Will Consumers, Hourly Associates Buy ‘The Real Walmart’?

Discussion
May 07, 2013

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.

[Image: The Real Walmart]

"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.

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?

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14 Comments on "Will Consumers, Hourly Associates Buy ‘The Real Walmart’?"


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Mark Heckman
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

It is absolutely true that Walmart has improved both the lives of most of their customers and associates. They have driven many of the efficient logistical initiatives and have pressured their competitors to do the same to keep prices low. They have changed the face of retailing all over the world.

But touting any message that paints Walmart as an altruistic, life enhancing entity could backfire, given Walmart’s history of associate lawsuits and basic need to conservatively compensate their rank and file employees.

Further and finally, campaigns of this sort are typically more effective and cogent when communicated by a beloved, iconic leader. Since the death of Sam Walton, no successor has ascended to that level of notoriety and credibility. Accordingly, I would be very cautious with this type of campaign. Without the right amount of humility, communicated by a credible spokesperson, the “Real Walmart” may end up breaking their arm, in an attempt to pat themselves on the back.

David Livingston
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

I think Walmart is wasting their time with this. We all know what Walmart is about and we accept it. Let’s not put pearls on a swine. All the publicity campaigns in the world will not suddenly make a low wage worker feel richer.

Why does Walmart need to change preconceived views? Seems to me they are out-performing their competitors in sales per square foot quite well with the current preconceived views. McDonald’s tried this too a while back when they were trying to recruit better employees. I don’t think it will work. I’m sure Walmart would like to recruit a better class of employee (especially with minimum wage proposals looming) but I don’t think they will be successful. There is just too much of a negative stigma associated with working at Walmart.

Dick Seesel
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

Is Walmart an “American success story”? Absolutely, and its remarkable growth should be celebrated. But, at the same time, it struggles with image problems for a reason.

From its predatory pricing tactics that earned market share as it spread geographically, to its relentless pursuit of the lowest costs possible from its vendors and supply chain, Walmart has been dogged by a reputation for ruthless business tactics. At the same time, it has never completely shaken its image as the “lowest common denominator” place to shop, with lesser quality and service practices (checkout lanes, restocking the shelves).

Any attempt to portray Walmart in a positive light through a so-called “reality show” lens ought to acknowledge a few of the blemishes, too.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

These kind of campaigns always make me nervous.

What are you telling the market?

That there is a faux Walmart that they’ve been dealing with?

That the veneer of exploitation is so deep you need an ad campaign to scrape it away?

That every Walmart associate feels the same as this obviously carefully selected sample?

I just think this kind of thing can backfire too easily.

I can see the UFCW campaign now. “Want to see the REAL “Real” Walmart?” followed by a scroll of all the class action suits against the company; testimonials of workers complaining about sexual harassment and off the clock work; and a handful of bitter, failed small business people.

Not a pretty prospect.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

The “real” Walmart of today is certainly not the Walmart Sam Walton conceived when he opened that first store way back when. I can’t help but feel the altruistic vision of yesterday has been clouded by the green color of the money that makes the cash register go ka-ching. If image changing is what this is about, they might want to re-think the plan.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
8 years 1 month ago

I think it is great that Walmart is working to improve its image. No question, it is exciting to see a young man working hard at Walmart with big dreams for the future including a great education.

The challenge is in the pursuit of lower prices, Walmart left US manufacturing behind and moved to Asia. The outcome was a person working on a US manufacturing line earning $25 an hour to make socks in North Carolina was now forced to work at Walmart for minimum wage because the factory closed.

Sam Walton was truly an amazing man who had a dream of helping all Americans save money and enjoy life. It was his passion. My concern is Wall Street’s demand for higher profits and growth have overshadowed that focus at the expense of what Sam Walton cared about most: Americans.

Good video, but I hope Walmart focuses on bringing back innovation and manufacturing to America. It is what this country was built on.

Lee Kent
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

This reads like a public service announcement, blah, whitewashed and nowhere near the whole story! Will this influence anyone? Not likely!

Karen S. Herman
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

Providing access to healthy foods with low prices on fruits and vegetables in areas the USDA describes as food deserts is what I applaud Walmart for. Their commitment to open 275-300 stores by 2015 serving food deserts is clearly underway as demonstrated by the recent opening of their 86th store.

A food desert exists when low-income people travel more than one mile in urban areas and 10 miles in rural areas to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy foods. Walmart is positively affecting change in these communities by making healthy foods available. This is a good example of “The Real Walmart.”

Now, Walmart needs to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and focus on providing higher quality products at low prices. If any retailer can make strides in these areas, Walmart can.

James Tenser
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

What is real about this ad campaign? It shares positive anecdotes that I believe are true, but so are many of the critical stories published on blogs and Web sites.

Walmart deserves both the criticism and the praise it receives. It is responsible for suffering and loss as well as prosperity and opportunity. These are inevitable consequences of its sheer scale and ubiquity.

I suppose my gut reaction to a “sunwashing” campaign like this one is that it seems like an attempt to distract critics and control the dialog, rather than continually improve its own practices.

Corporate social responsibility can be genuine or it can be phony baloney. Walmart is so large and pervasive and embedded in our culture that it can (and should) make a real difference. I’m just not sure this is it.

Mark Burr
Guest
8 years 1 month ago
So, Walmart is something different than the “Real Walmart.” Really? As Walmart sits atop the newly released 2013 Fortune 500 list, I would say that is the “Real Walmart.” In their position, they are over three times the revenues of General Motors and three and a half times that of Ford. They sit over $20 billion in revenues over Exxon and other of the villainous oil giants. That is the “Real Walmart.” BP launched this type of a campaign following their accident in the Gulf of Mexico. How’s it working for them? Is there any less hatred of them? It used to be said “So goes GM, so goes the country.” That now goes for Walmart. They have no shortage of potential employees. That’s just a fact. The irony is that those hurt the most by their practices are their most prodigious shoppers. Cheap goods regardless of the cost. While consumers may speak or perceive one way, they speak another with their dollars. So, does a company that made as much as Walmart did last… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
8 years 1 month ago

I like the idea of the campaign. Because in the real world, which excludes global strategists, retail pundits, big corporation haters and competition, Walmart provides a very real benefit to a LOT of people. So, as is not always the case, the truth is being told—you be the judge, what do you see? I think the answer to that question, to millions of Americans would be very positive.

Now, having said that, the execution is pretty cheesy. Not awful, but a little on the ‘unreal’ side. It would be good to sync the two (use real people, unrehearsed, for example).

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
8 years 1 month ago

Why not do something real to begin to fix the problem instead of patching up the image that is caused by it? These days of transparency and consumer vigilance do not allow big business to spin the news that they are good for our society when there is evidence that they are not. They are failing to recognize that consumers are self-educated online, and not just media educated.

Julie Stoner
Guest
Julie Stoner
8 years 1 month ago
Are any of the claims even mostly true? More often, one reads of Walmart’s aggressive and quite heartless practices when it comes to its corporate policies and associates. Hence the need for this campaign. On that front, I don’t think the ads will change many skeptical or critical minds. Nor will the appeal to consumers by portraying its customer base as solidly middle-class and, well, classy. Are the folks pictured in the ad really the type you mostly see at Walmart? No. Savvy shoppers who care about quality, nutrition, and price have fled Walmart. Organic and natural products are less expensive than Walmart in the stores that buy and sell them in large quantities. Our local IGA buys many of its fruits and vegetables locally so the products are fresher, tastier, and cheaper than Walmart. Staples such as bread and milk are cheaper, too. Then there’s H-E-B. That’s where the type of people in the Walmart ad are shopping for groceries, and where responsible, ethical corporate culture actually exists. H-E-B thrives by competing vigorously but… Read more »
Christopher Krywulak
Guest
Christopher Krywulak
8 years 1 month ago

The article mentioned “Walmart has taken a hit in brand perception among college-educated adults, a key demographic,” so it stands to reason that Walmart is trying to appeal to this demographic with this campaign. If so, I don’t believe it will help change many preconceived views that college-educated consumers have of the chain. Most people in that demographic would be able to look at the ad critically and realize Walmart’s motivations behind it, the realities behind big-box stores and the feelings they associate with shopping at stores like Walmart. That said, the campaign could be effective at motivating potential employees seeking entry-level positions to apply at Walmart.

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