Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Free Advice to Wal-Mart from an American Consumer

The July 12 edition of Advertising Age tells the story of how Wal-Mart is dealing with its “assortment issues.” The company's Project Impact, initiated in September 2009, was meant to declutter the Wal-Mart aisles and make the shopping experience more “upscale.” Oops! Current research suggests that people can’t find what they want, so Wal-Mart is quietly putting all that junk back on the shelves. I say, "Don't bother."

In my personal experience -- and really, it is all about me, after all -- any retail effort to be "all-things-to-all-consumers" will tank.

Case in point: I shop mainly at Harris Teeter. It’s a smallish store, with friendly folks and solid prices, especially the ample two-fer specials. I'm always busy and I can fly around the store quickly, so I’m a fairly loyal HT customer. Sometimes, however, I go to Trader Joe’s, which carries amazing stuff like Kerry Gold butter from Ireland at $2.99/pound, flash frozen wild-caught Alaskan salmon, and inexpensive wine from Chile. Every so often I go there to get my growing list of TJ particulars. This multiple-shopping habit is not that unusual.

Case in point: Conversely, I have a friend who shops at Trader Joe’s all the time, but goes to Harris Teeter for artificially sweetened popcicles. Another friend gets groceries at Giant, but goes to Sam’s Club for huge bags of chicken breasts and big bottles of juice. I’m betting that even folks who shop at Wal-Mart hit-up some local market for certain “must-haves” or “taste-betters.”

American consumers – at least for now – have been given a lot of choices over the past decade, and in the process we’ve developed a great many “preferences.” Maybe the economy will punish that out of us, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In fact, I’ve been amazed how far out of the way people will go for a good Indian or Asian grocery store, a fresh fish market, organic locally-grown produce, good deli eats, and fresh baked goods. [Designer cupcakes have growing numbers of fans, actually. Who knew?]

In short, American consumers don't necessarily want to shop in any single place.. and no amount of finagling by Wal-Mart will change that any time soon.

p.s. Harris-Teeter recently dropped its Kerry Gold butter prices almost as low as Trader Joe's. Somebody is doing their homework.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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