Walmart Going Back to Basics?

7 years ago

Walmart may be going back to basics, but reports of the retail chain abandoning organic and green products appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Image by Walmart via Flickr

They are still checking their merchandise carefully, though. After seven straight quarters of sales losses, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall article) that Walmart executives have announced an "It's Back" campaign, focusing on the return to shelves of so-called "heritage items" like fishing rods and fabric.

Good thing for those who still shop there for the basics (disclosure: I do not), because I can't imagine a Walmart without fishing rods or fabric. Can you?

Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart's former chief merchandising officer of Canadian business, took over U.S. merchandising in January:

Some of these products were very important to our customers, particularly in rural areas, and they let us know they wanted them back. We heard them, and they are going to notice a difference soon.

This does not necessarily mean, as conservative columnist Richard Pollack stated last week, that the work of Al Gore's former PR rep Leslie Dach, and Walmart's current Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, to spruce up the company's image is a total failure or a "cautionary tale for the left." 

Speaking in chicken-or-egg terms, is it that upscale items don't sell at Walmart, or that people don't go to WalMart to buy upscale things? Or is that when we're talking "upscale items" it's not necessarily produce, but anti-aging makeup lines for young girls that would have been a hard sell for reasons other than cost?

Did Walmart even ask longtime customers what products would be missed before they started taking them away? Because that would have been a good idea.

It's also kind of surprising that sales would be down at a place that, even gone a little bit upscale, is still affordable compared to most other retailers. And while some of the "heritage items" may have been off the shelves, it's likely that toilet paper and drugstore-brand makeup are still there, and those simply never go out of style. 

Politically speaking, Walmart keeps on with some initiatives that Pollack likely considers left-leaning cautionary tales. They cite goals like creating zero waste using 100 percent renewable energy supply, and selling products that sustain people and the environment. They claim to want an 80-percent reduction in landfill garbage in California and a focus on local foods. And in January they kicked off their involvement with First Lady Michelle Obama's Healthy Food Initiative, a process that is supposed to take five years to fully implement. It involves offering healthier food at prices that will make them more affordable and competitive with other retailers. 

Walmart says it will be going back to competitive pricing in general, so if shoppers want an imported avocado or a heritage fishing pole, they will feel like they're getting the best value for their money.  

And that's what it really seems that Walmart customers have always wanted, so a little bit of course correction regarding what's on the shelves after some experimentation in supply? That doesn't sound so much like a political statement as it does listening to your consumer base. In other words: good business. 

Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites. Her photos are on Flickr.

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