Too little, too late is perhaps what can best describe what's happened to Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY), which either just sacked its CEO or at least helped carry his bags out of the C-suite in recent days. Plummeting sales, widening losses, and crashing comparable-store sales all mean that the home goods retailer now looks like a business that may be too threadbare to save.

Bed Bath & Beyond storefront.

Image source: Bed Bath & Beyond.

Dramatic changes were not enough

In late June, Bed Bath & Beyond announced that Mark Tritton was out as president, CEO, and board director and was being replaced on an interim basis by director Sue Gove, who has served in executive capacities at two other retailers, Golfsmith and Zale.

"We must deliver improved results. Our shareholders, associates, customers, and partners all expect more," Gove said in a statement.

It's a long way down from the mountain of hope that surrounded Tritton when he took over executive leadership back in 2019. As the former chief marketing officer at Target (TGT 0.98%), he immediately began making bold, decisive moves, such as clearing out holdovers from the previous management team, updating Bed Bath & Beyond's website, and selling off the patchwork of ancillary businesses that had been acquired over the years.

Earlier this year, however, Chewy founder and GameStop Chairman Ryan Cohen took a stake in the retailer and said all that wasn't enough. Bed Bath & Beyond needed to sell off more businesses and even put itself up for sale.

Similarities to another attempted retail overhaul

While Tritton tried to turn Bed Bath & Beyond into something of a Target Lite, and there were early promising results, they could not be maintained. It was reminiscent of another corporate leader who was brought in to revitalize an ailing retailer but instead failed miserably: Ron Johnson's stint as CEO of JCPenney.

Following a successful career at Apple, Johnson did away with Penney's culture of "doorbuster" sales, upgraded stores to make them more modern, and greatly changed the product lineup, all without perhaps fully considering how it would be received by Penney's customers.

Although Johnson was right in many respects that JCPenney needed to be brought into the modern age of retailing, he failed to bring along the retailer's customers. They liked the idea of big sale days rather than everyday low pricing, and they couldn't make heads or tails out of what to do with iPad-equipped employees instead of having checkout lines.

In many ways, that's what occurred with Bed Bath & Beyond.

Addicted to discounts

It's a cautionary tale for all retailers not to get customers hooked on discounting. The home goods store was too dependent on its ubiquitous blue-and-white 20%-off coupons to lure customers in, and every time it tried to wean them off the discounts, sales plunged.

Even former CEO Steve Temares recognized customers wouldn't shop the stores without a coupon in hand. He tried to thread the needle by making them available only to loyalty program members, but that didn't work either. And with no carrot to lure customers in, Tritton wasn't able to keep regular customers coming back or attract new ones. The retail landscape has just changed too much for Bed Bath & Beyond to effectively compete.

In the decade-and-a-half since Linens 'n Things declared bankruptcy, home goods competition has greatly evolved. For many years Bed Bath & Beyond simply rested on its laurels, allowing Amazon.com, Walmart, and even Target to become power brokers in the online and offline market. 

There's a shakeout coming to the home goods space. Superstore chain At Home went private in a $2.8 billion deal completed last year, while online retailer Wayfair is struggling under the weight of plummeting sales and active customers shopping its stores. Sales were down 13% last quarter while active customers collapsed 23%.

No way out

It could be Tritton just wasn't given enough time to make his changes stick while having to deal with a pandemic, rampant inflation, high gas prices, and supply chain snarls. It may also be that there is just no fix for Bed Bath & Beyond. Too much time was squandered by the previous management team, and now all that it does is reactionary. 

While I once had high hopes for Tritton leading the home goods retailer to a recovery, the company looks more like a candidate at the end of its rope. The best investors might be able to hope for is a buyout, but any turnaround -- if one is to ever come -- appears far into the future.

Add it all up, and it's clear that investors' money would be better spent elsewhere.