A Business Week story titled "Wal-Mart: A Snap Inspection" broke this morning. It analyzes the company's difficulties in growing market share and boosting a lagging stock price if its front-line workers are disinterested or indeed actively hostile to customers. You can read the full story here or by clicking the link above. Disclaimer: Behind the Counter was featured in the Dec. 11, 2006 issue of Business Week in the "Blogspotting" section.
The story lays out the facts that Bentonville's brain trust can cut prices all it wants but a bad store experience, poorly laid out, unattractive stores, out-of-stock merchandise and surly, unhelpful employees are going to drive shoppers away faster than "Save Money, Live Better" can reel them in.
Well, duh. That took an investigative journalist to figure out.
I'd like to address some of the things the reporters from Business Week either don't know or apparently forgot to find out while researching the article.
They repeatedly complain about store employees being unable to offer assistance in finding out if an item is at another store or if a shipment is coming in. Let's break down how this works at the Wal-Mart.
1. There exists in the Wal-Mart computer system a method of telling if an item is at another store. However, a member of management has to SPECIFICALLY give you the option in the computer system to use it. Regular sales associates DO NOT have those options and wouldn't know it if it slapped them. Plus, there are about 100,000 different items in the store. I need the 10-digit UPC code.
2. "Shipments" is a laughable term. We get two to three trucks a night. If Bentonville decides to send it, we get it. Sometimes, we don't even get bags to put the damn paid-for merchandise in and we have to GO TO SAM'S AND BUY BAGS.
3. The phrase I dread the most is "Can you call another Wal-Mart?" Yes. I can. I don't want to, because they are just as bad as mine.
4. The staff is hostile. Well, let's examine that for a moment. I'll tell you why the employees are hostile.
Two Sundays ago, I went in at 2 p.m. The "wonderful" magic scheduling computer had two people on the Service Desk from 7-3 on a Sunday and just me all night till 11 p.m. My first break was essentially long enough to buy a Coke and a bag chips and go to the bathroom. The registers literally lock you out after five hours and 45 minutes because federal labor laws do not allow you to work six hours without a lunch. I finished the customer I was working on and walked to the time clock.
They begged a girl to stay an extra 30 minutes and came and found me and told me I had to come back in 30 minutes because it was busy. I ate and went back and didn't stop again until 11 p.m. In the entire time I was there from 2 - 11 p.m. I had about 30 minutes off the clock, plus about 10 minutes for my break. I never snapped at a customer or lost my cool, but I can and will say that I probably gave less than my usual HAPPY-HAPPY as the night wore on.
5. Items are locked up or not available for touch-me-play-with-me displays. Please refer to the recurring "Five Finger Fridays" posts for why this is.
Look. It's a Wal-Mart. It is filled with the ghetto trash of humanity looking for a place to buy cheap plastic crap by the buggy-full. House of Wal shoppers are NOT discriminating customers. Until the people in Bentonville figure this out, nothing is going to change. Until they staff it and get better loss prevention methods in place, the computers, iPods and televisions need to be bolted down or they will continue to walk off.
Heck, we can't even leave our DISPLAY power tools out any more. The Hardware department manager got a new set of Black & Decker displays on Thursday and put them out. The displays have the cords cut off at an inch long and are attached to the shelves by metal and plastic security strips. She came in on Monday to find FIVE drills, saws and nail guns all gone. If it is not under glass, it is free for the taking.
6. Lack of service in some areas. I'll second that.
Our electronics department is now empty after 9 p.m. every night of the week now, because hours were cut across the board at our store. Last month, all full time employees got 38 hours. Three weeks ago, they got 36 hours. Two weeks ago, they got 32. Last week, they got 29. They will continue to get 29 until our sales go back up and they can justify giving them more hours. Well, the Catch-22 is that the service our customers are getting is so bad our sales are going to stay down. Typical Wal-Logic.
7. The "do you have this?" question. Look. I know. You're in a store looking to buy something. We're a Customer Service slave. We're there to help.
However, you need to understand. You're in a Wal-Mart. I'm making less than $9 an hour and I probably don't speak real good English. Nor do I have affordable health insurance.
Also, whoever you asked that question gets asked some variation thereof at LEAST 200 times a day from people who are completely incapable of looking three feet to the left for the shampoo or the coffeemakers or the blue shirts.
MY RECOMMENDATION TO WAL-MART:
If Wal-Mart wants to cater to the upscale target demographic, it needs to hire better employees, train them better and pay them enough to care. Telling them to care simply isn't going to do it.