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.
“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.