Kmart's blue light back on
By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published May 16, 2007
The blue light is coming back to Kmart, but the Blue Light Special will remain missing in action.
The discount chain's research found the fabled piece of retailing Americana still resonates with shoppers. But memories of a flashing blue light, the hokey "Attention Kmart Shoppers" announcements and the notion of people flocking to deals that last only an hour are not the image Kmart wants to shape any more.
"Our customers see shopping as an adventure, a treasure hunt of the unexpected and that's what we want to tap into, " said Kirsten Whipple, spokeswoman for Kmart, now the corporate sibling of Sears Holdings Corp. "We think this is more relevant to today's shopper."
So while Mr. Bluelight, a beaming animated talking light, premiered this week on prime time national TV ads as the chain's new spokesman, he will be promoting unexpected features, quality and types of products found at Kmart and what are being called "BlueLight Finds." Among the first such Finds: a 32-inch Panasonic LCD TV, a lavender suede jacket and a Disney Cars bed-in-a-bag set.
Those are not to be confused with Blue Light Specials, a sales tactic dreamed up by an Indiana store manager in 1965 to goose sales by dropping prices on slow-moving merchandise.
The promotion, which became a daily ritual at all Kmarts and a symbol of the discount chain's chintziness at the time, was dumped in 1991. It was revived a decade later in a cleaned-up version with spotlights until Kmart filed for protection from creditors in bankruptcy.
This time around Mr. Bluelight won't be linked to clearance sales. Rather he'll talk about upgraded merchandise including selected Sears brand products now found at Kmart.
"Finds" will vary from store to store. They will be special purchase products not normally found at a Kmart. They frequently will be value priced. They will be available as long as the supply lasts.
Blue Light chronology
1965: An Indiana Kmart store uses a police car light to draw attention to discounted unsold items.
1991: Kmart managers ditch the Blue Light Special because it undermines their efforts to sell better goods.
2001: Inspired by Sam Walton's quotes that it's one of the greatest sale promotion ideas ever, Kmart brings back the Blue Light Special.
2002: Kmart files for bankruptcy, tens of thousands lose their jobs, more than half the 3, 000 stores are closed and the Blue Light is unplugged.
2003: Kmart emerges from bankruptcy with hedge fund guru Edward Lampert in control.
2004: Lampert merges Kmart with Sears and begins experimenting with blending the two.