@ Supply Chain Management


Why I will not shop at Walmart anymore?

And the caveat line should be – pending some tradeoff analysis. The fact of the matter is that I’ve made up my mind but I need some numbers behind my intuition even though I think that the numbers will also bear me out.

The surest question that I will be asked is – You shop at Walmart? Perhaps, @ SCM is now on the blacklist of many a reader. So let me give you the list of reasons that didn’t go into making this decision and those that did loom large.

1. I’m not doing this for the Mom and Pop stores. I am a big fan of small businesses but it is because, strategically speaking, they are nimble actors who can identify, supply and defend niches at first and then grow from there. In a sense, I like small businesses because they compete in different ways from large businesses and some small businesses go on to become big businesses because they’ve profited from insight, positioning and in most cases from a good dose of luck. Or to abstract it a layer further, I like small businesses because they have a good deal of pluck and a whole lot of spunk.

2. I’m not doing this because Walmart treats their employees "poorly". There is no doubt in my mind that I will not do the kind of jobs that Walmart employees do. Unless I have no choice but to do so. I do not think that it is beneath me. There is nothing more mind numbing than punching in the item SKU code whenever the reader cannot read it, deal with "some" customers (more of that later but I think you know that special subset of customers that I am talking about) but these guys do it day in and day out. What’s more that they don’t make a lot of money and they don’t get much (if any) by way of health care etc. I am more or less certain or perhaps I "believe" that in the long run (and that’s the shame of it – it is the long run and not the short run), employers who don’t value their employees are just not going to cut it.

3. I’m not doing this because Walmart imports stuff from China. Or India. Or Tahiti for all I care. Undeniably, there is an impact that such wholesale import of goods from every port in the world including Timbuktu (such as on the trade balance between nations for one and its attendant issues) creates in the importing country but if you think that a Ferrari F430 is worth buying and you can do so, I think that a china made floor lamp is worth having and would like to obtain it at the cheapest price. And besides, I need the light a whole lot more than you desire the thrill of the ride. And yes, I am quite aware that such choices affect American manufacturing (and that American manufacturers have to compete with an artificially pegged yuan and so on and so forth) but this land was once the Wild West. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of Americans think of this land right now as the Mild Rest – a significant something has been lost in that transition. The fact that Walmart imports a lot of stuff from China is the effect of that transition but not the cause. To locate the cause, you have to find, metaphorically speaking, the time when the saddle was traded for the armchair.

And now the reasons why I will no longer shop at Walmart:

1. Customer service is taboo.

(a) I moved from the Midwest to the North East and I think the change in the geography and the population distribution of the different regions has some role to play in this observation. In the Midwest, I would literally zip in and out of the store i.e. the fast checkout line of 20 items or less would take very little time. A weekly trip would typically consist of about 45 mins gathering all the stuff and 15 mins waiting to check out. In the North East, I spend about 60 mins gathering all the stuff and 45 mins (and in some cases, close to 60 mins) waiting to check out. Both the gathering time and the checkout time has increased and the latter dramatically. Now, the population distributed in the Midwest is smaller than that in the North East and so one may surmise that only those who know the difference in the level of customer service between these two geographical areas are going to get pissed off. Well, think again! Regardless of where you are, what you are, what kind of job you do etc, everyone one gets 24 hours in a day. I am not really interested in spending an hour of that day waiting in a checkout line at Walmart so that I can save ’x’ cents on the dollar for the stuff that I buy. That’s the tradeoff and I want to establish the net cost savings by shopping at another store for a month and seeing the net dollars saved for a month of grocery shopping and the time saved.

(b) In the Midwest, there was always a Walmart employee at a distance of 20 paces or less that I could ask about some item or the other. In the North East, not only do I have to travel a lot more in order to ask questions, the employees don’t seem to know the answers.

(c) Customer responsiveness is below average if not downright poor. The other day, I was at Walmart at 3:00 am. At checkout, there were 3 people in the line at 20 items or less and I was the last. The lady at the front of the line was having issues with some not having enough money to cover her 200 odd purchases (why she was checking out in a 20 item line was a mystery but the most obvious answer could be that there was only this 1 checkout line available). There were some other Walmart employees milling about a few yards away but in our checkout line, the process of removing something from the billed total and adding something already removed back into the billed total was going on back and forth. For a whole 20 minutes. At 3:20 am. If Walmart or its employees were interested in getting the customer out of the door, they could have opened another line and processed those who were stuck behind – each of us had a grand total of 2 items to check out. No, they talked and joked. And I walked out and found another store a good 20 mins away to get my can of shortening.

(d) Customer responsiveness is below average if not downright poor – part deux. A week ago, my wife and I were in the checkout line – the normal checkout lane and we were third in line. Looking at the stuff ahead of us, I told my wife that I would drive to the laundromat, get the clothes into the dryer and drive back. I bet that I’d be back before she was done. I won the bet – it took me a good 50 minutes to go to the laundromat, pacify my son who was wailing in the car seat and get back to Walmart and I was there even before she was done. Does this smack of customer service?

2. Walmart has an excellent supply chain – Maybe, maybe not. There are three companies that figure prominently as standards against which other firms are compared and I often see that reflected in the types and/or content of search queries that typically drive traffic to my site. As far as matters of SCM go, they are:

1. Toyota

2. Walmart

3. Dell

in that order. I have no doubt that Walmart probably played a big role in putting supply chain management as a creator of competitive advantage out there for people to consider. When I was in the Midwest, I found that to be largely true – that I found what I was looking for at Walmart, in the right place at the right time and perhaps I should add for the right price. However, in the North East, I do not find what I’m looking for (and the list is growing at a good clip) when I want it. Not only do I find that Walmart is consistently out of the stuff that I’m looking for but I’ve changed my shopping habit such that I don’t shop at Walmart for those items any more. The adage that the supply chain should get the right stuff to the right place at the right time doesn’t ring true in my customer service experience at Walmart.

3) Uncontrolled chaos or controlled chaos that has gone off the rails. An extension of getting the right stuff to the right place at the right time is that it does have to be placed on the shelf. If I go to the Walmart a little later in the night, it is an experiment in total uncontrolled chaos. All the aisles are blocked in such a way that no cart can be used in the aisles. Crossing sets of aisles is also impossible as pallets of stuff are jam packed such that you’ve got to go to the beginning or end of a set of aisles in order to be able to cross over into the next set of aisles. Sometimes, I’ve seen pallets in the aisles itself or stacks of boxes piled up against a shelf such that it is impossible to retrieve items blocked by the boxes. If it were a situation that would be resolved in 10 minutes, that is alright but I frequently make a second pass 30-40 minutes later and I almost always find that nothing has changed.

During the recent vacation trip that I had undertaken within the North East, I did visit a Walmart store (in the Catskills, NY area) that did seem to have made improvements in terms of aisle size and number of checkout lines open later in the night. But again, the Catskills area is far from a hustle and bustle kind of place.

Well those are the reasons why Walmart is about to lose me as a customer, it has already lost me in spirit and now its a matter of actually panning out – it simply is not worth the time that I have to spend doing absolutely nothing in order to save a few dollars. Shopping at Walmart has become an ordeal – a punishment. Why put myself through that? I’m beginning to identify my shopping experience at Walmart with my trepidation with flying – it’s a punishment almost always.

I wonder if any of the readers of this site have similar experiences at Walmart (if they shop at Walmart – :grin:).

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Category: Personal Observations, Supply Chain Management


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August 2007