(Part 2 of 2 Book Excerpt):

Walmart personal? Sure. This is not just about the greeters who stand at the entrance of every store. It’s about the connection the store makes with individual shoppers when they buy knee-high socks and corn chips. Customers feel secure that they are getting a great deal in a no-frills, one-stop shopping experience. That dependability makes for a deeply personal consumer experience. The retail giant is “real” because it connects with shoppers’ basic needs, and with their financial and time constraints. When Walmart was located primarily in rural areas—it was often the only large store available to people— this personal connection helped make the store into the giant it is today. “All the studies say that the average consumer saves a considerable amount of money, in the thousands of dollars, when they do all their shopping at Walmart,” says Denny.

“The average American family makes $55,000 a year—saving thousands over a year resonates in a meaningful way with an awful lot of people.” While few will grow a business to Walmart proportions, there is a lot to learn from Walmart’s mistakes. Realize who you are, not just who you want to become. Be realistic and appreciate that recognizing your limitations is as important as building on your strengths. Both tell you a lot about what you can do to maintain your brand identity and trust while still expanding your business.

In Walmart’s case, it failed to understand that shoppers would not look primarily to the company for fashion-forward clothing or innovative home design solutions. The mixed messages customers were getting from some of the store’s changes were disconcerting. Walmart’s CEO, Michael Duke, saw to it that shelves have been restocked with staple items that had been shed in the previous merchandise overhaul. The company still looks to a handful of designers and celebrities to introduce lines of clothing and tabletop decor, but the actual designs are still basic in nature. Nothing crazy or too edgy—whether it’s in-house brands, Miley Cyrus, or Hanes, you’re still buying fairly basic T-shirts and yoga pants.

And Walmart hasn’t stopped evolving and changing the brand but it continues to get even smarter. In January 2011, the nation’s largest retailer announced a five-year plan to lower the amounts of salt, fat, and sugar in thousands of its house-branded Great Value packaged foods and drop prices on fruits and vegetables. This recent evolutionary shift fits well with the company’s brand and mission and with the times (it coincides with Michelle Obama’s healthy America initiative, “Let’s Move!”).

Walmart  has been selling organic produce and packaged food for some time, making these formerly higher-end products available to their demographic and luring more upscale shoppers into the store. One of the reasons the company is making the changes over the course of several years is to give it time to both overcome and solve technical hurdles, and to give consumers time to adjust to the foods’ new taste. The company acknowledged that it doesn’t do it any good to introduce healthier food if people reject it— and it will take time for people to become accustomed to the change. Taking it slow also minimizes the chance that Walmart will have product line, quality, and delivery problems.

Walmart is also keeping up with technology. In April 2011, Walmart Stores agreed to buy (for a rumored $300 million) Kosmix, a social media company focused on e-commerce, as the retail behemoth looks for newer, better, and faster ways to tap into customers’ needs and thoughts via social networking sites and smartphones.

All are smart moves from America’s biggest retailer.

 

Ronn Torossian

5WPR

 

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