Wal-Mart Survival

Some people exclaim that Wal-Mart is the devil. Others consider it a ‘necessary evil’ in today’s consumer society, providing a wealth of goods at rock-bottom prices, all at one location! With the recent increases and expansions into Super Centers across the country, shoppers can now buy groceries, change their automobile tires, and buy fresh plants and lawncare items in one shopping trip. The convenience of it all is just amazing!

Buyer beware.

Wal-Mart has successfully fulfilled a niche, a huge and growing need for ultimate selection and convenience in today’s time-limited society. But, are we paying in other ways?

To consider my review of Wal-Mart, the Super Center in particular was of interest to me. I located two of these centers within my own neighborhood. These are open 24 hours per day, provide all groceries and produce, and also send out fliers of their sales. Clearly, the costs of various goods were very competitive compared to other local stops; local competitors included Walgreen’s, Kohl’s, local grocery stores, and even Sears for electronics and home furnishings. Wal-Mart’s quality does not compare to other superstores such as Target or even Kohl’s, and they surely do not compete at a high-scale, department store level. So how do they survive?

Wal-Mart has cut costs in some way, and the consumer does profit from the lower prices, the ease of the purchase. But, here’s the ‘catch.’ From personal experience, I have realized that the frequency level to make a purchase gradually increases. Call it consumer psychology, or just the environmental appeal, but I found that the more I shopped at Wal-Mart, the more things I found myself needing. And buying.

Now this could be true for any retailer, low prices or not. It could be true for the general shopping public, bargain shoppers or generous spenders alike. What makes Wal-Mart so different?

It comes down to the pricing strategy and your focus on every trip to the store.

Wal-Mart has successfully ‘exposed’ it’s pricing with effective marketing tactics, clever aisle displays, and just enough price drops to make you think you are saving money on every trip. Now add up those ‘every trips’ and you soon break even. Or worse. You begin to spend much more than you budgeted for.

Let’s take a look at the average route through the store. This route will be different per location, but for this example I will use the Super Center. There are always two entrances; one in the Food Center, and one that serves as the general entrance. When entering the food center, you will be initially greeted by a greeter, with the food aisles to your left. Upon entering, there will be about 5-6 shelves of ‘sale’ bakery items to your left. These are usually not even on sale, but are featured items that rotate every 3-4 days. As you walk towards the produce, you will notice a hot-food case brimming with fried chicken (and aroma) to your left, as well as the bakery. Colorful displays of donuts and cakes provide a great browsing opportunity, and easily lure shoppers to browse more often than not. The aisles continue to all other grocery items; frozen, dry goods, paper products, and finally at the end, refrigerated products such as eggs and butter. Why all the way at the end? Because these items are the most-often purchased, dairy products are located at the far end and corner of the store to ensure that you walk through as many aisles possible before reaching your actual purchasing goal. This not only gives you, the consumer, an opportunity to be bombarded with displays and ‘new’ items on your way, but gives you chance to make, even possibly, a future buying decision based on what you learned during this trip. Interesting.

Now, let’s take a walk through the other entrance. In the event you make a smart consumer decision to: 1. Not go shopping on an empty stomach and 2. Enter through the regular entrance, you will divert your attention to the actual products you came in to purchase.

You will also be greeted by an official Greeter, who may offer a cart or basket for your shopping convenience. As you walk into the store, there will be a line of advertised value items on your left; these will range from anything from shampoo, soap, school supplies, or fresh plants in season. These will all be easy-to-grab and small enough to fit into your empty cart right off the bat. In other words, fairly easy purchases that will not cost more than $5-$10 per item. To your right will be the latest seasonal items; toys, current trends, etc. As you walk forward you will then make a decision at the ‘Crossing’; this is the area where you make a decision to move towards Electronics, Home Furnishings, Pharmacy, Clothing, or any other department. It’s here that I think the most critical decision is made either consciously, or likely subconsciously. If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably walk the length of the store at least once. And it’s here that it’s likely you will end up with a LOT more than you intended. The appeal of the kitchen towels now on sale is just a really good bargain. The attraction of the dish soap (which you don’t usually buy) is just too enticing on the display right next to you. So, as most consumers do, you go ahead and add these items to your cart or basket. It’s only a few dollars here and there. And the pattern continues.

Think about how often this happens. If every shopper buys even $3-$5 of various products in addition to their actual purchase, are they really saving anything at all? Even the most committed shopper can have difficulty in the arena when it comes to focus and direction; in a store that is designed to make it almost impossible to find what you are looking for, the truth is you will likely succumb to making a mental note to buy something ‘next time’, or just buy it anyway!

In conclusion, I think this is the a commendable scenario of retail management; Wal-Mart has managed to carefully found its strengths by capturing the shopper’s course of action during their purchasing process. Imaging what would happen if every shopper clearly went in for one item, and came out with that one item. How many Wal-Mart shoppers do you see walking out with one purchase? Sadly, not many.

Next time you find yourself frequenting your local Wal-Mart, catalog what you buy and note down what you initially went in for. Keep it up for a few months and you might find some interesting patterns in your own spending and purchasing habits!

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