Changing Wal-Mart

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by: David Polinchock

Wal-Mart is trying very hard these days to reinvent themselves as something cool and hip. They're creating different kinds of stores and, like many other retailers, developing consumer-centric stores.

According to DDI, those five different types include suburban affluent, rural, baby boomer, urban/multicultural and Hispanic. They seem to have the rural down right now, but it will sure be a very different road as they develop concepts to the surburban affluent, baby boomer and urban audiences.

And they've been rolling out a variety of new store designs, including a new upscale store in Plano, TX. According to DDI, What you will find is large-format departmental wayfinding signage and graphics, faux wood flooring in the apparel and home departments, curved gondolas in the grocery section—even a full organic foods section and gourmet wine selection. It will be interesting to see if people will actually go to Wal-Mart for organic food and gourmet wine. I'm trying to picture my friends going there and it's not working for me. Of course, I'm not sure that people would have expected Costco to become a store where you could buy good wine and they've made it work.

Right now, one of their most talked about strategies has been their entrance ito the online social space with Wal-Mart – The HUB (School Your Way). They want to become the next MySpace, but they seem to be a long way off. Right now, it seems that they have several thousand members, but many of the pages I looked at seemed empty. According to Wikipedia, MySpace currently has just over 95 million members and gets about 500,000 new members each week. And if you do a google search on Wal-Mart + myspace, you get lots of negative posts about this effort.

So, it iwll be interesting to see how all of this plays out. According to a recent Wall Street Journal headline (as reported in an NRF brief), Wal-Mart Stores' push to rebrand itself as more of a lifestyle retailer and remodel 1,800 stores, or roughly half of its U.S. portfolio, by mid-2007, is dragging down its sales growth, say analysts. Will they rebound or will they just alienate their current audience while trying to become something they're really not — hip & cool.

I remember when Wal-Mart used to be about "Buying American." Now I've read a great deal about that program that seems to suggest that they weren't really doing as much as they promoted they were doing, but it could be a great position if they really really did it. Bring back local manufacturers and build employment in the towns they serve.

But whatever they do, it needs to be authentic to who they are and relevant to their audience. Being shopping for cheap are not going to Wal-Mart for gourmet wines. And despite what Trader Joe's has been able to do with Two Buck Chuck, I don't they'll be able to make that transition for quite some time.

I've included links below to a variety of stories about Wal-Mart and what they're doing. I welcome your comments and thoughts about their efforts!

Link: Wal-Mart's new face

Link: Wal-Mart Opens Multilevel Store

Link: Wal-Mart to Tailor Store Design to Five Shopper Segments

Link: Advertising Age – Wal-Mart Tries to Be MySpace. Seriously

Link: Wal-Mart – The HUB (School Your Way)

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