I know that Walmart isn’t trying to be a customer service king. They compete entirely on price. I don’t enjoy being around that many people – Walmart is successful at always being crowded – so I haven’t been in one in awhile. I’m not one of those Walmart haters, either: in the past I’ve always considered Walmart the epitome of retail management expertise.
Now I’m not so sure.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into the WalMart in Mooresville, North Carolina looking for a Rubbermaid product or look-alike that would store my rakes, brooms and other long-handled garage and garden tools in a corner without having to drill more holes in the wall. I had already checked the Walmart website and the product both existed and was supposedly stocked at the store.
I’ve worked retail so I am well aware that just because the computer at headquarters says it is in stock at my store doesn’t mean that it is. Heck, even when our local computers said that something was in stock didn’t mean that we had it. There were all types of reasons for the discrepancy, only one of which was “theft”. Often they were returns that were listed as inventory rather than outgoing for “remanufacture”. But things also just get screwed up. It happens.
So when I walked into Walmart with my two little girls on that Saturday morning, I wasn’t expecting that it would necessarily be there.
But I was expecting that someone would know where it would be stocked.
I asked four separate Walmart workers where this was. They all scratched their heads and tried their best to figure out where it was. I even showed them that I was it online and it was listed as in inventory at their store.
It wasn’t just that they didn’t know where it was.
No Walmart worker went to a terminal to look it up.
I’m not sure if that’s because Walmart doesn’t trust most of its employees with terminal access or if Walmart simply doesn’t provide storage locations for the store employees to look up.
Which is ridiculous.
I am currently consulting to a “big box” retail company. I know that they have planograms for every item number stocked at any store. Their inventory numbers may be wrong but they can (and do) know how to look up something’s location.
Not at Walmart.
I not only left Walmart without my product but I left it frustrated and with a big chunk of my “Walmart is the top retail operation” crushed.
I ended up, oddly, finding it at the European grocery chain, Aldi.
Compare this with my previous experience with grocery chain Harris Teeter. There it seemed that employees were empowered to make things happen for the customer.
Or compare my regular experience at Target, the other giant U.S. general retailer. If I can’t find an item and I can track down an employee, they have always looked up the item on their little handheld inventory computers and led me to where it was. Or wasn’t: like I said, retail inventory is notoriously hard to get accurate. But they were empowered to provide me with the information that I needed to find it.
Sadly, my experience with Walmart is what I have come to expect out of Kmart. Kmart is the perennial down-scale retailer. Before Sears made their stupid decision to buy it, I used to shop at Kmart exactly because they had such poor inventory control. It meant that things were always on sale at deep discounts. But you never expect the staff at Kmart to be able (or even willing) to do anything for you except take your money.
Now Walmart has become the new Kmart.
Of course, I live in Mooresville, North Carolina which is home of another giant retailer, Lowe’s Home Improvement. It might be that all the good people try and get on at the Lowe’s store, which might be a stepping stone into the corporate offices. (I’ve seen it happen.) That leaves Walmart with people who are less motivated.
But it sure doesn’t feel like the people. They wanted to help me. They just didn’t have the tools or training to pull it off.
I guess Walmart needed that schooling it got from Harris Teeter.