DATE: 11/29/2004 09:00:00 AM
Doom, Gloom, Despair - Right on schedule, the media stories about the horrible retail picture and what it means for the economy have begun. The focus of the stories this year is retail behemoth Wal-Mart. My favorite headline thus far is from this story: "Fears over recovery as Wal-Mart sales stall." Wal-Mart, long hated by the media, has suddenly become the yardstick by which to measure the overall retail economy.
The issue is that Wal-Mart is lowering its sales expectations this year, prompting fears that customers may not be as willing to spend money this holiday season. Maybe that's true. Or, just maybe, people are spending their money somewhere other than Wal-Mart. Some concept, huh? Having worked at the Arkansas-based retailer for years, I know how panicked store and district managers can get over a slight blip in sales numbers. I've seen managers send people home to save money because the numbers over a few hours didn't match those of last year, only to be understaffed later the same day when business unexpectedly picks up.
I haven't been to Wal-Mart in weeks. I don't especially like shopping there. The stores are packed too full of merchandise, giving them a crowded, unclean look. There are often not enough cashiers or sales associates to handle the number of people shopping at a given time, and the store often doesn't stock enough of items on sale. Personally, I'd rather pay a little more than put up with the hassle that I get when shopping at the Mart.
On the other hand, though, I love Wal-Mart's sister store, Sam's Club. I guess I'm just a sucker for big bags of frozen chicken and gallon jars of pickles.
Like many other large companies, I think Wal-Mart has gotten complacent in its success and is now suffering the effects of slacking off. If they want to improve sales, they have to change their business model, or at least return it to what made them succesful in the first place. As for the media, they should get over their obsession with the day after Thanksgiving retail stories as holiday shopping barometer. Sure, there are a lot of people who shop that day, but there are many more, like me, who avoid the stores completely. I don't like crowds and hate traffic.
This is going to be a good holiday season. The mall has been crowded since late October and people I know are spending more this Christmas than they did last year. I plan to do the same, since I have a job this season. Plus, I plan to do some shopping online, which the media doesn't seem to measure. The media should calm down, put away the template stories and write about something else. Maybe instead of spreading discouragement about retail sales, they could highlight the charities that need help this holiday season.