Authenticity Is Valuable

from the tell-us-what-you-really-think dept

The New York Times has a write up about Check Out, the new Wal-Mart blog that has been making waves with its blunt style. The blog's authors are purchasing agents for the giant retailer, and they aren't pulling their punches. "My life has not changed dramatically," one Wal-Mart employee wrote about Vista, "well, for that matter, it hasn’t changed at all." It's a fascinating move on Wal-Mart's part, and it may pay off for them. Wal-Mart has done a great deal of good for the American economy -- especially low-income individuals, by improving the efficiency of the retail sector and thereby reducing the price consumers pay for almost everything. But because they've been so narrowly focused on improving the efficiency of their operations, they haven't done a very good job with PR. They're widely seen as monolithic, heartless, and and impersonal.

The new blog seems likely to pay off for the retailer in several ways. First, by making it clear that contributors are expressing their personal opinions, it gives Wal-Mart a platform to call out manufacturers who produce bad products while maintaining some distance between the blog and Wal-Mart's official perspective. Second, by allowing comments, it allows consumers to communicate back to Wal-Mart, helping the retailer's purchasers keep tabs on consumers' complaints about its products. Finally, and most importantly, it may help to personalize the store and give it a reputation for candor and openness it currently lacks. This will pay off, for example, next time Wal-Mart faces a PR challenge; a widely-read blog can give the store a way to get its side of the story in a way that's more personal and credible than a press release. The risk, obviously, is that a blogger might say something that causes flack for the company as a whole. Presumably they were careful to choose bloggers who won't say anything too intemperate. But Wal-Mart is probably in a pretty good position on this front. It's so huge that it doesn't have to worry too much about alienating its suppliers; they're going to be eager to get their products onto Wal-Mart's shelves no matter how much they might dislike what Wal-Mart says on its blog. So it can afford to be more candid than a smaller chain that might have to worry about jeopardizing its relationships with key suppliers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 6:55pm

    University of Arkansas alert!

    Tifanie Van Laar in the gaming section can ring me out any day. Rawr.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 7:10pm

    Never thought I'd see the day that Walmart, of all companies, embace blogs in an effort to recieve customer feedback. It's a step in the right direction. Can customers submit comments? If so that's a great conduit to aggregate and share constructive critisism with their suppliers, even if the comments are not made public.

    But yes, it does present some PR challenges if the supplier is not equipped to handle the feedback in an effective manner. Remember DirectBuy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 7:45pm

    "Wal-Mart has done a great deal of good for the American economy -- especially low-income individuals, by improving the efficiency of the retail sector and thereby reducing the price consumers pay for almost everything."

    Huh? In tons of areas, they sold at a loss in order to run out the competition, and then raised thier prices. Those people lost their businesses and thier jobs, and local economies lost competition for pricing, and this is good how? There are still places in the US where locals have voted no to letting Wal-Mart build, just for that reason.

    And I still get clothes cheaper at the mall. Yes, I do mean cheaper than that Garanimals crap they sell.

    Wow. This author must live in a cave somewhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Some Guy, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 7:46pm

    A PR problem, or a business problem?

    Wal-Mart catches a lot of flack, but they generally deserve it. They treat their employees horribly, do their level best to force competition out of town through suspicious means, (illegally) block union activity, knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and regularly treat their customers as criminals. That isn't a PR problem, its a problem with the way the company does business.

    I'm all for increasing efficiency, but when they purposely act the way they have (keep people below certain hours/earnings so they don't have to pay benefits, the practices listed above), that isn't efficiency. It is screwing people for profit.

    So they let some employees criticize suppliers? And? Let's see if they let employees criticize Wal-Mart. Then I might be impressed. Until then, this is just smoke up the rear pipe.

    BTW, Wal-Mart has a knack for royally screwing their suppliers, too. Pot, meet kettle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Javarod, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 7:53pm

    Actually Wal*Mart is rather amusing to me. I worked for them a few years back, plus know a few people have. Its amazing how different the experience is from one region (cleaning is for women, or locking employees in at night and making them work off the clock) to another, and even within stores (the general manager in my last store was supposedly great in a Div 1 (basic discount) but sucked royally in a super center). Here where hiring illegals would be easy, the only time that happened was with a cleaning company they hired. Here the Wal*Mart experience isn't great, but isn't bad, but then here in Phx, you have the city expanding into the desert, and Wal*Mart usually follows, its all virgin territory, no screwing the existing merchants as there aren't any, and no screwing the employees, everyone is valuable as there's just not enough manpower to go around out here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Omali, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 8:01pm

    mmm lead paint

    "a platform to call out manufacturers who produce bad products"

    Aside from several workers who go to internet cafes, I'm sure the rest of the Chinese workers are paid to poorly to afford a computer, or enough food to feed their families.

    "But because they've been so narrowly focused on improving the efficiency of their operations, they haven't done a very good job with PR. They're widely seen as monolithic, heartless, and and impersonal."

    What efficiency? Using more efficient ways of hiding chunks of lead in child and infant toys, the total destruction of many town's economies, extreme opposition of any form of unionization, god forbid workers want fair conditions, or the part where they basically hold distributors at a gunpoint in order to get lower wholesale prices. And why can they get away with this? Because they're WalMart. Sam Walton is turning in his grave.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 8:02pm

    Re:

    In regards to their pricing, it depends where you live. If you live in an area where they _haven't_ been able to "force" others out, they aren't bad for the low income families (such as me, huzzah!).

    It's when they become the _only_ reasonably close store for certain things that they become a problem.

    Don't even get me started on how bad they treat their workers. Fortunately I don't know first hand, but the sheer volume of complaints in that regard make it obvious they are much worse than most companies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    David Hernandez, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 8:08pm

    I look real dashing in a Garanimal matchy-matchy outfit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 8:32pm

    Re:

    In tons of areas, they sold at a loss in order to run out the competition, and then raised thier prices.

    Got any evidence for this? I'll admit we don't get a lot of information here in our cave, but this isn't what I've read.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 8:34pm

    Re: mmm lead paint

    They basically hold distributors at a gunpoint in order to get lower wholesale prices.

    Really? They threaten to shoot their distributors? Or is this just your way of saying they're tough negotiators?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Pete, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 9:32pm

    I have to laugh when I read these anti-walmart posts, always the same rants but they never seem to back them up with any hard data. To those screaming about walmart selling chinese goods, well show me any store in the USA that doesn't sell goods from china, any store, shoot just about everything here is at least in part from china from the food you eat to that mac or dell or HP you are typing on so please tell me how evil walmart is for selling chinese products. Here where I live we have two walmarts, this is a small town roughly 100,000 residents and while the stores may have displaced a few small stores, they added several hundred new jobs to the economy and their pay rates match or excede any of the other large stores in town ie: target, sears, JC Penny and such so until one of you can produce solid evidence that walmart is indeed such an evil monster I tend to believe that they are a plus to our community.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 11:55pm

    I've worked for both J.C. Penney and Sears and...

    ...I have quite a few friends that worked for and still work for Wal-Mart. I made more starting out at both companies that some of my friends do now, and the ones who are still working there have been working there, under sweatshop conditions (unlike my as-cushy-as-retail-gets Sears and Penney's positions) for the entire ten years that the location has been open.

    Did you know that 70% of thier employees leave within the first year? Doesn't sound like they add good decent paying jobs to the economy, now does it?

    Pete, please give me the ratio of jobs lost because of Wal-Mart's well documented loss-leadership technique (not new, just vicious) versus the jobs you say were 'created' by Wal-Mart entering your local market in the same niche as the businesses that it pushed out. I would also like to see some evidence backing up your pay rate claim. I'd be alright with anecdotal evidence, as you probably could not get any of the companies that you mentioned to give you that information.

    Please see my next post for substantiation of my loss-leader claim.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 12:12am

    Loss-Leader Substantiation - An Eye Opener

    Harry Potter cost forty percent of the purchase price. I know, I worked for Waldenbooks when it was sold. So most people got it for free. Wal-Mart sold it at a loss. Please see http://walmartwatch.com/blog/archives/wal_mart_effect_not_so_magical/ for substantiation. In the case of the last Harry Potter book, Waldenbooks, Hasting, & Barnes & Noble were not allowed to mark it lower than forty percent, allowing Wal-Mart to take the lead in that particular loss.

    In Germany, they were quite blatantly engaging in a pricing war with two older and well-established chains. See a PDF report here (http://www.wilmerhale.com/files/Publication/d3382527-7acd-45c6-bae6-4ef14157e415/Presentation/Publi cationAttachment/007af760-21b4-46b0-b356-a96612caf3cf/International%20Competition%20Law%20Update12-2 -02.pdf).

    The next articles talks a bit about how Wal-Mart will use a loss leader technique to get more people into their stores by offering 150 different popular prescriptions for below cost... namely, for four dollars a month. Most of you have heard of that, with the notable exception of those cave guys. http://www.nypost.com/seven/09242006/business/wal_mart_hopes_cheap_rx_plan_will_perk_up_image_busine ss_terry_keenan.htm

    This next link is to a site that explains that Wal-Mart employees make less than employees that thier competitors (See, Pete?) and includes quotes from Wal-Mart that acknowlege that and 'explain' why. It also talks about the number of times that Wal-Mart has been sued for violations of labor laws, and how much they have had to pay out in settlements and judgements against them. http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/facts/

    I guess I could go on and talk about the studies that have been done on everything from thier treatment of employees, their blatant disregard for the laws of the US, Germany, and other countries to thier negative environmental impact compared to that of thier competitors... But I won't because I'm just a whack-job that has a vendetta against Wal-Mart and loves to make claims that I cannot substantiate, like Pete did.

    The sad thing is that I still shop at Wal-Mart. They've driven out most of the competition in alot of areas. Not all and I still shop elsewhere when it's relatively convenient, but at least I'm honest about where I'm shopping and what I'm funding. Some of you people are just too self-satisfied to look beyond your jaded aspects and see what we've allowed to grow in our country. Bet y'all like RealID, also.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Twinrova, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 4:17am

    Walmart drives away the competition? Hmmm....

    About 5 years ago, I heard about a town in my state that voted against a Walmart build. Residents and business owners were up in arms about how things would change and traffic would increase.

    5 years later and this is what's left since the Walmart didn't get built:
    -Over $25 million dollars is being spent on "re-vitalizing" an area due to lack of customers.
    -5 major anchor stores (big name stores that are used to drive in customers) closed.
    -12 restaurants closed their doors, never to re-open.
    -Traffic still increased because two new suburbs were built and the main road connects them.

    Two years ago, a Super Walmart was built on a major highway. Traffic on this highway was already getting bad, but the town decided to use the Walmart to its advantage. Now, there are 20+ stores, 5+ gas stations, and so many restaurants to eat at.

    For these nay-sayers, I say eat crow. Tim's assessment that Walmart helps the economy is correct.

    While many of you rant and cry about how Walmart doesn't treat its employees fairly, the fact that OTHER places around the Walmart does gives people options. But let's focus on what "fairly" means.

    When an employer tells its employees they must cover 60% of their insurance payments because of the rising cost of healthcare, is that fair?

    When an employer uses outdated standard costs of living to offer a salary to an employee, is that fair?

    Most employers offer a 3% salary increase while ignoring the fact that the inflationary costs exceed this, is that fair?

    The post from Anonymous Coward who stated no experience first hand can definitely tell of stories at his employer. In fact, all of you can. It happens everywhere.

    I'm not defending Walmart's practices. I'm targeting the hypocrisy from the posts of this thread who think Walmart is the bad guy here when, in fact, it's ALL of Corporate America.

    This country no longer lives in the world of capitalism. It's all about greed. Patent lawsuits, cheaper products but higher costs, price fixing, cheaper labor hiring, and many other things shows that "capitalism" isn't working anymore.

    Respond negatively to this post all you want, but the facts lie before you.

    Mom & Pop stores aren't being driven out by Walmart. These little stores can't offer what Walmart can, often are priced higher, and are stuck in the middle of nowhere for access.

    In today's world, faster and convenient is what people want.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Tim Lee, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 5:11am

    Re: Loss-Leader Substantiation - An Eye Opener

    I believe you that Wal-Mart charges low prices. What I'm skeptical about is the claim that they raise them again after other companies go out of business. If Wal-Mart wants to just charge me low prices forever, that's great as far as I'm concerned.

    And yes, I'm in favor of Real ID. That's why I wrote a post criticizing it yesterday.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Ferin, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 5:18am

    They're widely seen as monolithic, heartless, and

    Gee tell us how you really feel. :-)

    Let's not forget petty and vindictive. I remember a story my aunt told me about her telecom company selling prepaid phone cards at wally world. They did it for a year, didn't see a significant return, and decided when contract negotiations came up a month before the contract was to close or be renewed not to continue the deal.

    The next day wal mart removed every single card from their shelves, enuring that they'd have plenty of stock to send back to her company so they could maximize what they could charge for unsold stock. The constant squeezing of suppliers for ever cheaper goods doesn't help either. It's nice to see them listening to people a little, but I don't think this will do much to change their image if their actions don't change first.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 7:15am

    Didn't say that...

    ...Wal-Mart was the only bad corporatation. But they are the only one that I know of that makes a point of driving out competition by unfair business practices. The Mom-and-Pops do have higher prices because they cannot afford to sell at a loss. I would love to buy groceries at a store that charged more. That would be awesome. Because then I wouldn't have to deal with Wal-Mart's crap-tastic customer service, abysmal lines, poor organization, the teeming masses that must be fought through to find products... Please, bring me Homeland or Albertson's back.

    So why don't you give us a few examples of corporatations that eliminate competition and are horrible, since Wal-Mart is among dozens. Just give me three, Twinrova. That's all I ask. It should be easy, since all of corporate America is engaged in the same business practices. Right..?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Pete, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 7:30am

    Re: I've worked for both J.C. Penney and Sears and

    Rose, thank you for your response and the links you provided. One of the neatest things I like about the internet is that I am constantly learning even though I am one of those old farts who still remembers b&w TV's and rotary dial phones.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Pete, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 8:31am

    Wouldn't it be more reasonable to say that the big food chains caused the demise of the mom & pop grocery stores, I remember back in the 60's seeing the little stores closing their doors after safeway and QFC and albertsons moved in and this was long before walmart even thought of trying to setup in Washington state, same goes for alot of the little stores, when the big malls went up, the little guys had alot of trouble competing.
    As far as "wakeupwalmart.com" I feel that anything they print needs to be verified as there seems to be a very strong emotional anti-walmart feel to the site but don't get me wrong, I realize walmart is just a corporation that is there to make max profit, just like any corporation and they have done things wrong and illegal just like other corporations (microsoft, Exxon, Ford and so forth).
    Darn I need to get off this soapbox, sorry folks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Alimas, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 12:44pm

    I Worked for them

    At there Sam's Club location.
    I couldn't have supported myself in an apartment on that job, but I made more at that job with my poor experience level than I had for options in my other areas.
    The management favored promotions from within and honest criticism from its' employees.
    The benefits package wasn't much worth it and I was leveled by how hard they tried to prevent unions from showing up, but it was a great stepping stone job all in all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    sheila, Jul 27th, 2008 @ 11:54am

    Tifanie Van Larr

    This women is a homewrecker!! She is a discredible person to Walmart!! She is a lowlife to society. She had an affair
    with a married man. She just had his baby.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2010 @ 5:34pm

    test

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Captain Obvious, May 6th, 2010 @ 6:00pm

    Ok, let me break this down for those commenting here (years ago apparently). Why do you support small businesses so much? Do their owners not have a nice enough merceded for you? Do they not own your entire block yet? Are you one yourself? Don't worry about small business owners, they do just fine with 100k a year. They can use some profits from the stale bread they sold you, or from the overpriced rotten apples.

    Concerning wages, why don't you compare their wages with an actual competing retailer? Or how about their benefits?

    What will you do when Target is the same size as Walmart?

    For the person commenting on WMT's use of Chinese labor: listen, no one's saying Chinese laborers make great money...by America's standards! But are you willing to pay $40 for a t-shirt? Of course not, that's why your cousin (or whoever) can't work at an apparel manufacturer in America (no such thing). Americans won't work for reasonable wages, Unions would simply drive operational efficiency down and wages up anyway.

    Unions believe company's exist to give people jobs...if you agree...please reassess.

    Lots of rambling in this because I don't care to proofread. In closing, please remember how this country started. And please remember that nothing good comes from something free. If you ever have thoughts about how you should work less for more money, please consider the moment you first took the job.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Captain Obvious, May 6th, 2010 @ 6:01pm

    mercedes

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This