Now Walmart says it’s shifting gears to slightly larger Neighborhood Markets stores, which average about 40,000 square feet and focus primarily on produce and groceries. (The company’s Express stores, meanwhile, maxed out at about 15,000 square feet. Its Supercenters, by comparison, average about 180,000 square feet.)
“When you walk into a Walmart, you expect a Walmart assortment,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst for Forrester. “Some of the best-performing stores right now are small-format stores: Dollar General, Francesca’s, Five Below. But going from a big-box store to a small format is often much more challenging.”
At the Sears in Fair Oaks Mall — which is now about 78,000 square feet, down from 145,000 square feet — dozens of ellipticals and treadmills were on display, as were hundreds of appliances, many of them wrapped in festive red bows. Store managers said they tried to keep the store’s most popular departments — appliances, mattresses, lawn and garden — as large as possible, while shrinking the selection of apparel, jewelry and home goods. The company had also added computer kiosks throughout the store where customers could browse the selection at and place orders for items that weren’t offered in a store.
“Obviously we want to restore profitability and what that means is Sears is taking a good look at the assets we have available,” said Leena Munjal, senior vice president of customer experience. “The physical experience is very important to our members, but do they need 150,000 square feet? In many cases, no.”
The retailer needs to move quickly. Sears has already cautioned there is “substantial doubt” about whether it can remain a going concern even as it pursues a turnaround plan.
“Sears is just biding its time,” Davidowitz said. “Everybody else is downsizing, so they’re trying it too.”
But longtime customers at Fair Oak Mall last week didn’t seem to know what to make of the changes. For much of the morning, employees in Santa hats outnumbered shoppers. The ones who did walk in said they’d mostly come to browse.
A regular from Annandale, who said she had been coming to the store for 30 years, was confused by its new layout.
“That was really a shocker when I walked in and there was no upstairs,” she said. “I’m used to going to certain levels for certain items. I’m completely lost.”

Snow falls outside the merchandise pickup entrance of the Sears department store at the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va. (Ariel Zambelich/For The Washington Post)