Friday, December 10, 2010

Walmart cheaper? Who cares? The shelves are empty!

Walmart had its humble beginnings in Bentonville, Arkansas in May of 1950 when Sam Walton bought his first store and opened Walton’s 5 & 10 (five & dime). He invested 95 % of its capital in 1962 to open the first Walmart store. Today there are over 7,600 stores in 17 countries around the world (including Pakistan? - I would never have guessed).

In 2006 research showed that Walmart’s reduced prices caused consumers to save $287 billion - up to $957 per person or $2,500 per household.

Yes, compared to some other grocers in the area I have found Walmart to be competitive in their pricing of basic foodstuffs such as bread, butter, milk, etc. but my first ever visit to this renowned store was met with a good measure of disappointment at the empty holes on shelves where once were sugar and water; not even an "out of stock" sign in sight. A possible explanation at the time was the start of the school/university semester. Surely semesters don't start every other week, does it? Is it any different at other Walmart stores? Oh well...

Walmart is a pretty good 'one stop shop'. There you can find anything from groceries, clothing and kitchenware to outdoor equipment and apparel, jewellery and hardware, to toys, books and music. Hell, you can even have your hair and nails done, grab a bite to eat at the restaurant and use the fancy toilet that flush by itself when you move away from in front of the infrared beam. Now that is hygiene for you. But unfortunately you can’t stay too long. You need to make a second stop at a competing store, paying only a fraction more, to buy the items you couldn’t find at Walmart. Hey, better luck next time - think I'll be back for those fancy toilets though *wink-wink*.

It was a Black Friday indeed for the family of Jdimytai Damour who was stampeded to death by about 2,000 frantic shoppers entering a New York Walmart store November 28th , 2008. (That would have been a dreadful day for an empty shelf indeed!)

I can’t help but be reminded of the fable The Tortoise and the Hare. The tortoise – ridiculed by the hare for moving slowly – challenges the hare to a race. Sure enough the hare has a strong start but, arrogantly assured of imminent victory, he takes a nap along the way. When he wakes he discovers to his utter dismay that Tortoise has kicked his butt. Hmm... Imagine that!

In doing a bit of snooping around of my own I found stores that stock brands that Walmart do NOT stock; brands that are more affordable than the choice I would have made at Walmart, which means I pay less anyway. I found wider variety, better customer service and customer reward programs, things that make shopping at Walmart that much easier to resist. From a business perspective: is it not your goal to have more people shop at your store than at your competitor across the street? So if you can be beat on low prices, what else have you got to offer? Nothing like a bit of healthy competition in the market place! Oops... the store across the street has the same fancy toilets... haha

Maybe Walmart has been around so long that they've become complacent, thinking nothing of a nap in the middle of a race, but if a Walmart Hare won't sit up and pay attention, a competitor Tortoise might just beat him to it! Guess who I'll be cheering for?

Cheaper prices? Who cares? The shelves are empty!

* Walmart history as per Wikipedia

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