A tattered Sears revives its holiday Wish Book

The Sears Wish Book was a one-time holiday staple, a door-stopper of a catalog that children would pour over and parents would browse for gift ideas. 

After abandoning the Wish Book several years ago, Sears (SHLD) is now reviving the tradition, banking that the glossy catalog will help bring shoppers back through its doors, both virtual and in its brick-and-mortar locations. At about 110 pages, the new Wish Book is a lot slimmer than its previous incarnations, which regularly topped 400 pages. 

Sears needs all the help it can get if it wants to avoid lumps of coal this holiday season. Efforts so far to turn around the business haven't caught on, with second-quarter sales plunging 11.5 percent at stores open at least a year. To be sure, Sears isn't alone among brick-and-mortar retailers struggling to keep market share amid the changing retail environment and competition from online stores like Amazon (AMZN)

By tapping nostalgia for its former catalog, Sears is hoping to catch the eye of adults who grew up with the Wish Book. It has added online and mobile features, such as creating online lists from the Wish Book. 

"It's not just a list, but it's about these memories," said Kelly Cook, the head of marketing for Sears and Kmart, who added the company heard from consumers saying they would like the catalog to return. "Our belief, especially since we brought something back to life that our members asked for, is that it's something we can stand on this holiday season."

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A page from Sears' 2017 Wish Book. The retailer is bringing the catalog back after a hiatus of several years.

Sears

There's a lot a stake. Holiday retail sales are expected to rise as much as 4 percent to $682 billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation. A stronger economy and a longer holiday shopping season -- one extra weekend day this year -- will also boost sales. 

But more of that spending is shifting to online retailers, with Amazon grabbing the lion's share. Department stores, on the other hand, are losing customers. Analytics firm RetailNext forecasts that the segment will suffer from a sales decline of 3 percent to 4 percent this holiday season. And a new survey from Deloitte found consumers this year expect to do the majority of their shopping online -- for the first time ever. 

"We wanted to spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to stand for and offer our customers, things like the Wish Book and really great values," Cook said. She added that Sears will be announcing more details about its holiday plans over the next few weeks. 

Sears, though, has to do more than produce an attractive catalog to get customers back through the doors. Complaints about poor customer service, "depressing" stores and a lack of merchandise surfaced last year

Some analysts have speculated that Sears may be on the verge of a bankruptcy. S&P Global Market Intelligence pegs the company as being within a year of filing for creditor protection. It just ended a century-long relationship with Whirlpool to sell appliances, which may also create problems this holiday season.

Sears is focusing on winning back customers, Cook said. The holiday offerings in this year's Wish Book include 15 toys the company has identified as the hottest this season, such as an Air Hogs drone, a Lego Ninjago set and Hatchimals' Hatching Eggs. 

"We try our darnedest to make everybody happy," Cook said. "We reach out on social media to people who have had a bad experience. It's important for us to try to win them back."