Walmart: Are We Getting Bored?

The Walmart Supercenter that I shop is supposed to have everything. This football stadium of a store is convenient – because it is close to where I work, competitively priced, and, as I said, it has EVERYTHING – (except real customer help).

By the time I walked from the far end of the parking lot to the far end of the stadium, it felt like I had covered miles. It wasn’t of course, but I thought my effort would at least turn into a quick purchase. I had even pictured myself post-sale leaping into my car, my feet never touching the surface of the parking lot, and holding a bag of kitty food.

I looked around, hoping for someone with a Walmart tag to walk by. The workers were at their cash registers or greeting people. I strained my eyes over to the produce section (another mile and half away) and I spotted a lady carefully placing tomatoes on a shelf.

No one else was in sight -except- the teenage girl in the shoe department, and she was chatting on her cell phone. Maybe I’ll ask her about the cat food. By the time I arrived there, she had finished her phone conversation and had begun another with two customers. They weren’t buying shoes though. Actually, they weren’t buying anything and had just come into the store to see her. The conversation became pretty lively and loud – and, after a while, I realized that she had no intention of giving up her fun talk to accommodate someone with a cat food problem.

I then headed over to the Walmart greeter, who was standing at the entrance of the store. I explained my pathetic dilemma, but was told that he had just started and he only worked a couple of hours a week. He had no idea about the cat food, and only said, “Welcome to Walmart.”

After searching for what seemed like an eternity, I still couldn’t find the special canned cat food that my kitty likes. I began to think that I was foolish for coming into Walmart, and – for just one thing. I grabbed a couple of tubes of toothpaste and some mouthwash. Things I really didn’t need – but would use eventually. I needed to make my visit worth something. As I began to plan my exit strategy I noticed other shoppers roaming around, and looking confused, like me.

Is it time to rethink just how convenient box stores are? Doesn’t cheap and convenient really mean huge, and no help? Isn’t that what we expect from box stores? I wonder if those other shoppers will follow me to the local independent retailer down the street.

It’s no secret that many box store employees aren’t paid particularly well, and for the most part, employed only part-time and do not receive any benefits. Box stores have to work their numbers somewhere to keep the prices low and the owner’s profit high. That usually means that employees get the wrong end of the deal.

In the last twenty years box stores, like Walmart, have swallowed up much of the retail business nationwide. The impact on local communities is staggering; overall, wages have dropped, fewer are employed full time, and considerably less revenue is reinvested in local communities. One study suggests that only 14% of the revenue generated by the box stores is spent locally, compared to over 52% reinvested by independently owned businesses. In other words, your local Walmart sends its store-generated revenue out of the county, probably out of your state, to pay the real operational costs.

Independent retailers have had to change their business plan to survive. That meant having a more competitive price, good customer service, and convenient hours. And, let’s not forget about having a good web site, too.

Box stores are just too similar, and, frankly, boring. As far as independent retailers, the renaissance has started. No, Walmart and other corporate chains are not in peril of being put out of business anytime soon. Recent studies, however, indicate locals are not losing market share as quickly as a decade ago. In fact, independently owned bookstores, hardware stores, and even pharmacies seem to be holding on and making a profit. Well-managed grocery stores and restaurants are still packing customers in and competing against the chain stores.