Sears Roebuck in the Twentieth Century: Competition, Complementarities, and the Problem of Wasting Assets
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 102
Sears Roebuck and Co. faced similar challenges in the 1920s and the 1980s. On the strength of the early period's strategic investment decisions, the company grew into the nation's largest retailer and a pervasive factor in the economy. In the later period, unanswered challenges nearly destroyed the company. We analyze the elements that contributed to the success in the 1920s and to the near disaster in the 1980s and place them in a broader and more systematic context. We argue that successful innovations combine a focus on an attractive market with an exploitation and even enhancement of a firm's existing competitive strengths.