Will Consumers, Hourly Associates Buy ‘The Real Walmart’?
Many years ago, a mentor advised me that it was the differences between what corporate leaders said and what they did that got them in trouble with employees and customers. I have to admit this credibility gap question popped into my head when I read a press release announcing the launch of "The Real Walmart" campaign, a national television and digital advertising effort intended to show how the retailer positively affects the lives of its customers and associates.
"We know that people trust Walmart even more when they understand the opportunities we provide our associates, who the customers are that shop with us and how we deliver low prices," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., in a statement. "Every month more than 60 percent of Americans shop at Walmart and we are proud to help them save money on what they want and need to build better lives for themselves and their families."
Walmart has many advocates and for good reasons. As the number one company on the Fortune 500, it has offered numerous advancement opportunities for hourly associates over the years. Its relentless pursuit of the lowest price has been tied, more than once, to the relative lack of inflation the nation has experienced over the past couple of decades.
Customers save billions of dollars every year shopping in Walmart stores. The company claims its $4 generic prescription drug program has saved American consumers nearly $5 billion. It has also provided access to healthy foods with low prices on fruits and vegetables — another $2.3 billion in savings.
On the associate front, Walmart continues to drive home the opportunity theme delivered by Mr. Simon at this year’s National Retail Federation Big Show. Seventy-five percent of department and store managers started as hourly associates with the company.
"I know first-hand the career opportunities that Walmart offers. I started as a cashier during college and today I run my own store," said Tonya Pullen, Walmart store manager in Mt. Juliet, TN, said in a statement. "I see associates earn promotions every week to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay."
But Walmart is a human endeavor and, as such, is far from perfect. For all the advancement opportunity at the chain, it’s also true that large numbers of hourly workers at Walmart (and other large chains, to be fair) need to take advantage of various forms of public assistance to get by.
On the consumer front, critics of the chain talk about good paying manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas only to be replaced with low wage service industry positions at home.
At NRF in January, Mr. Simon discussed Walmart’s plans to work with manufacturing suppliers to bring jobs from Asia to the U.S. He cited high fuel costs and logistical challenges as reasons why it now makes sense for some suppliers to shift production.
Walmart has taken a hit in brand perception among college-educated adults, a key demographic, in recent years, according to BAV Consulting. The retailer’s "energized differentiation" dropped 50 percent among that group between 2011 and 2012.
If I had to make a bet, I’d go with more Americans than not siding with Walmart’s depiction of its "Real" self. I can’t help but wonder, however, if the company wouldn’t be better served if its leadership addressed some of the other realities associated with Walmart not depicted in the campaign.
- Walmart Launches National Advertising Campaign to Show’The Real Walmart’ – Walmart Stores
- The Real Walmart – Walmart Stores
- Walmart Touts’American Success Story’ – The Wall Street Journal (sub. required)
- Walmart Goes Big On Red, White and Blue – RetailWire
What portion of “The Real Walmart” campaign — associate relations, consumer benefits, business practices — do you think is the most important element and why? Will the campaign help change the preconceived views that consumers and potential employees have of the chain?