The Future of Wal-Mart

The idea of surviving the next 50 years is a scary task for many companies.  The inevitability of change and technological advancements are difficult for some brands to withstand and overcome, however I don’t see surviving as the problem for a powerhouse company like Wal-Mart.   Instead, the challenge is thriving in a competitive era where consumers’ opinions and experiences are on display for anyone to see.

As a college student I am extremely fond of the low prices that Wal-Mart offers its customers.  The recent commotion surrounding the Black Friday deals further proves that people of all ages make Wal-Mart a primary destination for a majority of their shopping, whether that is for groceries, school supplies, or Christmas presents.  In order to keep their customers coming back, Wal-Mart must continue to offer lower prices than their competitors and ensure they advertise those low prices well.

Since technology is continually changing, I think it’s important that advertising and promotions change as well.  Wal-Mart currently has active social media pages, but I think they could be used even more.  By tweeting, posting, and sharing their daily or weekly specials, they can pump out free advertising that they can also measure through social media analytics.  Pictures and links to purchase products online could increase profits and tell customers who don’t read their Sunday paper what the specials are.

It’s also important for Wal-Mart to focus on the company’s mission and values across all levels of the business.  The publicity they receive regarding mistreated employees and long checkout lines could decrease or be eliminated if they return to leaders who can re-focus the brand on Sam Walton’s original purpose: to help customers save money.  The quality of employees is also important to customer happiness, so perhaps they could provide better quality training or even employ more people.  The increase in social media involvement is a positive when discussing advertisements, but it’s also the easiest outlet for angry customers.  Bad news travels much faster than good news, so Wal-Mart could also promote more of the charity work they are doing to create some good press to balance out the bad.

Target is arguably Wal-Mart’s greatest competitor, and I think most people choose Target for the quality of their product.  By providing some higher end lines of clothing, shoes, and home décor I think Wal-Mart could compete with stores like Target, especially if they could offer reduced prices.  It’s important to change the negative perceptions that surround Wal-Mart, and a way to do that would be to demonstrate the quality and style of their products in television or print advertisements. By showing consumers what is available to them, they will hopefully have better “top of the mind awareness” and be more likely to purchase those items from Wal-Mart.  Some of these changes seem complicated and expensive, but I think it would be worth the investment for Wal-Mart.

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Wal-Mart is Social

If someone loves a certain product or company, they post about it on Facebook.  If someone has a horrible customer service experience, they tell everyone the details on Twitter.  Wal-Mart realized the increasing popularity of social media and decided the best way to reach their customers was to meet them where they’re interacting.  Wal-Mart’s customers are using social media to get their information and to share their feedback, so it only makes sense for Wal-Mart to utilize Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and Foursquare.

On the corporate website, Wal-Mart shares their social media guidelines so their consumers and employees are aware of the sites they use and how they use them.  Twitter is the first site listed because I believe it’s their most active page.  They tweet several times a day currently, which will only increase during the next month and a half due to the Christmas shopping season.  For example, on Black Friday they tweeted several of their “doorbuster” deals.  Facebook and Youtube are two other platforms they use to wish their customers happy holidays, promote their weekly specials, and update them on happenings in the corporation.

The corporate page explaining Wal-Mart’s social media usage explains that the corporation is unable to respond to all correspondences regarding complaints, which is honest but maybe not the best way to please consumers.  Some social media users might not understand this, but Wal-Mart actually has a separate Twitter page for customer service purposes. I have actually tweeted about a poor customer service experience and gotten a response from their separate page within 20 minutes and was able to correspond with an employee.  As a customer I was impressed with their quick response, which left me with a better impression of the company.

By looking at Wal-Mart’s social sites you can see they are successful.  With over 425,000 Twitter followers and over 3 million Facebook likes, their posts are reaching a lot of customers.  The best part about social media is that it’s free.  Wal-Mart can reach their younger consumers who don’t pay attention to the weekly ads by posting free content.

They also place advertisements on popular social media sites because most of their users spend a lot of time on the web.  The best part about those advertisements is you can specifically target them and pay per click.  I’ve purchased several products from and have seen Facebook ads with those products in them the next day.  By targeting consumers in that way, they make it impossible for customers to forget about the products they previously considered.

I foresee Wal-Mart discovering new and unique ways to interact with consumers through social media. By posting frequently, they can maintain top of the mind awareness in a market where that is extremely important.

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Do you have a Wal-Mart?

Last weekend I was at a retreat with other Wartburg students and was talking to an international student about her relationships with domestic students.  She mentioned that we (meaning myself and other domestic students) tend to ask silly questions that offended her at first, but now she is able to laugh them off.  One of those questions was, “Do you have a Wal-Mart in Africa?”

Lindi told me her frustration from this questions stems from a life without Wal-Mart until she came to Iowa.  Lindi’s hometown in Africa did not have a Wal-Mart, which usually lead to a response like this: “How do you live without Wal-Mart?”  After researching about Wal-Mart’s global commerce, I found that Wal-Mart does in fact do business in Africa through a large stake in Massmart, which is a retail store.    To domestic students, like me, it is hard to picture life without a one-stop shop where you can get cookie dough, Kleenex, and paint all at the same time.  Wal-Mart saw the need for other countries to have low prices and a variety of products available to them, which has made them very successful internationally.

The international portion of the Wal-Mart Corporation is actually the fastest growing part, with 5,500 stores and 800,000 associates operating in 26 different countries.  Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Central America, Chile, China, India, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom are the main international targets for Wal-Mart.  The company seeks to match the country’s needs with the global resources Wal-Mart has.  Another way Wal-Mart reaches customers globally is through their website. is available in 10 countries and sees 45 million hits per month.

If you look past the Wal-Mart website, you realize that Wal-Mart’s international business isn’t flawless; there have been many controversies and discussions about the integrity of the company.  About a year ago, a bribery scandal with one of the company’s Mexican subsidiaries was revealed.  By bribing the Mexican government officials to approve their buildings quickly, Wal-Mart has been able to expand quickly in Mexico, opening 431 stores in 2011.

This bribery scandal has altered the perception many international companies have toward Wal-Mart.  For a company known for underpaying their employees, taking out small businesses, polluting the air, and having an aggressive approach toward business, this is some media attention they wish they could have avoided.  The biggest challenge Wal-Mart faces internationally is their poor reputation; however, many countries and cities abroad decide that the value and low prices provided by Wal-Mart is worth it, not to mention the money to be made.

Despite all the negative media attention that constantly seems to surround Wal-Mart, international chief C. Douglas McMillon said, “Wal-Mart is progressing from being a domestic company with an international division to being a global company.”  There are different challenges for each country Wal-Mart enters, but if they can learn from past mistakes and adapt to the changing world, they will continue to take over the world.





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Wal-Mart is known for a lot of things, from their low prices to their long checkout lines.  Another thing Wal-Mart is noted for?  The awesome people-watching you can do there.  The customers that shop at Wal-Mart are diverse in many ways: different ages, ethnicities, average family incomes, sexes, and clothing choices.  I will admit that during high school, my friends and I would either drive to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop or Wal-Mart if we were bored because we could always count on seeing something pretty funny.  As anyone can tell by walking in the store, Wal-Mart serves several demographics.  Targeting all of them through advertising is difficult, but Wal-Mart manages to do it fairly well.

Most of the television advertisements I see for Wal-Mart are based on the upcoming seasons and holidays.  During the summertime, you see Wal-Mart targeting adults through their ads about picnics, grilling, and summer time activities.  Before Christmas you see commercials much more often than usual; they almost always target parents that would purchase toys and other presents for their children and family members at Wal-Mart.  During November and December you see a lot of food advertisements because Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, and they want everyone to buy their food they are cooking at Wal-Mart.  Besides the Christmas season, I think back to school is the next busiest time for Wal-Mart television advertisements.  They target parents about the school supplies their kids need, they target the college kids with all the dorm room items they need, and they target children through their backpacks and other memorabilia with Spiderman or Power Puff Girls on it.

I found an interesting article from March of this year that stated Wal-Mart was putting an emphasis on marketing toward the Hispanic population, which has an annual buying power of over $1.2 trillion.  The increasing number of Hispanics partnered with the fact they spend 14% more on a routine shopping trip than other ethnicities helped Wal-Mart decide to target them.  One way Wal-Mart is ensuring Hispanic customers enjoy shopping at their store is by understanding cultural differences and marketing products that excel in that demographic.  They also broke down what products Hispanics purchase more of so they can ensure they have lower prices on those items; some of the items on the list of frequently purchased items included breakfast cereals, electronics, diapers, and hair care.  Wal-Mart encourages brands they put on their shelf to target to the Hispanic audience in order to get more important shelf space in the stores.

Many people compare and contrast Wal-Mart and Target, and I found an article that compared the average shoppers at each store, and it was very interesting.  The average household income ranges from $30,000-$60,000 at Wal-Mart, while Target caters to a much more affluent audience with a median household income of %64,000.  I think the reason that both of these stores do so well is that they know they target audiences and cater to them as much as possible.


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Picture This

You are looking to purchase a new bedspread.  Your bedroom is the perfect shade of sage green, so the bedding must coordinate well with the paint.  It should have a fairly modern design, but it should be gender neutral so your husband feels comfortable in your bedroom as well.  One website has a low priced set, and describes it as brown and green with circles and lines all over it.  Another website has a slightly higher priced bedspread with an image next to it showing the product on an actual bed.  Which do you buy?

I would venture to say 95% of people would not purchase a new bedspread without seeing what it looks like.  The best way to sell a product is to let the product sell itself, and the way to do that is through imagery.  Wal-Mart, like all companies, has expanded online because of the current technology craze.  In fact, their online sales increased 30% in the first quarter of 2013, and Wal-Mart’s web sales are estimated at $10 billion for this year.  Without images to display the functions and style of their products, Wal-Mart would not sell as many items.

Online isn’t the only place Wal-Mart is using imagery; the most recent logo change in 2008 led to noticeable visual changes inside the stores as well.  Images you see while shopping at Wal-Mart include the iconic spark and large signs displaying the product pricing.  The company was founded around the basis of providing low prices for every customer, which is why I think they’ve continued to use their very low prices as the most prominent images around the store.  And the prices aren’t pictured alone; they’re accompanied by phrases such as “Rollback” and “Unbeatable Prices.”  I think those words are used to reinforce thoughts in each customer’s head, and to convince you that these are in fact the lowest prices you will find.

An icon that is still occasionally used, but not as much as it once was, is the yellow smiley face.  You used to see the bouncing smiley face in each television and newspaper advertisement.  The smiley was utilized to tell customers how happy they will be if they choose to purchase products at Wal-Mart’s low prices. I think this image was originally a good visual for the company, but is now a dated image.  I’m glad the company chose to use a more modern, sleek design and decrease the amount of smiley faces they use in their advertisements.

Brand recognition is vital to any company’s success, and an important aspect to that is what images come to mind when you think of a certain company.  When I think of Wal-Mart, I think of the color blue, the spark, and the smiley face, which shows me that Wal-Mart can attribute part of their success to their modern and sleek imagery.



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Practice makes perfect

When I looked down the list of iconic brands that each class member was assigned, I started laughing.  Sure, Nike had the sweat shop controversy and Barbie’s been in trouble for creating an unattainable image for young girls.  But no company has weathered crises better than Wal-Mart.  Most people wonder how Wal-Mart continues to be successful due to a constant storm of bad press, but as they say, “Practice makes perfect.”

Wal-Mart has several issues facing them today that make customers question their loyalty to the company.  The first is employee treatment.  There have been numerous stories and cases brought on by Wal-Mart associates that reference unfair wages and poor working conditions. One complaint in particular cited extreme retaliation, surveillance, discipline, intimidation, and termination toward employees in six different states.

Another segment of the unfair employee treatment is that Wal-Mart has been accused of knowingly purchasing from suppliers who treat workers unfairly.  For example, one supplier was accused of allowing fork lift propane tank leaks, blocked fire exits, and other safety violations.  Wal-Mart released a statement after these allegations that noted the high standards they uphold for each of their suppliers and that they are committed to providing safe working conditions for all employees.

Some other issues surrounding the corporation are discrimination against women, its environmental impact, and their impact on local competitors.  A study in 2004 showed that between 2% and 8% of Wal-Mart customers have stopped shopping there because of the bad press surrounding the store.

The rise in technology and social media has made the public much more aware of the issues facing Wal-Mart.  The nightly news isn’t the only place you hear about the tough issues; Twitter and Facebook are common places to share stories and articles, which makes it easy to discover the dark sides of companies.  The flipside is that social media sites are a great way for companies to become more transparent and give a public apology.  Another way to recover from bad press is to create good press, which Wal-Mart does well.  One example is their response to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

After hearing stories of controversy after controversy, it’s hard to understand how Wal-Mart continues to be successful, but it’s simple: they have a great Public Relations team.  When a company is faced with serious issues, they do the best they can to defend themselves, and they learn for the next time a crisis occurs.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, Wal-Mart has had a lot of major dilemmas, which means a lot of crisis communication practice.  Also, Wal-Mart provides a quality product at a low price, which will always make the customers happy.  It doesn’t matter if I agree with everything Wal-Mart does; what matters is that I will still buy shampoo and groceries there because it’s what my budget allows.


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Save Money. Live Better. Wal-Mart.

When you think of Nike you think “Just do it.”  When you think of McDonald’s you think “I’m lovin’ it.”  When you think of All State you think “Are you in good hands?”  What do you think of when you think Wal-Mart?

After 19 years, Wal-Mart tossed their slogan “Always Low Prices” into the trash for a new motto – “Save Money. Live Better.”  The company launched the new campaign to focus on the small joys in life as opposed to practicality.  With the new slogan, they revealed a series of advertisements focusing on what you can do with the money Wal-Mart saves you.  The goal with Wal-Mart’s new brand focus is to show consumers they are a destination for all the products you need, not just groceries and toilet paper.

Wal-Mart has endured numerous other changes in the past 50 years from logo design, to store layout, to customer relations.  In 1962 when the first store was opened, the logo was simple and nondescript.  In fact, the choice of font and style was given to whatever printer was producing their receipts, bags, and other materials.  The next logo featured a western-style saloon font that stuck around for almost 20 years.  In 1981, the company chose to streamline their symbol by losing the serif-font and simplifying the design.  10 years later the hyphen was replaced with the infamous star, which evolved into the “spark” featured on the current logo.

Sam Walton was focused on customer experience when he defined the role of Wal-Mart employees.  In 1980 he introduced one of the most notable positions: the greeter.  The job was created to provide extra protection against shoplifters, give a sense of security to the consumers, and make the stores comfortable for elderly customers.  In 2012, the company announced they’ll move greeters from the lobbies to the cash registers to save the company money and help customers find shorter checkout lines or direct them to different products.  Many people see this move as a shift in Wal-Mart values.  When Walton was alive, the company was more focused on customer experience and now the focus has gone to reviving margins and sales.

Like all major corporations, Wal-Mart has been forced to change several practices due to lawsuits and complaints filed against them.  Earlier this year the company agreed to improve safety regulations at 2,800 stores that were found to be dangerous to employees.  These changes include secured trash compactor, clear exit routes, and better training about how to handle hazardous materials.

Changes to large corporations are inevitable since the consumers’ wants and needs are always changing.  In order for companies to succeed they must evolve and grow to keep customers happy.  After all, whether their slogan is “Always Low Prices” or “Save Money. Live Better.,” Wal-Mart will continue to dominate the world of retail.



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It’s pretty easy to understand why most people in my life right now love Wal-Mart: we’re all college students.  At this point in my life I’m focused on paying as little as possible for groceries, clothes, and beauty products, and so are my friends.  I asked several people today what they thought about Wal-Mart and they all answered, “We like it because it’s cheap.”  Most people followed with, “We don’t go there for quality, we go there because it’s affordable.”  It’s easy for me to say that consumers have great confidence in Wal-Mart because of who I’m surrounded by, but if you look further into the issue you can see that not all consumers are as happy as Wartburg students.

Social media is an important communication tool in today’s world, and Wal-Mart has a large presence on Twitter especially.  If you search #walmart you find pictures of customers’ purchases, links to articles, and customer complaints.  If you dig deeper into the consumer’s opinions on Wal-Mart, you’ll find complaints about many things besides the quality of their products.  A large group of people associate Wal-Mart with unfair wages, lack of health insurance for employees, a hatred for workers unions, and taking customers away from small business owners.  If you Google Wal-Mart consumer opinions, most of what you find is all negative.  With the extreme expansion of the Wal-Mart Corporation, the initial values and beliefs of the company have been lost in the chaos.

A particular story I found on the Forbes website discussed one man’s experience with extremely cluttered, messy, and un-stocked stores.  He referenced a time when Sam Walton, a personal friend of his, would walk him around the stores, call associates by their names, and pride himself in the experiences he gave his customers.  It seems to me and to the author that the Wal-Mart values and goals have been lost in the 21 years since Sam’s death.  I don’t think Wal-Mart was ever perfect, but the number of lawsuits and complaints filed since then has exponentially increased in direct relation to the sales.  Wal-Mart recorded sales of $43.9 billion the year Sam died, and reached $443.9 billion in 2012.

With as much negative attention as you see when you search Wal-Mart on the internet, I was surprised to see that Wal-Mart stores are ranked 27th on Fortune’s list of World’s Most Admired Companies.  Wal-Mart ranks above Toyota, Nestle, and PepsiCo, which was shocking to me.  I found an extremely interesting opinion piece that asked an important question: If we as consumers don’t like Wal-Mart, then how did they become such a powerhouse in the retail industry?  It’s because most people think as a consumer more than they think as a worker or citizen.  So Wal-Mart consumers, no matter how unhappy they are, must look at the people who continue to shop at Wal-Mart if they expect a change in the stores they continue to purchase from.



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Mixed Signals

If you asked me to define what I think of Wal-Mart in three words I would say: cheap, convenient, and unappealing.  What Wal-Mart wants you to think of are these three values: service, respect, and excellence.  Those are the beliefs Wal-Mart was founded on and what was believed to be the stepping stone to continued success throughout the years.

The main focus of Wal-Mart corporate is service to customers.  All associates are trained in customer service skills and taught how to provide the best experience to each customer. The service is not only provided through contact at the store, but also through company support for employees and giving to causes that their customers care about.

Another focal point is respecting the individual, whether that is a customer or an employee.  The corporate website mentions valuing the contributions of each associate, owning the company’s actions, and engaging in open communication through all channels.

The other main value is to strive for excellence in every way.  I would argue this is the value Wal-Mart does best, since they have landed at the top of Interbrand’s Top 10 Most Valuable U.S. Retail Brands for the past four years.  By focusing on innovation, improving in small ways each day, and working as a team, Wal-Mart seeks to continue its domination of the retail industry.

Writing about the values of Wal-Mart is difficult for me because their website preaches a totally different atmosphere than I have ever felt as a Wal-Mart customer.  As a Public Relations student, I’ve learned the importance of branding and creating a positive connotation of your company in the customer’s mind.  I think anyone who read the corporate website for Wal-Mart would be as shocked as I am to read about their focus on customers and how their associates are taught that the customer is most important, because I have very few positive memories of my interactions with Wal-Mart employees.

Wal-Mart conveys their values by giving back to communities and organizations in need.  In 2012 Wal-Mart gave more than $1 billion in contributions across the world.  Some of the organizations that receive aid from Wal-Mart are Goodwill, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and the American Red Cross.  I think this is the easiest way for Wal-Mart to show their values because they have the financial surplus to give money, the manpower to donate time, and the supplies to donate in-kind.

When a business turns into a corporate success, it’s easy for the values and beliefs of a company to get lost in translation, as I imagine has happened at Wal-Mart.  After reading article after article about this company, I’ve discovered a lot of stories that portray Wal-Mart much differently than the company’s site.  Stay tuned to my blog because in future entries I’ll discuss some of the issues facing Wal-Mart in the media.



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Sam I Am

Where do mothers go to purchase back to school supplies for their children?  Where do fathers go to buy gardening tools and sports equipment?  Where do students at Wartburg College go to grab some Easy Mac?  The answer to those questions for most people is Wal-Mart.  It’s hard to believe this company, tied with Apple for the 15th spot on Forbes’s list of the World’s Biggest Companies, started as a 5&10 store in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Sam and Helen Walton opened their first 5&10 store in the 1950’s.  Sam combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his bargain mindset and came up with the idea to open a discount store in rural areas so more people could take advantage of low prices.  The first Wal-Mart opened in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962, boasted 25 employees, and was about a fifth of the size of the supercenters we shop in today.  Most store owners bought discount items from a wholesaler, left their prices unchanged, and pocketed the extra cash.  Sam believed he could make more money by offering lower prices to his customers and making money off the volume this would bring.

The first few years were difficult for the Walton’s, but the 1970’s proved to be the growth period for Wal-Mart as four more stores opened during the decade.  Sam attributed the success of his stores to not only the low prices he offered, but the customer service provided by his employees.  Sam valued his customers and instilled in his workers that the experience of shopping at Wal-Mart is just as important as the prices.  Employees were to smile, be courteous, and go above and beyond to help shoppers during their trip.  Sam ensured employees that working at Wal-Mart opened possibilities for leadership and promotion.  During the decade of expansion, 3,500 Wal-Mart employees became associates and shared stock in an extremely profitable company.

Wal-Mart soared ahead of competitors in another way as well: technology.  The company used computers to track sales data, reduce inventory mistakes, and link their warehouses and stores in various locations.  His hard work, vision, and effort in retail led to Sam receiving the Medal of Freedom from George H. W. Bush in 1992, one month before his death.  In his remarks about Sam, President Bush said, “It’s about leadership. It’s about decency.  His Nation honors him today as the outstanding example of American initiative and achievement.”

Today Wal-Mart has 1.4 million employees in the United States and 2.2 million nationwide, which is more than the population of Houston, Texas.  The average family spends over $4,000 per year at Wal-Mart, and 90 percent of all Americans live within 15 miles of one.  The most commonly searched word into a Telenav GPS is Wal-Mart.  Want to guess what item Wal-Mart sold the most of in 2009? Bananas.


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