PHILADELPHIA – The blue light began to flash, and Angela Campbell bolted toward the front center aisle of a Kmart in Northeast Philadelphia.
For the next 15 minutes, Campbell, 54, was transported back in time. The flashing bulb was like a disco flashback.
She could see herself and her eight siblings in the 1970s, following their mother in tow to the local Kmart. They made a mad dash with their shopping cart whenever they heard the voice on the store intercom alerting them, “Attention Kmart shoppers. ” It was time for a big markdown of an item located near the flashing blue light. They would run to find it.
“I’m real happy. The blue light is back,” said Campbell after securing the deal of the hour – two-pair pajama sets for her grandchildren marked down from $21.99 to $10 a set – under the flashing blue light and an “Attention Kmart Shoppers” sign.
The campaign, which was launched Nov. 1 with new TV ads and new blue signage throughout the stores, is part of a larger effort to bring back the fun in shopping, attract more families and reestablish the Kmart brand, said Jaime Stein, spokeswoman for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart.
“We are looking to reenergize Kmart and focus on making shopping fun again,” Stein said. “The Bluelight Special is part of a larger rebranding for Kmart, and one where we are really trying to create and revisit the energy that Kmart is known for.”
Like other major retailers, Kmart is dealing with closure of brick-and-mortar stores as online shopping has grown. Macy’s is closing as many as 40 stores by early next year.
For the first and second quarters of this year, Kmart closed 16 stores. There are now 963 Kmarts nationally.
The chain’s sales declined from $13.2 billion in 2013 to $12.1 billion in 2014.
Each Kmart picks its own Bluelight Special times based on peak traffic. The one where Campbell shopped flashed the blue light at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a recent Thursday, for 15 minutes. Bluelight Specials occur by the hour all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
First introduced in 1965, along with such classics as “The Sound of Music” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the Bluelight Special was the original flash sale that “made shopping fun,” according to Stein.
The promo, the brainchild of a Kmart assistant store manager, had a successful run until it was phased out in 1991. It came back in fits and starts, including in 2001 and 2007 as part of event promotions, and last year briefly during the holidays.
This time, Stein said, it’s back permanently, and Bluelight Specials are also available online and on Kmart’s mobile app to reflect the changing shopping landscape. Those shopping through Kmart.com or by app receive random alerts to Bluelight Specials.
Kmart has also resurrected the iconic “Attention Kmart Shoppers” slogan.
One Bluelight Special featured a 16-piece comforter set that sells regularly for $137.99. On sale, it was $79.99. And the Bluelight Special price was a lowly $19.99.
“I love it,” said Lisa Medina, 47, as she pushed her 1-year-old grandson, Christopher Colon, in her cart. Her daughter, Melissa Colon, 31, was also with them.
Medina had just grabbed several pairs of the pajamas from the Bluelight Special for her five granddaughters.
Since Nov. 1, “I’m always here looking for the light,” she joked.
Employee Millie Burger, who collected blue tickets to give to the front cashiers on items that were to be purchased at a Bluelight Special price, said the feedback has been good.
“All the customers are glad it’s back,” she said as Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” played in the background.
With Kmart’s push to attract more families, it also started Freebie Saturdays – when kids under age 12 can come in anytime after 8 a.m., and get free popcorn, small toys and cotton candy.
Bringing back the past is a strategic marketing move by Kmart, said Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Nostalgia has powerful effects on connecting social emotions and ‘identity’ that may be rooted in one’s past,” he said. “Shopping has been a social experience until folks got so busy and e-commerce became a trusted platform to get stuff done more efficiently.
“The question is whether the market of people who like the old is big enough to build growth with your business,” Reed said. ”This remains to be seen, but is clearly what Kmart is banking on in the short run.”
Spokeswoman Stein said the Bluelight Special’s return was based on 11 months of research with Kmart’s loyalty card members – those who shop there most frequently. Many expressed wanting it back.
“By mixing the nostalgia with the pricing and product, we believe we have the right recipe,” Stein said.
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