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Let’s Not Be Sears

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I just finished a book (2009’s “Half Broke Horses”) where the main character lived on a ranch in the Southwest, around the time of the Great Depression and World War II.

A lot of things were different back then — the outhouses and water pumps; the lack of interstates or, for that matter, cars. But what really reminded me that this book was set in a different era? The fact that the characters were constantly buying things from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

I can’t remember the last time I bought anything from Sears. 1992, maybe? My mom told me she stopped at a Sears on her lunch hour awhile back, only because she knew there’d be no line at the checkout. When a store’s major selling point is the fact that nobody shops there, you know it’s in trouble.

It’s no wonder, then, that Sears announced a few weeks ago that, due to an especially weak holiday season, it’s closing up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores this year. As if that’ll help things.

I have six Wal-Marts, five Lowe’s, four Kohl’s and at least three Targets within a 10-mile radius of my house — not to mention the thousands of e-tailers I can pull up on the Internet without even getting off my couch. The nearest Sears is in another suburb, 25-minutes away. When I need to buy something, where do you think I’m going to go first?

That’s precisely the problem: Sears has made it harder for customers to shop there, at a time when every other store has made it easier. The company broke ground, decades ago, with its catalog, bringing big-city products to small-town dwellers. But then it stopped digging, and the big box retailers and’s of the world took over. Today, not even the Sears Tower wants anything to do with Sears anymore.

Life insurers should take note, because this industry’s story isn’t much different. People snapped up insurance policies when door-to-door salesmen were a novel convenience. But no one wants to buy things that way today. A stranger knocking on my door is a nuisance. Hell, picking up the phone and simply talking to an actual person is a nuisance.

Sure, we all know that buying life insurance isn’t as simple as grabbing a Craftsman drill or some Land’s End shorts. But my guess is that most consumers don’t make that distinction. To them, a purchase is either easy or hard. And if it’s hard, well, they’re just not going to do it. Today’s record number of uninsured Americans is proof of that.

So why are we still making the purchase of life insurance such a chore? This isn’t the Stone Age — online chat-with-a-live-agent capabilities, video tutorials and interactive calculators or worksheets can accomplish much of what an in-person meeting can. Will staffing, regulations and carriers need to adapt? Yes. Will it be difficult? Probably.

But what’s the alternative? Launching a Kardashian Kollection to pretend you’re still relevant? I don’t think anybody wants that.  

Corey Dahl is life channel and social media editor for and managing editor of Life Insurance Selling.