The internet and social media have broken down communication barriers between brands and consumers, critics and fans, opening a channel that's ripe for controversy. And so the recent Twitter spat between Sears and Belus Capital CEO Brian Sozzi and The Street columnist Rocco Pendola really is no surprise.
Sozzi's ongoing retail case study of sorts has documented the good, the bad and the ugly in physical retail, from run-down, poorly executed Sears stores to redesigned, modern Macy's locations. In a series of posts on his Belus Capital website, Sozzi has posted damning, photographic evidence of some of the major deteriorations seen in struggling retailers like Sears and JCPenney, including outdated, unorganized displays to unkempt retail floors and fixtures.
Colleague Rocco Pendola has been using Sozzi's photographic research to back up his thesis on the fall of physical retailers. And after relative silence from such retailers, Pendola's latest post, “Sears: A National Tragedy,” which featured Sozzi’s images “that show the unkempt conditions many of us associate with Sears and similar dying physical retailers,” may have just put Sears over the edge.
But Sears wasn't the only one with something to say.
Chris Brathwaite, the VP of Corporate Communications tweeted at Pendola, defending the retailer's appearance, saying it wasn't a common theme across all of its stores, to which Pendola challenged Brathwaite, telling him he'd go visit his local Santa Monica, Calif., location and snap some photos of his own to go see for himself. Pendola did, commenting that the store was in a little better shape than the location that Sozzi originally posted on, but the Twitter war continued.
Pendola continued that his thesis “applies to any number of physical retailers, who had their heads handed to them by Amazon.com (AMZN) and have yet to cobble together anything resembling a sound response.”
“The Sears piece represents a sliver of what I have written about with respect to retail over the last two-plus years. It comes as support for a larger thesis, articulated in articles such as: 'The Death and Life of Great American Retailers, 2013'; 'Will Intel Revolutionize Physical Retail?'; and 'J.C. Penney Needs to Fire Delusional Ron Johnson Now,' (from February 2013).”
Pendola and Sozzi's comments attracted backlash from consumers and employees, too.
Pendola maintained that he wasn't attacking rank and file employees, or anyone in particular, smoothing over some of the interactions he had with other tweeters. Heck, him and Brathwaite were talking shop on the NHL season by the end, so it looks like Sears' reputation is the only one who took a real beating.