Sunday, November 28, 2004

Walmart marketing

This is a "no data" post.
You can't blog what you can't find on the internet...yet.
So this one is anecdotal, as they say.

One of the women I work with is a very sharp consumer. She combs newspaper ads, clips coupons, and pays attention to what she buys. Whether she is buying a room full of furniture or a can of soup, she does her homework and knows what to expect. She is also a sharp observer of how companies do marketing.

Friday, day before yesterday, was the day after Thanksgiving. Busiest day of the year, they say (although it isn't) for retail. That is the day that camera crews in helicopters do news stories about how crowded the malls are, how bad the traffic is going to and from the malls, how consumers are once again either boosting or destroying the national economy, etc, etc.

Well my source tells me that Walmart was passing out sale papers to the first people who came to shop Friday morning. There were unadvetised, in-store sale items calculated to capture everybody, no matter what they came for.

Her observation: In the past a lot of people put sale stuff on layaway at Walmart then leave to shop elsewhere. This has the effect of capturing the inventory, making it unavailable for sale to other people. Here's the rub. Many of those people never make good on their purchase. Meantime, customers like the one telling me the story will spend their money elsewhere because what they wanted was not available to buy at the time they had the money. This not only prevents Walmart from making that sale, it actually costs the company more because of the lost chance to sell it to someone else who might pay for it on the spot.

The in-store unadvertised sale is not a new idea. But in this case, it may be an old marketing weapon shined up for use in an agressive Walmart arsenal. There is a population of shoppers, without credit or the impulse to worry about it, who do sometimes have cash. And they spend it with relish, delayed gratification be damned. We'll see if this little observation amounts to anything.

I have run across more references lately to people who find Walmart to be claustrophobic and cluttered. I didn't go shopping much for about twenty years because I was busy working. When I finally went into a Target about three years ago I said to myself, "Gee! This is like a clean, quiet, well-organized Walmart. Everything you want, easy to find, and the prices are okay." After reading that piece in Fast Company, I got poisoned about Walmart. The sparkle was already falling away. That left my image of Walmart completely colorless.

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