Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Walmart Experience

Today I went to Walmart to pick up supplies for one of the locations of the business that I manage. Such trips are not among my favorite things to do, and yet sometimes they are necessary. As I pushed the cart around the store locating the various items that I needed, I started thinking about why I didn't enjoy going to Walmart. Following are some of my thoughts:

  • In spite of its size, it always seems crowded to me. I'm not a big fan of crowds.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to find the item that I want. This difficulty offers two basic choices. I can either hunt for an employee that will help me (often hard to find), or I can walk a few miles hunting for the item.
  • The choices are limited to a few brands. Often, the brand of item that I'm looking for, or perhaps the specific color, is not available.
  • In spite of a greeter at the door, the experience is impersonal. I want to feel like I'm a valued customer when I shop. I don't get that feeling at Walmart. The feeling conveyed to me is that they are doing me a favor by allowing me to shop there. I want them to feel favored that I chose them as the place to shop.
  • When Walmart comes to town, many small shops are unable to compete and eventually go out of business.

Now, in all fairness, there are a number of things that need to go on the positive side of the ledger. The following items are in that category:

  • Walmart provides a convenient store for finding a wide array of products in one place. Instead of driving all over town to multiple businesses, most items that the consumer is looking for on a regular basis are at Walmart.
  • Their items are not always the best of quality, but they offer items at an affordable price that the average consumer might not be able to afford elsewhere. In particular, the lower income shopper's dollar will go farther. I'm not necessarily a believer in quantity over quality, but sometimes it is needed.
  • Because of their competitive pricing, when Walmart comes to town, prices in all stores on competing items generally come down. The consumer benefits.
  • In areas where a smaller town is competing with a city within a short driving distance, Walmart locating to the smaller town can hold business locally that would have driven to the nearby city. This can indirectly help the smaller business owners. The shopper will be less likely to make a 30 minute drive for one item than for a lot of items.

I'm certain that both lists could be expanded considerably, but I just wanted to hit a few of the high points. I will not attempt to address what kind of citizen Walmart is to the communities in which they are located. Nor will I attempt to address the employee issues that are often raised. I do think that on the balance, Walmart fits a niche in the marketplace that benefits the lower and lower-middle income consuming public and on certain items appeals as well to the more affluent consumers. I do wish they would seek to become a more service oriented, customer friendly store rather than the impersonal behemoth that they have become. Perhaps though, that is the niche for the small business owner that seeks to compete against them.


Incognito said...

That's why I like Target... and their prices are often less than Walmart.

Panhandle Poet said...

I prefer Target too. There are lots of places that I travel that don't have a Target though.

MotherPie said...

Your last reason -- the impact on local businesses -- is the main reason I try to avoid Wallmart.

I have no idea where one might be in NYC. Anyway, we have to buy toilet paper one to four rolls at a time as there is NO SPACE to put a bunch of stuff.