By Quentin Fottrell
It might seem like a contradiction in terms, but Wal-Mart is updating its inventory by bringing back lots of old stuff to its shelves. Two years ago, the superstore revamped its stores and made shopping more streamlined for its customers in a strategy called “Project Impact.” But Wal-Mart is not calling this a U-turn. It’s merely listening to its customers. Again.
In a statement released Monday, Wal-Mart said that it’s adding 8,500 new/old items to an average store, an 11% increase to current stock. After seven consecutive quarters of declining U.S. sales and bad publicity from former female workers at the store, Wal-Mart is going back to its roots. It’s adding new items like fishing tackle and trigger-happy cleaning products.
According to a statement by Wal-Mart released Monday: “General merchandise categories like electronics, sporting goods, apparel, fabrics/crafts and outdoor living will expand later this year.” Doesn’t sound too exciting? How about two-liter bladder camel pack water carriers?
The store adds: “Customers will be able to easily identify these items with new “It’s Back” signs on store shelves later this month.” That raises the question: if these new/old products require flagging in this manner, did we really miss them that much in the first place?
Lesson No. 1: Shoppers have short memories. When we don’t see stuff like portable saunas or special edition Easter Pillow Pet Thumpy Bunnies, which are currently available in Wal-Mart stores, we tend to forget we ever wanted or needed them in the first place.
Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer at Wal-Mart U.S., doesn’t see it that way. In a statement he said: “We’ve listened to our customers and we’re bringing back the products and brands they want. Customers have already seen a wider selection of products on our shelves and we’ll continue to bring back great products at great prices.”
In 2009, Wal-Mart had also said that it listened to its customers, except back then customers wanted an easier shopping experience, so Wal-Mart decided to de-clutter its stores.
Lesson No. 2: shoppers are fickle. We don’t always know what we want and, even if we don’t admit it, we do get a kick out of controlled chaos in bargain aisles and rummaging for a bargain. For those of us who have no use for two-liter camel pack water carriers, it gives us a sense of adventure and achievement.
Amy Colella-Lester, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, tells Pay Dirt that dialogue with customers is ongoing, the retailing experience is constantly evolving, confirms the return of store features like “Action Alley” and says new items will be added too. Unsurprisingly, she does not define the “It’s Back” strategy as moving away from well-heeled clientele towards its old customer base.
She adds, “We are broadening our fresh fruits and vegetable selection in areas with higher Hispanic populations.”
Here’s a rundown on what else to expect to re-appear in Wal-Mart stores near you. In Dallas, Texas: Hellman’s Mayonnaise and bottles of cleaning detergent … with trigger handles! In Minneapolis, Minnesota: ice fishing and ice hockey products. In Phoenix, Arizona: more hiking and hydration offerings, and year-round pool supplies and outdoor lawn equipment. In Miami, Florida: even more fishing supplies.
What would you like to see back on Wal-Mart’s shelves?