Sears Holding Corp has laid off 700 employees who worked in the appliance section of its Kmart discount stores, a company spokesman confirmed.

The decision, which affects associates in about 225 stores, came a month after the company, led by hedge fund manager Edward Lampert, reported a bigger-than-expected loss in its latest first quarter.

Sears tied the decision to a change in the way it sells appliances.

When we first put appliances in Kmart stores, their point-of-sale systems were not set up for appliance sales. They now are. So at the time, we had to put an associate, trained on the Sears POS system, in the Kmart store to handle the sales, spokesman Chris Brathwaite said in an email to Reuters.

While the retailer is letting go workers dedicated only to selling appliances, Brathwaite said that other Kmart associates will now be trained to assist customers with questions about appliances.

There will also be a toll-free number that customers can call for additional assistance, he added.

Kmart, which in February expanded the number of stores carrying appliances to the entire chain of 1,300 stores from about 270, employs about 100,000 associates.

Sears has been criticized by analysts in the past for relying too heavily on cost-cutting to boost profit, rather than upgrading its stores and improving its customer service.

It faces tough competition from Home Depot , Lowe's , Wal-Mart , Target and Best Buy in the appliance arena.

Sears shares closed up $2.66 at $74.02 Friday on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)