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Walmart Continues to Deny it Has a Staffing/Stocking Problem After E-mail Deluge to Bloomberg

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After NC got its own mini comment deluge on our post yesterday about devolution and cost-cutting gone rabid leading to declines in service, with Walmart as the featured example, Bloomberg has a follow up story on customer complaints about Walmart stock levels. Recall that the news service had reported that the Bentonville giant was losing customers because its stores increasingly had gaps on its shelves, leaving customers frustrated at their inability to get what they’d come for. This was purportedly happening with such frequency that customers were shifting their buying to the slightly pricier and more reliable Costco and Target.

Predictably, Walmart issued a denial about problems in its stores.

Now amusingly, Bloomberg’s report has been confirmed by over 1000 reader e-mails expressing their frustration over inventory levels at Walmart. And in predictable corporate-messaging-imperatives-dictating-reality, Walmart continues to insist it has no problems, that the complaints sent to Bloomberg as so small in number relative to Walmart’s shopper base as to be an aberration.

If you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Consider: what do you think the overlap between Walmart native customers and Bloomberg readers is? We are presumably talking about a fairly small subset. And how often are readers of any news service story motived enough to send an e-mail to the journalists about it?

I’m amused at Walmart’s efforts to try to use PR to convince shareholders and analysts that it does not have a problem. Here are key sections from the latest Bloomberg piece:

More than 1,000 e-mailed complaints signal that Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s (WMT) restocking challenges are more widespread than the world’s largest retailer has said.

An employee stocks the beer cooler at a Wal-Mart store in Alexandria, Virginia. Photographer: Andrew
Wal-Mart customers from Hawaii to Florida and from Texas to Vermont wrote to express their frustration after Bloomberg News reported March 26 that there aren’t enough workers in the stores to keep shelves stocked, cash registers manned and shoppers’ questions answered. In response to the original article, Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said in part: “The premise of this story, which is based on the comments of a handful of people, is inaccurate and not representative of what is happening in our stores across the country.”

The e-mails began arriving shortly after the article was published and were still coming a week later. Most were from previously loyal Wal-Mart customers befuddled by what had happened to service at a company they’d once admired for its low prices and wide assortment…

Wal-Mart said the customers complaining to Bloomberg aren’t a sufficient sample size and don’t represent shoppers’ impressions of its stores nationwide. The company surveys more than 500,000 customers a month, asking them about checkout lines, store cleanliness and the helpfulness of workers, Buchanan said yesterday in e-mailed statement.

The spokeswoman maintained inventory levels were at 90% to 95%. But this contrasted starkly with reports from all over the country that Bloomberg provided of repeat customer experiences with inability go find goods and unacceptably long lines. One example of many (emphasis original):

Bobby Blackmon, 37, lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Wal- Mart’s home state. He travels for his job working with cranes — and no matter where he goes, he said he always has trouble finding things at Wal-Mart.

Two weeks ago, he was at the Wal-Mart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to buy energy drink mix, nicotine gum and ambrosia apples.

“Zero for three,” he said. “All the shelves were empty.”

Blackmon, who works as an emergency room nurse on the weekends, picked up some peanut butter and headed to a checkout line.

Leaving Empty-Handed

“There was one register open, and I was the tenth person back,” he said. “It was ridiculous. I just put it down and left without it.” Several of his fellow customers did the same.

Blackmon is married with four children, ages 12 and younger.

“We used to spend 40 percent of our income at Wal-Mart,” he said. “Now we just try to avoid it.”

It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch. My attorney told me how she’d discourage her clients from taking Walmart as a customer, since they’d seek to become their most important customer and wring them dry. She’d seen too many promising businesses destroyed that way and did what she could to forestall that. Walmart is so addicted to its stingy logic that it seems constitutionally unable to admit that it’s taken an approach that was once a winner well beyond the point of maximum advantage and needs to correct course. If reports like this are still prevalent two months down the road, it will indicate that the Arkansas retailer is unable to get out of its own way.

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130 comments

    1. Richard Kline

      “Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch” was my exact first thought spying the post. The volume and diversity of negative Walmart customer comment to a _news article_ is remarkable. And the volume of supportive comment? So trivial to nonexistant that even the Corp’s own shills make no mention.

      And the remark that should send fear tingling up the spine of Walmart’s inner ghouls of the executive sweet? “We used to spend 40% of our income there, but now we just try to avoid it.” That’s a MAJOR *owie*.

  1. EmilianoZ

    You call that devolution, I call that costumer empowerment. Customers should be allowed to stock the shelves themselves and earn reward points for that.

    1. R Foreman

      Shoot.. consumers should be stocking their own shelves. This is the 21st century, all kinds of stuff has changed, the US Constitution doesn’t even apply anymore. I know ’cause George W Bush told me so, it’s ok for gov’t to spy on Americans who seem suspicious, and now with Obama they can just kill Americans without notice or any of that legal mumbo-jumbo. Walmart should put some of those customers to work for just wandering in the store!

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      Customers should be allowed to stock the shelves themselves and earn reward points for that.

      A better model yet might be if customers could manufacture their own goods, shelve them at the local WallFart and then be buy them back for $0.00 (It’s FREE!!!!) plus a small stocking and handling fee, say $min_wage times the number of hours it took to make the thing. So if the doo-dad you must have took only fifteen minutes to make, 7.25 x .25 = $1.81. Hey, cheap at half the price!

    3. Richard Kline

      Customers should be _paying throught he nose_ for the opportunity to stock Walmart’s shelves themselves. . . . Just like Walmart’s suppliers.

      Walmart will _never_ change course, their entire model is predicated upon eating everybody _else’s_ lunch.

    4. cwaltz

      Did you know that Walmart “charges” suppliers for shelf space and access to its customer base?

      At least it used to when I was there in 2000-2003.

      I suspect they’ll have a harder time blackmailing suppliers after its problems when they attempted replacing brands with their generics and now with complaints that supplies aren’t making it to shelves.

      1. sierra7

        Many major retailers (both food and otherwise) have been doing that for decades…it’s part of “acceptable business practices”….

        (I spent more than 50 years in the food business; both originator, wholesale and retail….)

    5. Art Eclectic

      Exactly right. Customers should stock their own shelves…by ording from Amazon and having non-perishable goods delivered right to their doorstep.

      No lines. No empty shelves. No nightmare parking lot.

      For the record, I’m finding Target just as bad these days. They had bare shelves of several items I wanted last week and I took my business to online retailers instead of wasting more gas and valuable time finding another brick and mortar retailer.

    1. Richard Kline

      Karmenfreude.

      That’s the concept you are attemptint to express, Jason. Not an either/or but a larger synergy of both/and.

      1. Richard Kline

        Anybody who wants to use or viral-spiral this neologism is welcome to crank it up. I have to admit, I did a little dance after I typed the mash-up. And the concept of ‘karmenfreude’ is soo ripe, I’m amazed no one has envisualized it previously, for which all credit to Jason on that actually. I’m just the facilitator here . . . .

  2. Duncan Hare

    Woolworth’s was the Walmart of the 40s, 50s and 60s. Same business model, and where are they now?

    Every ecosystem needs a bottom feeder.

    1. R J Carpenter

      Three hostile takeover attempts and the culture of the corporate raider at the time didn’t help Woolies in the US. Plus the old white men who ran the company couldn’t think out of the 1950s to save their asses.

      1. craazyman

        I remember in the 1970s as a kid thinking the Wollworth lunch counter was one of the saddest places I had ever seen. it seemed inconcievable that the food could be eaten, something fried cold between pieces of white bread garnished with a pickle the size of a dime, maybe a plate of fries so greasy they were wet and limp. an old woman with bags and a hair net sitting on a plastic stool looking at the wall. the cook staring down at his shoes. everything hopelessly fixed in a fog of glare from the brightness of hideous flourescent lights. why would anyone be there unless they were abandoned by God himself? I couldn’t understand any of it, since there was a McDonald’s quite close by. Maybe Wal-Mart will come to this. A few meth freaks with stringy hair and tatoos hanging out in the parking lot counting up enough change to go inside and buy a jar of peanut butter while shopping carts rust in the rain. Only to find they’re out of peanut butter and the greeter is too stoned to even talk. hahahah.

        1. Fledermaus

          A poetic description. I was born in the late 70′s and never saw a Woolworth’s I’m surprised they lasted until to 70s. But I visited a a wal-mart within the last year, once, I recognize the depressing atmosphere you describe

        2. PQS

          Up until about a decade ago, you could still get lunch at KMart. They had an actual café area, with all the usual fare: dogs, burgers, fries, etc. etc. Lots of soda and ice cream. It was what you expected, nothing more.

          I was a teen in the late 80s, and the remaining lunch counters in Las Vegas were fantastic novelties for me….I still recall there was an old drugstore on the northern end of Las Vegas Blvd., “The Strip,” where you could get a grilled meal that wasn’t too terrible, plus your lunch mates would have great stories of Vegas from long ago. The bar stools were covered in red naugahyde and everything smelled like cigarettes. Like everything in Vegas then. Lots of chrome.

        3. ambrit

          Dear craazyman;
          I remember vaguely going to Downtown Miami (Fla) to the Walgreens around 1960 with my mother and eating a grilled cheese sandwich. (Mom made me drink my milk too.) It was a fascinating place for a small child. Round seats at the lunch counter that spun! The people were what I remember best. Dressed up women in for the weekly shopping, old men doing nothing in particular, or reading the racing form before heading down to one of the race tracks to try their luck. I didn’t even know enough to wonder why the only non white people I saw were behind the lunch counter, serving the whites. (Miami was one of the big segregated cities of that time. The Beach still had curfew laws then.)
          I seriously doubt if any of todays younger folk will remember these times with any degree of nostalgia. Probably something more akin to the old folks back then who remembered the Great Depression. Most of them never lost that fear of being poor. Old folks were stingy for a reason!

        4. Yves Smith Post author

          OMG, I remember how sad the Woolworths were! We lived in a mill town, Escanaba, Michigan, and the Woolworths was on the long main street. I don’t even know why we ever went in.

          It wasn’t just down at the heels. It was so tatty that you wondered how anyone would buy anything from there, especially in the food line. And not just the counter. You’d think their candies would all be really stale.

          1. Richard Kline

            Escanaba; I even know where that is! But we’ve talked about that. Boonie burgs in upstate Michigan, some of them haven’t been ‘happy places’ in 150 years. The sky is always the color of lead, speaking metaphorically.

            And btw, I enjoyed the Walmart post thread more than most in some time. Got to sinke the teeth into, and looks like we hit the right nerve . . . .

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            Actually, there is a bizarre atmospheric anomaly in the UP.

            If you look at Agricultural Department maps of winter sunshine, the Upper Midwest is 30% to 40%. The only place in the US where you get 70% winter sunshine is southern Florida and parts of Arizona and maybe Southern CA.

            Except for Escanaba.

            There is a band from Escanaba to Menominee with 70% winter sunshine. And with all that snow, it’s blindingly bright. Locals call it the banana belt.

          3. mytwosenseworth

            Woolworth’s was on the 1100 block of Ludington Street, along with Kresge’s and Neisner’s 5 & 10 cent store, in the early 1970s. Woolworth’s later moved to the Delta Plaza, which has badly deteriorated in recent years and is currently in foreclosure. Escanaba really needs something new in the retail sense, as the Walmart (unfortunately) gets most of the shopping traffic here. Our only hope is if some investor would be willing to come in and construct a modern strip mall. Other U.P. communties, like Marquette and Iron Mountain, can claim to have such retail centers in their midst.

          4. Richard Kline

            It’s sad but in the way of meaningful context that we find out Walmart actually _has_ both succeeded Woolworths in Escanaba and eaten the local retail environment both. And who will bother to build that strip mall in Escanaba with Walmart already crouching like a gorged vampire bat on the town?

            Iteration isn’t necessarily evolution, though if accompanied by hyper-concentration than yes in a context-paralytic kind of way. That’s what Walmarts is: an invasive organism which drives every local environment to its discrete specific maximum which renders further change impossible unless catastrophic.

        5. jake chase

          For a similar contemporary experience, I recommend Walgreen: Twenty-five isles of crap with no understandable use; two hapless employees with no idea where anything is or what it’s for; musak written for a looney bin; six or seven shoppers wandering around, trying to remember what they came in for.

          The stock is doing great. I have no idea why.

          1. Richard Kline

            I do go into Walgreen’s to get generic acetaphenamin at two-for-one on the 375 gel cap bottles; a pretty good deal. But the ambiance is so anti-organic lifeform it positively makes the oil in my skin congeal.

          2. cwaltz

            If I had to bank money I’d bet there is some accounting voodoo going on with its “register rewards” program. The frugal mommies do what they call “rolling” of these things. They’ll buy products that manufacturers incentivized and then utilize it to purchase necessities like diapers.

        6. sleepy

          I remember eating at the Woolworth’s in downtown New Orleans on Canal Street a couple of times a month. The food was actually good there–great fried chicken and I believe their baked goods were local.

          Maybe just because it was New Orleans and the customers and the employess had higher expectations for food.

          One of the great delights of New Orleans cheap food in the 70s was the K&B (the local drugstore, since gone) breakfast special. Biscuits or toast, coffee, two eggs, bacon or sausage, and grits for 99 cents.

          1. ambrit

            Dear sleepy;
            One of the delights of showing visiting friends around New Orleans in the ’70s was indeed K&B. The booze aisle in the Lee Circle store was intimidating.

      2. Richard Kline

        What the remarks below miss about Woolworths, though, is that in its prime it was well run and did indeed provide value in its strata to a large part of the public. Those lunch counters, though accurately describe for teh 1960s, were a godsend in the 1930s; inexpensive, better than the gutter-level greasy spoons that were the alternative, provided the substance on the menu rather than ‘mystery substence no. 31.’ Those oldsters went there for a reason: their budgets were very limited, it was the best remaining option they could afford, and not harboring junkies or hepatitis like the only alternatives. And Woolworths products were, in effect, the Walmart brand items of their time. Really.

        But as R. J. says, the tight-tokhused, tired, old, white men running it in mid-20th century still operated the concern like it was 1937 looking back at 1926. Just like as of today, Walmart is being mangaged by the equivalent cadre like it’s 2005 looking back at 1994. These corporations optimized themself intensively for a particular kind of customer in a particular place and time . . . but time has moved on, and they cannot and will not.

        1. Jim A

          And the problem isn’t so much that times have changed, but that a strategy has been pushed to such an extreme that it has become a looser. Controlling costs IS important, and that can be a winning plan when you’re confronted with a bloated company. But if cutting is all you know how to do, you’ll soon reach optimum and keep going losing lean muscle mass and suffering from kwashiorker like some anorexic.

        2. ContrarianOntarian

          That is indeed the reality, be it Kresge’s, Woolworths, Kmart (in Canada) or what have you. The business model for each did not evolve. Wal-Mart, relying overwhelmingly on a parasitic model that grows only by moving into new territory, destroying local retailers and absorbing their business, has nowhere to innovate and thefefpre nowhere to grow. And when, as it can be argued, the general sentiment of Wal-Mart’s customer base isn’t ‘I love skopping here’ but instead shopping there begrudgingly (if they could afford to shop elsewhere, they would) then any decline in service levels or product quality is enough to put them in a downward spiral. Wal-Mart has always been exploitative, which isn’t a good business model for the long-run.

  3. fledermaus

    “The company surveys more than 500,000 customers a month, asking them about checkout lines, store cleanliness and the helpfulness of workers, Buchanan said yesterday in e-mailed statement.”

    I find this highly dubious, unless they are just referring to surveys sent out and not the number returned. The PR flack above probably doen’t even realize the extent to which managers at the store level are deceiving them with gamed numbers and otherwise lying upper management to protect their jobs and hide the problems in hopes that it goes away.

    I think the corporate officers will be unpleasantly surprized when the numbers that cannot be gamed begin to roll in.

      1. Mike G

        Mall-Wart reminds me of another Soviet-era joke:
        Stalin, Kruschev and Brezhnev are riding on a train, and pass a group of wretched peasants in rags toiling in a hamlet of run-down shacks. They all agree that something must be done.
        Stalin orders them all shot and the village razed to the ground.
        Kruschev exhorts them to work harder with a soaring rhetorical speech about the glorious communist future.
        Brezhnev just closes the curtains.

  4. gab

    Works with cranes during the week and is an emergency room nurse on weekends? Did I read that right

    That’s one strange exacta…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I can get that. You probably need one big strong guy on the emergency room staff given how many overweight people there are these days. If someone collapses, how do you get them into a gurney?

      I’m sure he can go all the other stuff too, like clean wounds and administer IV. But I bet he’s there at least in part for having some muscle.

      1. Art Vandeley

        They now have a special inflatable pontoon gurney to lift morbidly obese Walmart shoppers up when they fall. It inflates to the same height as the ambulance gurney and the medics just roll the person over. Problem solved. Well, sorta.

    2. Richard Kline

      I read that as ‘would like to be a full time ER nurse [pays pretty good], but can’t get the hours [giveaway: working the worst shifts] so moonlights moving heavy equipment.’ I’ll bet the equipment job is non-union and part-time too, and they’re paying the guy 2/3s of scale.

  5. PublicPersona

    After reading yesterday, I had to check out the local super WM.

    Stock is low, some shelves empty. The cosmetic deparment looked like a tornado had it and about 1/3 of the shelves / wall space was empty. The store was disorganized and dirty.

    One person trying to put the cosmetics in order, run the register, help people – then a guy asks her to help someone else in the general store area. She was quiet and looked very tired. Another woman was restocking returns – very, very, very slowly. She could not be bothered to help anyone.

    The line to pick up meds was about 10 people deep. There were 4 registers open, all with lines of 3 or 4 people. Not very busy for a super center.

    1. weinerdog43

      I too was in a Jewel today (95th and Route 59 in Naperville) and it was spotless with a steady stream of customers. I’m traveling tomorrow and had to pick up some mini size cold medicine to take with. Multiple checkers, fully stocked, excellent prices.

      If you live in Chicagoland, you may have noticed that Mall Wart is running daily negative ads both on TV and in the Trib that scream “…look how CHEAP we are compared to Jewel…” HA! I wouldn’t shop there if they paid me for their crap and I’d wager a lot of other folks in the Western ‘burbs feel the same. Jewel and Dominicks don’t have to worry about Wal Mart. Target on the other hand…

      1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

        Really? That’s not how most Jewel-Oscos are in the rest of Chicagoland. They are deserted, food is old and half of it past the expiration date, the plac stinks like the morgue, and you’re lucky to find an open check out line that’s not self-service.

        I would not shop at Jewel (or Walmart for that matter) if they paid me. And you can add Whole Foods Market to that list too — all of their stores are now old, ran down, and sell really crappy food.

        Sorry kids, but looks like your corporate colonizers aren’t showing you any respect anymore! Ain’t it great to live on the land of plenty?…LOL

        Rufus
        PS — don’t forget to eat your Monsanto GMOs today!

        1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

          And after you munch on your Monsanto GMOs, pop in a few Prozacs too… wash them down with CocaCola… that’ll make you feel better…LOL

          Rufus

        2. weinerdog43

          Pray tell where an elite shopper like yourself deems worthy? The farmers markets are still a long ways away, the morels are a month off and it’s difficult to grow bananas in these parts. Do tell.

    2. Zachary Smith

      Late last week I was in the local branch of Wretched Walmart and found 5 of the checkout registers open out of the more than 2 dozen total. Given the lines I’d normally have walked out, but one item I HAD to purchase.

      A non-stocking issue I have with that store is their use of skylights to reduce the lighting bill – they turn out half the overhead fluorescents during the day. That’s fine except when some dark clouds come by – at which time it becomes almost impossible to read the price tags.

      Another time I cornered the store manager about the horrible ‘white rap’ being played at too-high a volume. He blustered a bit, but finally claimed/admitted Corporate was responsible for the selections and he had no say in that matter. I might have been a bit more polite except for my raging headache from the overloud crap.

      One final point: lots of the customers haven’t yet figured out that while this joint is cheaper on some things, they claw it back by being the highest priced place around on other items.

  6. madopal

    While I am no Walmart fan, I do have to wonder if there are other issues at play. Total anecdotal here, but I was at a Chicago area Jewel today (owned by Safeway for those not in the area), and a prominent front shelf in the produce section which used to be stocked with various items was now stocked with nothing but big packages of toilet paper. Wrong section of the store for that item, and it looked like they were using overstock to cover an empty shelf. I’ve seen a lot more incidents of that in the past few months in other stores (Whole Foods, Target).

    Now, Walmart may indeed be exacerbating the problem by cutting staff, but I wonder if this is symptomatic of something bigger?

    1. jrs

      I’ve seen some reduction in stock at Whole Foods too, mind you stuff is shelved, it’s just yea … makes you wonder.

    2. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

      Hey,

      The Jewel stores in Chicago I’ve seen in recent months are all but deserted. No customers in sight.

      It looks like America is slowly shutting down as a viable consumer market.

      Rufus

      1. rps

        Yep, Jewel is zipped in the body bag waiting on the gurney in Stroger’s ER check-in line. Ya know how it is, they’ll get around to calling it’s number and the doc will officially pronounce it DOA. Target’s shelves are as well stocked as the day after a blizzard. And what’s with only two or three shampoo brands?

        Jewel was decimated by the hot potato strategy of too many owners one worse than the other. Luckily, the newly emerging Marianos and customer oriented Caputos has found a loyal following, looking for good prices and a good variety of foodstuff. Can’t figure out how Dominicks has managed to survive. Makes you wonder if part of their operation is laundering money? Everytime I walk into one, say every six months on a Saturday or the day before a holiday it is half filled.

    3. ambrit

      Dear madopal;
      I work at a DIY Boxxstore and can tell you with certainty that that phenomenon of stock spread around into previously ‘strange’ locations is a deliberate strategy to hide empty shelf space. I have had this told to me several times over the last half year by managers. That understocking coupled with the cutting of labour help drive the stock value. I suspect that this strategy is designed to enable Corporate to better loot the firm. Roughly: Cutting store expenses makes the bottom line look better than it really is, which inflates the market value, which upper Corporate sells their stock options into, thus creating more super wealthy ‘villains.’ (The firm goes to H—. But who cares? “I’m alright Jack!”)
      As an added bonus: The sales floor staff has just been told that they have to generate so many credit card applications a month, or they get written up. Three write ups and you’re out the door. (I wonder what the Law has to say about that?)
      Extra, extra bonus: The weekly sales budgets for the store, (sent by Corporate Headquarters,) are suddenly way up. One manager mentioned to me that: “These new budgets don’t make sense. What are they smoking at Corp?” [One possible explanation is that the quarterly employee bonuses are predicated on exceeding several metrics, sales budget being one. Make the sales budget next to impossible, and you ‘save’ a lot of employee expense. “Why do they need bonuses anyway? They have food stamps!”

      1. Richard Kline

        So ambrit, interesting to have the anecdotal confirmation in your remarks. My hypothesis regarding Walmart’s understaffing and under-stucking was that protecting the stock price was the principal feature in the decision process. Not to say there aren’t other factors, but . . . yeah.

        “Prop the price till the economy comes back. Don’t matter if the cattle don’t like it, we’re the gorilla, and they got no place better to go.” >>>> RIP.

        1. sierra7

          The “cutting” of staff by corporate which is not just generic to WM, but is historically a “plan” to attempt to force employees (who are susceptible) into “free time” garnered by the retailer….
          Having been involved deeply in one back in the mid 1980′s with a major food retailer I know from whence I “talk”.
          It’s still going on today and is a major factor in employee turnover; WM has been cited many times for just such “strategies” but alas, they corporate always blames the store managers, citing “corporate policies”, etc….but boy do they know how to throw the lies!
          And, they get away with those strategies.

      2. Binky Bear

        Is it the orange one where the surly help breaks your drywall loading it in the truck or the blue one with nice well meaning folks but still don’t have all the lightbulbs in stock for months?

    4. upstater

      We live in upstate NY, home of Wegmans. While the shelves are well-stocked, the selection has definitely become more limited. If they don’t have a huge turnover and fat margins, it isn’t going to be found there anymore.

      The stores have huge “seasonal” merchandise sections plopped into the middle of the store. If you forgot something in the produce area, you’ll have to walk through an acre of crap to retrieve your item.

      I go to Wal-mation maybe once or twice a year and they have always been a sorry place; more sorry today than last year.

  7. TulsaTime

    I think it would be great to see walmark take the sears plunge into irrelevance…this is the classic path for that, where the unresponsive giant tries to PR reality, while the rest of their competitors see the writing on the wall and are doing anything they can to ABORT self-destruct sequence…

    As you said, it could not happen to a nicer bunch. I can dream of the stock at a puny dollar, and those awful heirs in the arkansas poor house, trading cigarettes for toilet paper….:)

    1. tawal

      With losing out on SS, walmart greeter was my only hope for sustenance, guess I’ll just have to do 3 strikes.

      1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

        Hey,

        How ’bout supplementing your SS income with a little panhandling. I know it’s tough to find a street corner that’s not taken already, but be creative. Hit the suburbs.

        Or how about collecting empty cans? I tell ya, it’s the career of the future in America.

        Better yet, do a little panhandling AND collect empty cans at the same time. I guarantee you’ll achieve your American Dream in no time at all that way!…LOL

        1. ambrit

          Esteemed Sir;
          I once found need to collect aluminum cans, being laid off between jobs. While I was industriously cleaning up the verge of Hwy 42 south of Bogalusa, Louisiana, a State Trooper stopped and graciously wrote me out a ticket for an expired inspection sticker on my fifteen year old Datsun pickup. The ticket came out to roughly three times the value of the cans I collected in six hours along the roadside. (I’m glad it happened back in the 80′s, or he would have charged me for the ‘exercise’ I was getting using a public right of way. [We're all much more health conscious today. Right?])

  8. marty

    “I can dream of the stock at a puny dollar, and those awful heirs in the arkansas poor house, trading cigarettes for toilet paper”

    Afraid not – they already got theirs. I’m certain the Walmart family has made enough that their great-great grandchildren (and maybe more) will never have to work.

  9. Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter

    Some of this stuff could be the computer program which orders things automatically. Kind of a negative redneck feedback loop. Like, if a person (me) goes there to buy a box of sausage biscuits, and they are out, (which they were almost 50% of the time), THEN maybe the computer program doesn’t record a sale, which tends to understate the demand. Pretty soon, people like me get fed up and start going to the grocery store instead. Where I can almost always find the food I like.

    All that Just-In-Time inventory stuff is foolishness when interest rates and inflation are as low as they currently are.

    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter

    1. scraping_by

      Ms Fromme – you are a management science heretic! Good on ‘un.

      Every BS from a BS with a BS (or MBA) is well indoctrinated in the pull-inventory model used at Wallyland. The idea of a non-human-touch system running an important business function is far too cool to be untrue. It’s got that antilabor logic that appeals to the sound-minded.

      As our esteemed hostess has pointed out, Wally has a problem with suppliers. In that they tend to drive those suppliers out of business by not living up to their end of the contract. I’ve read books and articles on how there’s a special secret to being a Wally supplier. And when a business doesn’t know the secret, they only have themselves to blame.

      Indeed, the Bully of Bentonville has convinced many companies to quit.

      There’s an elitist transhuman viewpoint that shows up in breathless articles about automation and attempts at robotic everything. The 1% is trying to lessen its dependence on their fellow humans. It’s such good technology it requires millions in PR.

        1. sierra7

          I would rather have a score of “small” business customers than ONE WalMart account…..
          Past experience with being part of the economy back in the 1950′s forward where all the small business food retailers were crushed by the major chains then expanding like crazy.
          Far too many small communities today are now totally dependent on the likes of the WMarts…….if they go down the tubes what happens to the communitys’ occupants?
          I guess they will survive; just go back to starting all over again (with picking up cans etc….)…….learning to live within their communities and not being dependent on retail blood suckers like WM.

  10. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

    My fellow Americans:

    What happened? Walmart ain’t showing you no respect? That’s unacceptable! How could they do that to Americans?! You are Americans! You should not put up with that. Because YOU are Americans. So you better look for another place to spend your food stamps at. I say, better get your Monsanto GMOs, hormone-injected cheap beef, super-sized CocaCola bottles, and your generic Prozac from Target from now on. Yeah, you’ll get treated with more respect there…LOL

    But hey, looks like Walmart is treating China with respect:

    “Wal-Mart to open 30 new stores in China”:

    http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2013-04/02/content_16368708.htm

    Rufus

    1. Zachary Smith

      *** super-sized CocaCola bottles ***

      Now that triggered a memory of a family meal last summer when I hauled in a bunch of 2 liter bottles of Cola. Not Coke, but some Walmart generic. The diet version was fine, so that type must be hard to screw up. Since a couple of people are strictly “sugar” cola drinkers, I included a 2L bottle of ‘regular’ for them.

      When a nephew took his first sip, he literally ran to the sink and spit it out! Some investigation found that instead of the normal “Mississippi Obese” sugar content of 40 grams/serving, THIS stuff had a whole 5 grams. Lord, but it was vile! But somebody is buying it – I saw it still on the store shelf as recently as 3 months back.

      I’ve had a hard and fast rule in place not to buy any food from the “dollar” stores for a very long time. Looks like I’m going to have to go upscale on that, for my first-ever bag of WM potatoes last week turned out to have been diseased or possibly frozen in storage. I have to peel away half of the flesh to get to clear white.

  11. Lambert Strether

    Re supply chain issues generally:

    A couple of years ago, post-crash, a friend in a flyover state who had to do all the shopping for the family noticed that items that used to be in stock all the month started running out earlier… and earlier… and earlier…. And that the shelves were gradually thinning out. It was like a gradually receding tide, where the wave came up on the beeach just a little bit slower each time.

    So I’m wondering if this Walmart clusterf*ck is symptomatic of a larger, deeper trend, and if anybody else in the hinterlands has noticed this.

    1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

      Yes, they call this trend the “increasing irrelevance of the United States as a consumer market”.

      Just take a drive around town and tally how many storefronts are NOT vacant. And then check out your favorite malls and see how many have NOT yet been converted into homeless shelters.

      Ain’t Karma wonderful?…

      Rufus
      PS — to fix that, I suggest we invade Iran. That’ll prove we’re still numero uno…LOL

    2. Goin' South

      Here in my neck of the woods–a rust-belt inner city neighborhood–the stores are packed the first ten days of the month. They’re ghost towns the last ten.

      Our locally-owned, unionized (UFCW is technically a union) store has adapted. Lots of staffing the first half of the month, and less in the latter half, but that may be too much to ask of the Walmarts who turn as well as aircraft carriers.

    3. Susan the other

      Definitely Lambert. Last time I graced a mall I was 58, almost 10 years ago. Some of my withdrawal has to do with age and disinterest, but more with money. I’d rather keep that dollar than spend it. And I’m of the withdrawing generation so it makes sense that I noticed the Malls were thining, getting ragged. Then there is the other demographic – the generations after the boomers are struggling and have become minimalists. They really aren’t “consumers.” Then of course the GFC, nobody has a job anyway. And the cherry on top is the fact that Walmart is not agile. It is a dinosaur. They all are, but Walmart most of all. It couldn’t get out of China in time I betcha. So now it isn’t ordering because nobody is buying and at the same time the US is excluding China from the TPP. That can’t be good for Walmart’s purchasing power. Walmart is probably deciding what to do with all its empty stores.

  12. Bryan Engelhardt

    After Target implemented its 5% off credit card, I switched away from Walmart. The breaking point was a 40 minute wait I had in line. The savings aren’t even that good anyway.

    1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

      You must have been there on the days when 50+ million Americans received their food stamps.

      Rufus

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I think the various dates were staggered in response to pressure from different groups, mostly Wal-Mart*, but social services wanted the dates of the food stamp renewals and other systems to be staggered to reduce deadbeat dads from conveniently showing up on the 30th and leaving on the 2nd of the next month.

        I don’t think the food stamp/diaper line at midnight is quite as noticeable as it was a few years ago.

        *Wal-Mart didn’t want to hire the people to maintain store order when the crowds arrived.

  13. R J Carpenter

    I feel sorry for anyone whose only choice available is Walmart. They come, they build, and then they move on after sucking the community dry.

    1. Rufus T. Firefly, Jr.

      Sounds like colonialism has come home to roost.

      How does that feel, my proud, selfish, fellow Americans? How does that feel to become a corporate colony? I say, better buckle up, ’cause you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

      Rufus

      1. rps

        What shall we do for entertainment without the rabid Walmart turkey mobs frantically pushing and shoving to get their Black Friday 19 inch plasma screen teevee with a super-size bag of cheetos? What will the nightly news report on? We can’t live on a diet of Kardashians and fake wives reality shows year round. It ain’t ‘Merikan without Walmart’s holiday shopper marathon entertainment

      1. Massinissa

        Pretty sure the empty shelves came first, signaling the end, but of course that wasnt the ’cause’.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Maju;
      The empty shelves were, I’d suggest, a symptom of the ongoing slow motion collapse. That collapse derived from a multitude of couses. My favourite reason being the Arc of Empire. One doesn’t have to be a real Empire to think like one. The collapse follows the change in operating systems engendered by the change in thinking is my take on it.
      Americas’ elites, like all elites I’d guess, are so stupid. Anyone who considers themselves a ‘Master of the Universe’ obviously doesn’t know just how big, or impersonal, a real Universe is.

  14. Someday Soon

    I’ve noticed a pattern at Walmart – well stocked on a Thursday or Friday, many empty shelves on Monday, Tuesday.

    I think we all are underestimating just how much product they move in a few days time.

    1. ambrit

      Dear SS;
      My personal experience with Boxxstores is that there is a deliberate thinning out of the stock on the shelves.
      As an experiment, if you know anyone in a manager or assistant manager position at one of your local boxxstores, ask them how difficult it is to manually order extra stock for the store. Things to watch would be: the number of steps needed to make a request, how long it takes to get the physical stock to the store, and how long the stock stays in the receiving area, or on pallets, before it gets to the shelves. Also ask about staffing levels, and ‘efficiency’ drives mandated by Corporate lately.

    2. direction

      There’s also more stock and more shopping at the beginning of the month when people get their checks.

  15. carl

    I’ve never been much of a Wal-Mart shopper. My last couple of experiences,though, have involved outright hostility from staff after asking for help with items I was interested in buying. I won’t be back.

    It seems to me they’ve ground their employees down so far they can’t be persuaded to even fake it any longer.

    The wheels must be about to come off any retail establishment in such a state.
    (except where they’ve eliminated the competition, of course)

    1. different clue

      And maybe that is why Walmart doesn’t care and doesn’t have to. If several thousand of its stores are “the only store in town” or even “the only store in the whole county”,
      they can act as badly as they please. Their captive customers truly have no choice at all whatsoever, other than to try returning to a 19th century pioneer lifestyle without “store boughten” goods. But that takes a skill and knowledge level which I surely don’t have. Maybe they do.

      1. Susan the other

        I think not. Walmart wants to be an e-store to save on overhead. And there could be plenty of e-stores with better products to choose from. Best bargains will be for coops so get together with your neighbors and do your ordering.

  16. cb

    I just checked my nearby Wal-Mart in Philadelphia. The facility is well stocked, and the produce is fresh. The parking lot is well lit and about 1/3 full at 8:45pm. There were 5 checkout lanes open, with 10-20 customers in line per lane. The store sparkled and bustled.

    I had noticed that over the last 6 months this WalMart had undergone a huge exterior renovation which included expansion, new air handlers on the roof, new bus shelters and general parking lot improvements.

    I would have applied the descriptions of confused staff, missing items, ransacked shelves to this WalMart in the period between 2003-2011. I would almost always fail to find my intended purchase or find it and then leave after seeing no hope of being able to checkout. Most of the customers seemed to be wheeling large ticket items like TVs and microwaves into the store as “returns.” I literally saw more goods coming in than going out the choked register lanes. I felt the parking lot was dangerous, and it was unclear whether city buses stopped there or not.

    Maybe WalMart has used this tactic for years, and we really cannot understand the intention. Who is generating these stories, at this time, and why?

  17. rps

    Is Walmart TBTF? Nah. The big box store phenomenon peaked awhile ago. Wandering a store the size of five footballs has lost its appeal for the geriatric boomers. So, grab a beer, flip on the teevee and set the lazy boy for automatic launch sequence. Oh that’s right, NASA was handed its hat too.

  18. KM

    I haven’t been inside a WalMart for months, but I can’t remember ever seeing one in as sad a shape as many of you are describing. Walgreens and Target are places I shop regularly and semi-regularly respectively, and have found both in good order always. No matter how well stocked any of the big-box stores are, I always find them to be terrible places to shop and utterly depressing. Now I think I’ll have to overcome my dislike and take a look see.

  19. Tangurena

    LA Times used to have a very extensive series of articles on walmart – but they removed it from their website a couple years ago. Several of the stories explained how suppliers had their ‘nads squeezed by walmart. From reading the articles, it was very clear that taking them on as a customer was the biggest step towards bankruptcy.

    1. JCC

      Years ago I read a story about Vlasic Pickles and the Walmart DoomsDay Machine. During the interview of the Pres. of Vlassic, he mentioned how excited the company was when they finally got their product into Walmart and within three short years they began their descent into hell.

      Among other things, Walmart demanded that they start supplying them with 1 and 2 gallon glass jars of pickles priced just a few percentage points higher than their 1 pint and 1 quart jars they were supplying to the local and smaller groceries… or get lost.

      At this point most of their customers expected these larger jars and their small retail sales basically collapsed, and the company mistakenly geared up brand new production lines that revolved around these larger packages with a mighty small margin.

      Meanwhile the Prez sez, “Who the hell eats 2 gallons of pickels? And how long does it take to eat them all?”. The containers were so large that those that bought them rarely stocked up more than one or twice a year and so sales slowly dropped off at Walmart, too, which, of course, only resulted in more pressure from Walmart.

      The next time I walked into a local Walmart I saw stacks of two gallon jars of Vlasic Pickels and started laughing, but only for a couple of secs. Then I felt awfully sorry for the Vlasic Pickel Company. Very good pickles, too, I wonder if they’re still in business… the last I heard the family sold out to one of the big guns.

  20. AbyNormal

    we could end this board game real quick…allow Uncle Wally to securitize mortgages (U know U want it OCCrs)

    There are no winners in real games. d.stojanovic

  21. LAS

    Quite often Walmart shelves depend on day of the week and day part. They do stock out over the weekend especially. During the week not so much.

    Over the past 2 years I think Walmart has been concentrating on predictive modeling of their shoppers (like what Target has done) and not on shopper-centric experience. They have, at least, been squeezing suppliers to shift their research budgets to help fund their predictive efforts over their in-store. Thereby, they have somewhat blinded themselves to what it’s like to shop their stores. This is not the first time they’ve “accidentally” driven away desirable traffic.

    At Sam’s Club, their strategy is to concentrate on small business, but I think they misunderstand who/why people buy in the club. They keep asking us to look for a business shopper who does not much exist. Yes, it may be a business membership in the technical sense but the person putting things in their cart virtually always does so for personal reasons or home use. Real business needs get delivered to the business from specialist suppliers.

    Costco and BJ’s have more effective strategies I think. Although Sam’s has upgraded some of its stores (mainly by copying Costco features), as Costco and BJ’s continue to expand across the USA, Sam’s may well be experiencing a slow bleed in memberships.

  22. Student loan debtor

    Stores come and go…remember Zayre, or Kmart, or handy Andy, or silos, fretter, circuit city, venture, Zayre, phar-mor…Walmart just happens to be the biggest to start the inevitable decline…..

  23. Carolinian

    I commented here the other day on this topic and seemed to draw a few responses so let me once again play Devil’s advocate and put in an oar. While I am not an economist and certainly wouldn’t try to dispute the wonderful owner of this site, I can speak from the perspective of small town America and say: if you think Walmart is going anywhere you are kidding yourselves. The decline in services and the decline of local, as opposed to nationally franchised, businesses has been going on a lot longer than Walmart has been around. In our town the downtown area was largely defunct circa 1970 and several attempts to revive it haven’t really changed that. When Walmart did finally come to town the biggest effect was to drive out crummier versions of discount stores like Kmart rather than local businesses which were already gone. As a leftie I am certainly aware of “The High Cost of Low Price” and all the terrible things about Walmart, but I think the left blog obsession with Walmart is overdone. Their “chintzy logic” is the logic of modern American capitalism itself and that should be the focus. Walmart’s difference from other “shareholder value” obsessed company’s is only in degree and size rather than kind.

    People in towns like mine shop at Walmart because they feel they are getting a good deal and they need a good deal because most of the industries are now gone. Walmart, whatever its other faults, is highly focused on these blue collar/lower middle class customers and here’s betting that reported problems–undoubtedly true–will get solved. Just to repeat, the leftie obsession with Walmart is, in my opinion, a distraction. Washington, Wall street, the neoliberal Democratic party are where the real action is. Walmart is just the symptom, not the disease…..

    1. Briinhild

      My elderly parents live in a rustbelt small town where Walmart plays a similar role to the one you describe.

      However, for the purposes of expansion, Walmart has pretty much run out of those.

      I don’t know about your small town, but most of the young people have left the one where my parents live, because of the lack of employment opportunities; and though it makes me sad to say this, it is a fact that most of Walmart’s customers there don’t have a very long life expectancy at this point.

      I live on Long Island and work in NYC, and, although I understand that Walmart has recently given up the battle, up until now, for as long as can remember, they had been trying to open stores in NYC, but were stopped by community opposition.

    2. JCC

      I tend to agree except for the last statement, “Walmart is just the symptom, not the disease…”

      Actually I think Walmart is significant part of the disease, like Monsanto, GE, and the rest, only this particular part shows just like a cancerous boil that has ruptured the skin.

  24. Gil Gamesh

    Only Stalin could save Walmart.

    Walmart is finished. Ten years tops. Before you exult, the Waltons will still be around.

  25. JEHR

    What’s happening is that all the American stores are moving to Canada (to join the hundreds already here)–including Target, Apple Store, Coach, Bath and Body Works, Lowe’s and Marshalls–they are moving to Canada where the rumour is that we didn’t suffer much in the financial downturn (which is turning out to be NOT true).

    Stores from Japan, Europe, etc. are coming here too. There should be an excess of retail outlets in Canada soon! Maybe we will get back some of our local stores that closed when Wal-Mart came! It will be the battle between American stores located in Canada! Great war that!

  26. briansays

    but before walmart fails obama will need to privatize social security so wall street can take the funds and “invest” them is walmart stock

  27. DanP66

    Hell…I have gone in at least 4 times in the last 8 weeks to get 12 Guage shells for skeet. EVERY time they have either had none on the shelves or only a couple to three boxes.

    SO…I end up going to Dick’s Sporting Goods.

    Heck, I use four boxes every time I go shoot clays.

    Not going to waste my time anymore in an attempt to save 75 cents a box.

  28. mcgee

    I do believe we are finally seeing the final stage of a private equity driven economy. 15 or so years of consolidation, buy and bankrupt, is coming home to roost. According to one study I read , 81% 0f PE deals from 2001-2010 were for companies with sales under $250 million. The middle has been hollowed out and what is left is a few huge MNC in each sector selling fewer services and products for higher prices.

    The building of huge supercenters is going to turn out to be one of the larger corporate malinvestments before this is all over.

    1. Lambert Strether

      “According to one study I read , 81% 0f PE deals from 2001-2010 were for companies with sales under $250 million.”

      Got a link on that? Sounds like the kind of study Yves might go for….

  29. Westcoastliberal

    My wife & I occassionally shop our local Wal-mart. Recently they’ve been out of one of their branded vitamins we take. Last Sunday we visited to pick up some veggie plants and there was zero zucchini or squash, just some tomato and herb plants, very sparse selection.
    When we checked out, we had to stand in line for some time, and despite the fact we had waited an unusally long time, the checker engaged the lady in front of us into a conversation about applying for a Walmart charge card, which took up a good 4-5 minutes. Apparently, the employees get a spiff when they sign someone up, therefore we were invisible.

  30. thump

    Also, too, the millions of Americans who marched to oppose the invasion of Iraq were “just a focus group.”

  31. Hugh

    The Walmart I occasionally go to has its shelves reasonably well stocked. It always looks a bit of a mess though. It has a small number of price scanners in the store, all broken. There is a Target next door, bright, well-lit, clean, with price scanners on what seems to be every other post in the store. As for merchandise, there are only a few items that can’t be picked up somewhere else, with less fuss, at the same or better price.

    And if you support labor, while none of these big chains treat their employees all that well, Walmart is justly infamous in its employee practices, another reason to shop there as little as possible.

  32. Brian

    Walmart empty would be a big cement block lined building with no windows and only a few ways out. Makes you wonder if it was made for two different purposes.

    1. JCC

      I wouldn’t be too paranoid about that, they are only very, very cheaply built warehouses :)

  33. skippy

    Walmart is just Jeffersonian Free Trade – super sized – by neoliberilsm… cue patriotic sound track and banner waving…

    Skippy… make more nails or STFU… cuz that’s no way to get a position as house associate… cough… you know what I mean…

    1. ambrit

      Dear skippy;
      Being entombed in the American Deep South, I know what you means bro. *cough cough* But, wake up mate, this is the New World Order, (same as the Old World Order.) Ol Massa is now an Equal Opportunity Exploiter. (He/she always was, sure, but now they’re up front about it.)

      1. skippy

        Walmart uses a “slash and burn” model, this achieves short term goals, yet, the forest is finite. Personally I don’t think Asia is going to workout for them, then its game over.

        Skippy… BTW I’ve noticed a trend in people forgoing excessive consumption around here, this in a time where lots of big shops were and are expanding. The results can be found on the shelves as they move to reduce low margin products, increase interest free periods – expand credit max or highlight their *home brands* via slotting allocation…. all the ewwww that brought us to this – now -

        PS. talked to a guy that works for the richest man in Queensland whilst fishing yesterday… Heaps of funny stuff… including a top handler having a – HUGE BLUE – with him… the elites are restless… lmao… snicker…

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