Turning Points 2008: Walmart Stays on Message
Commentary by George
note: In what we plan to make an annual end-of-year tradition, RetailWire
has compiled a list of the most significant retail industry "Turning
Points" of 2008. (See our news release…) What follows is
the ninth in a series of discussions based on the list.
It could be us, but it
seems that we don’t hear Walmart being accused of being the evil empire
quite as much these days.
We thought of a few reasons
that might help explain why the retailer seems to be given the benefit
of the doubt more today than in the past.
- The economy is in seriously
bad shape and people are worried about making ends meet. Consumers’ self-interest
has overridden reservations about shopping at Walmart. The retailer says
its mission is "saving people money so they can live better." When
a consumer finds they can, in fact, save quite a bit of money and in
the process live a little better, they’re more likely to see the Walmart
debate in shades of gray rather than the black or white view painted
by Wal-Mart Watch and other critics.
- The mood of the country has
changed. It’s not that the world’s largest retailer no longer has critics
or even that they don’t sometimes make good points. It’s just that in
today’s world, where many have bought into the premise that they do not
live in red or blue America but the United States of America, people
are interested in negotiations not accusations.
- Walmart has changed and taken
sides on issues that once would have been thought unlikely if not impossible.
For example, just as many of its core consumers have come over the years
to embrace environmental issues (see the Creation Care movement), the
retailer has promoted itself as a leader on green issues. It didn’t do
this because it gained it points with critics (that was just an add-on
benefit), but because it made business sense. Going green enabled Walmart
to find ways to cut further costs out of its operation, which enabled
it to keep "saving people money so …"
- Walmart understands how to
shape public opinion. The company may have the best public relations
organization in the business. Virtually all messaging comes back to the
company taking steps that it believes will ultimately help people to
Do you think that Walmart’s image has changed for the better in recent
years? What factor or factors do you think are most responsible for this?
Are there any other changes you expect to see the company make in the
future that will surprise critics?