Sears CEO: 'We don't need more customers'

America's top retailers in trouble
America's top retailers in trouble

Normally when retailers like Sears are fighting to stay alive, they sound desperate to lure shoppers.

Sears Holdings (SHLD), which recently warned it may not survive due to mounting losses, is taking a different approach. The owner of the Sears and Kmart stores is choosing instead to focus on the shrinking number of customers it still has.

"We don't need more customers. We have all the customers we could possibly want," Sears CEO Eddie Lampert said on Wednesday at the company's annual shareholder meeting.

A spokesman explained that Lampert made the comments referring to the company's ability to deliver great service and value to its Shop Your Way loyalty program.

Lampert's remarks will do little to silence the many critics who say the former Goldman Sachs executive has focused far too much on the company's vast real estate holdings instead of investing in the battered brands.

Sears, at one time the nation's largest retailer, has lost money every single year this decade, bleeding more than $10 billion over that span. The once-iconic brand has been forced to pull the plug on countless stores and its stock price has crashed by 68% since January 2013 when Lampert took over as CEO.

"I give you my assurance -- I am not in denial," Lampert said in response to a question from a shareholder about the red ink.

Related: Retail train wreck continues

Lampert pointed to efforts to invest more in the Shop Your Way ecosystem, including through partnerships with Citigrou (C)and Uber.

Still, the revitalization of the Sears brand that Lampert has been promising for years has yet to materialize. The March warning from Sears that "substantial doubt exists" about the company's ability to "continue as a going concern" further fanned the bankruptcy fears.

Lampert acknowledged in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that Sears faces "challenges," but the CEO and leading shareholder didn't admit to any personal missteps in handling its revival.

Instead, he blamed everything from the shifting consumer behaviors that "changed the game" for Sears and other retailers to the company's enormous pension obligations.

Lampert pinned most of the blame on rumors that Sears may not survive, saying they've caused vendors to treat the company "like a pariah."

"Every time people use the word bankruptcy, somebody who reads that doesn't get past that word. It makes it very unfair for us," Lampert told the Tribune.

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