively, in the fourth quarter. “When you go to the stores, they look the same as when I was a kid,” says Sozzi. “But the website gives you a really good experience.”

Viewed in this context, the new “Ship My Pants” ad isn’t just a cheeky commercial. It’s a campaign to steer shoppers away from Kmart’s hopeless, poorly stocked physical stores, toward the one area the where the company thinks it can grow: web sales. Viewers are tuning in for a quick laugh, but the implicit message they’re getting is almost an admission from Kmart that customers aren’t going to find what they want inside stores. But they can get any of the retailer’s 65 million products online!

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According to Stein, Kmart remains committed to its brick and mortar stores. “Our stores are really, really important,” he says. “We do a lot of business in our stores. But they need to work together with all of our online channels. People don’t just shop one channel. They shop across multiple channels.”

“Having bricks and mortar stores is really important,” Stein adds. “But having a robust Kmart.com and having robust mobile channels are really important, too.”

Besides Ship to Home, Kmart offers a number of services and products designed to integrate physical stores with online and mobile platforms: free in-store pick up for online orders, e-receipts, downloadable coupons, online layaway.

At the same time, Kmart’s competitors are picking up their online game, to battle it out with each other and with the world’s largest e-retailer, Amazon. In early 2013, Target announced it would match prices with Amazon and the websites of competitors such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Toys R Us. Walmart has been testing services such as same-day shipping and shipping online orders out of physical stores rather than regional warehouses. The retailer is even supposedly looking into getting customers to deliver packages for them.

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For Kmart to become truly competitive again, it’s going to take more than an ad centered around a poop joke, no matter how funny the poop joke is. Despite the unusual presence of Internet buzz around Kmart, analysts such as Sozzi are unconvinced the company has much of a future.

“I don’t know if it’s around in 10 years,” Sozzi says. “It’s the Baby Boomers that are keeping them alive, and they won’t be around much longer.”

11 comments
LouisRose
LouisRose

The ship my pants ad, is sophomoric, scatological, and moronic. It must be designed to target a specific set of evolutionary throwback, slack jawed, intermarried, low life scum, in order to entice them to come into the store and shoplift. I must admit I do not shop at KMart. But now, I actively wish that they would go down to defeat in receivership. How disgusting Mr. Stein and his management team must be to offer this type of manure as an enticement to the American public. Sadder still is the thought that it might work.

doug5759
doug5759

@LouisRose I cracked up watching this ad.  I cracked up even harder reading your response.  LMAO!!!

debbiedonothing
debbiedonothing

Kmart's demise is heartbreaking to me.  When I was a kid, one of the highlights of my life was our monthly 45-mile trip to Kmart. We bought all our clothes there, all our hardware, garden supplies, household goods, books, appliances and more. Their bins full of record albums were a mecca to me. Now I live less than 5 miles from the same store and only go there when I can't find what I need anywhere else.  It's been almost a year since I was in there last, even though I drive right past it on a regular basis. The parking lot is nearly empty, while the Menards next door is jam-packed. The store is dirty, understaffed even for the scant number of shoppers they do have, and its prices are significantly higher than Target and Walmart.  The local Sears store is even worse in terms of prices and customer service compared to Penneys.  And I'm sorry to tell Mr. Stein, but the Kmart-Sears website is far less user friendly than Walmart or Target.  If I'm going to have something shipped to store, I'll choose Walmart because I'll be going there anyway.  Besides, Walmart usually has everything I want right there on the shelves.

Louie
Louie like.author.displayName 1 Like

I work for Kmart.  Much more American made merchandise than Walmart and at least at my location, we have very good customer service.  I will say "Eddie" needs to get his thinking somewhat altered if he is going to keep his stores "in the game" and think about updating his computer systems (check out registers) and pay his employees better (based on performance)!  I am in my mid 40's...I remember Kmart in its glory days as a kid.  As is true for so many companies, upper management needs to get out in the field and listen to the people who work the "front lines" and not just go visit stores, talk to the managers, and say "let's move this here and why don't you have this here...blah, blah, blah."

Rio
Rio

free in-store pick up for online orders  is a biggie and has been around for decades when they had catalogs.  But the cost of shipping has skyrocketed and the new mailboxes down the block do not have space for packages.  The store is a safe alternative. 

itsmeitsme
itsmeitsme

We think it's hysterical! Come on-have a sense of humor. We don't like crude ads, but they advertise everything now-nothing's off-limits. This one is clever & should appeal to all ages.

Gusto212
Gusto212 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think it's brilliant. It puts Kmart back on the map so to speak. I know that, for me at least, it's the first time that I even thought about Kmart in a long time. And, I don't understand why people are so offended. They are very clearly saying "ship". So, anyone who is turning that in to something else is doing so themselves. It is only offensive because their minds are dirty and are relating the word to a more vulgar word. p.s. If you want dirty, I found a great parody of this ad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtbbwzXEh0A

piter
piter

I read this article with a lot of interest because I am currently reading a very interesting book on Goodreads called THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORKS by Vivek Sood which argues similar points in a much more forceful and coherent manner.I understand your thoughts and emotions more clearly. It makes you realize who you really are and makes your life more meaningful.Reading books will make you a better thinker and a better man. I will encourage the journalist to talk to the author of the above book to get deeper insights into the material he is covering. <a href="http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17727283-the-5-star-business-network">THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORKS </a>

jpcompany
jpcompany like.author.displayName 1 Like

LOve it and Have started using K-mart over the last few months vs Wal-mart....I don't use Wal-Mart anyomore, Greedy CEO's!

DaveNavarro
DaveNavarro like.author.displayName 1 Like

i like it.  are YOU hopeless Time?