Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wal Mart, revisited

In the last two years, Wal Mart has really gone downhill.  Is this because they have lost sight of their goals, or are we just more picky, now that the recession is easing?  Perhaps a little of both.

I wrote previously about Wal Mart and how they have some good bargains, clean stores, and a surprisingly good selection of upper-end foods.

That was back in 2009.  My, how times have changed.

Or should I say "What the fuck happened here, man, you guys have really screwed the pooch!"

Wal Mart stock has taken a dive of nearly 10% in the last few months - while the rest of the market has gone up, up, up.

What is going on?  Is Wal Mart really getting crappier - or is my perception changing because I have a little more money in my pocket and am no longer willing to overlook some things.  Perhaps a little of the latter, but more of the former.

There are several things I have noticed about our local Wal Mart that are disturbing:

1.  While Wal Mart prides itself on its security, there are abandoned cars in the local Wal Mart parking lot - cars that haven't moved in months and have flat tires and flyers under the windshield wipers.  Why are these not being towed?  I talked to the manager at the store and she said that one abandoned car belonged to an employee, and once they paid him on Friday, he could afford to have it towed.  Wrong Answer.  The correct answer should have been that Security should have had a flat bed there two months ago.

And speaking of security, how come people are allowed on the property to stuff flyers under the windshields of cars?  You really notice how often this occurs when you see an abandoned car.  Chase those people off the lots!  And while you are at it, chase the people loitering around the store away - the ones who hang out in the corner there on the left side.  Has all the appeal of street-corner drug dealers.

2. Garbage in the aisles - packaging, dropped products, things from other sections, etc.  The place is a mess, with stuff that shoppers dropped or decided they didn't want, or packing box parts that employees are too lazy to pick up.  Did we cut the budget here or is the manager just not assertive enough?

3.  Unstocked Shelves - there are entire sections that are unstocked for weeks at a time.  The excuse given was that "management won't authorize enough overtime for us to move product from the store room to the shelves".  No stock = no sale.  And increasingly, I find I am leaving the store empty-handed because half of what I wanted is not stocked.  So I have to go to Winn-Dixie to get it.  And increasingly, I just got to Winn-Dixie.

4.  Discontinued Store-Brand Products - Some Wal-Mart branded products are very good.  Their generic version of Triscuit crackers is better than the original (less salt).  But you can't get them anymore - but there is a whole shelf with the 100 varieties of Nabisco branded products.  Sorry, but I just want a damn Triscuit, not some triangular-shaped monstrosity with chemical "flavorings" on it that are supposed to be "cream cheese and chives" flavor but taste like old gym socks instead.

It would seem that someone in Arkansas decided to focus on "name brands" instead of store brands, and perhaps Nabisco paid them for shelf space and also paid them to discontinue the store brand.  Bad move.  I'm out the door, if this is the case.

The same is true throughout the store.  Wal Mart has always prided itself on using the latest in computer technology to see what people are buying and then re-stock on a lighting-fast basis.  But it seems that the local store here can't even stock the shelves with the most popular items.  When asked, the manager claims that "the warehouse is out of stock for months!"

And when asked, the manager says that she has been on the job for mere weeks and that the entire management staff was fired recently.  Um, I wonder what that was all about.

There are some things I just won't buy at Wal Mart - computers and electronics being one of them.  Their prices are only "fair" when compared to BJ's wholesale or other places, and there is no expertise whatsoever in the department.  If you are going to buy a pig-in-a-poke off-the-shelf, you might as well get the "low price, always" and that's at BJ's, not Wal-Mart.  Who needs a selection of 100 models of TeeVees anyway?

Businesses like Wal Mart have to keep earning your business, and cannot rest on their laurels.  They are only as good as your last visit.  And my last 10 visits have been disappointing, if not nightmares.

Meanwhile, the local Winn-Dixie has two clean and newly remodeled stores, plenty of product in stock in clean, well-stocked shelves.  The prices are a little higher, but I can get everything in one shopping trip.

And they have more convenient locations.  So what's not to like?

I may go back to Wal Mar, but a lot of changes would have to occur.

Note that during the recent stock decline in the last two days, Wal Mart stock has gone up.  Perhaps, like Gold, the price reflects anxiety.  When the economy improves, Wal Mart languishes.  When the economy falters, Wal Mart thrives.

If so, Wal Mart is in for a bumpy ride....

UPDATE:  April  27, 2011

This article on CNN discusses how Wal-Mart is realizing its missteps - getting away from low prices and also eliminating product content.

Apparently this is a tacit admission that they were falling prey to the mindset of leasing shelf space to producers, at the expense of their own products - so we have 10 feet of Nabisco flavored Triscuits (which all taste like roasted dog shit) and no more Wal-Mart brand cross-hatch crackers.

Bring back the Wal-Mart Brand!

If Wal-Mart prices are as high as, or higher than, the competition, there is no longer any incentive to shop at Wal-Mart.

That's why I stopped going.  Empty shelves and a tanking stock price.

"Wal-Mart has struggled with seven straight quarters of sales declines in its stores. Addressing that challenge, Duke said the company made a mistake of shunning its "every day low prices" mantra and removing products from stores, a move it recently corrected."

It is unfortunate, however, that Wal-Mart officials blame the economy for decline in sales - claiming that their customers are "running out of money" (this has not prevented the customers from buying Bling rims, however).  The real reason is, of course, they stopped selling product and stopped stocking the shelves - and are mismanaging the stores.

Dirty Stores + High Prices + Empty Shelves = Lower Sales.

Going to a Wal-Mart today is like visiting, well, K-Mart.  Ugh!