Sears was the Amazon of its day. As Bezos' behemoth becomes the world's most valuable company, it teeters on the brink of closing

Key Points
  • Sears Holdings may need to shutter its business, ending the retailer's 126-year run, unless a bankruptcy court approves a buyout from Chairman Eddie Lampert.
  • That's as Amazon just became the most valuable public company in the world.
  • Sears has often been called the Amazon of its day.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Sears CEO Eddie Lampert (R).
Getty Images | Reuters

As bankrupt Sears Holdings inches toward liquidation, Amazon on Monday became the most valuable public company in the world, surpassing Microsoft.

Many people consider Sears to have been the Amazon of its day. It was the so-called everything store. Shoppers could order items through Sears' print catalogs and later pick them up in stores, a service that many retailers are just now starting to incorporate with their websites today. In many ways, Sears set the bar for retailers such as Walmart and Target to follow. And it's those companies, including Amazon, that ultimately sped Sears' demise.

Sears shares hit an all-time high of $195.18 in April 2007, when Amazon's stock was hovering around just $60. Over the years, Sears' market cap has tumbled from roughly $30 billion to under $100 million, as the company has struggled with sales declines and failed to invest in its stores. Meantime, Amazon's growth has accelerated as its online business has flourished.

Sears was the Amazon of the 1930s. Here's where the retailer is today
Sears: The rise and fall of the iconic department store

And — to Sears' detriment — Amazon has other valuable divisions outside of retail, like Amazon Web Services. In 2017, Amazon's total business reported $178 billion in sales compared with Sears' $16.7 billion. While Amazon doesn't break out retail sales, eMarketer estimated in July Amazon's e-commerce sales in the U.S. would amount to $258.2 billion in 2018.

In September, Sears' stock breached the $1 mark for the first time, as Amazon shares had just hit $2,000. That was right before the department store chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 15. For the past few months, Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert has been trying to push through a bid that would salvage some of the company's remaining assets. Now, he has until 4 p.m. Wednesday to pay a $120 million deposit to allow for his deal — to keep 425 Sears and Kmart stores open — in play.

Sears shares hit an all-time high of $195.18 in April 2007.

Sears' fall has other retailers on alert, too.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC last month he keeps a photo on his phone listing the top 10 retailers in the U.S. over the past few decades to remind him that so many companies come and go. That list included Sears in the No. 1 spot from 1950 through 1990, when Walmart overtook it.

"You see the rise and fall of Sears and others," McMillon said. "It's just a reminder that this can happen to us, too."

Walmart's Doug McMillon keeps a list of the top 10 retailers over the decades to remind him you have to innovate and adapt constantly.
Becky Quick | CNBC

Amazon shares closed Tuesday at $1,656.58, bringing its market value to roughly $810 billion. It hit $1 trillion for the first time in September, but has since lost some value as tech stocks overall have been in a slump.

One analyst said Amazon's stock should, easily, get back above $2,000 this year. Loop Capital Markets' Anthony Chukumba has a price target of $2,300 on Amazon shares, saying the company's moves into health care and more advertising will fuel its growth in 2019.

WATCH: Eddie Lampert's bid to save Sears still alive

Eddie Lampert's bid to rescue Sears still alive
Eddie Lampert's bid to rescue Sears still alive