Walmart, Definitely Not Willing to Be Outdone

Jul 22, 2020

“ Focus on building the best possible business. If you are great, people will notice and opportunities will appear.” Mark Cuban

If there’s one thing Walmart has taught us over the past few weeks, it’s that every brand, regardless of its pedigree, still has room to grow.  And their impressive performance trend this year, despite quarantine related issues, indicates they do not intend to play second fiddle to Amazon, or anyone for that matter.

Despite being the biggest brick-and-mortar retailer in the world (by a longshot), Walmart has had one of the more polarizing perceptions among consumers. On the one hand, no physical store offers a greater quantity and selection of items. And because there are approximately 4800 Walmart locations in the U.S. alone, convenience isn’t an issue to most Americans. Combine the enormous, eclectic product line with its ubiquity, and the sheer volume of daily sales allows Walmart to compete pricewise with virtually every grocery store, apparel retailer, electronic store—the list goes on. That’s why so many consumers love Walmart. It just makes their lives easier—which is why their slogan “Save Money. Live Better” is so apropos.

On the other hand, there are those that that don’t have such a positive impression or relationship with Walmart for a variety of reasons including some of the very reasons that others love it.  Some feel Walmart has homogenized the shopping experience, destroying Mom and Pop retailers in the process. Others, too, have derided Walmart clientele, often for their shopping attire. There are many memes and even an entire website devoted to the People of Walmart— while possibly very entertaining, it’s a not a flattering mosaic.

And while Walmart has had its share of controversy (what retailer hasn’t?) over the years, most notably with regard to wages and working conditions, and the controversial sales of firearms, the big-box store has persevered. Recently, Walmart made headlines for its decision to challenge its biggest competitor, Amazon, with Walmart+, a more affordable alternative to Amazon Prime, that’ll offer, among other things, same-day delivery, discounts on gasoline and, eventually, a streaming video component, among other subscription perks.

Not long after news of Walmart+ leaked, Walmart publicly announced that no customer will be allowed to shop at its stores unless they’re wearing a mask. The move was particularly brave given that Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, where there was no statewide mask mandate, and that most other retailers have deferred to state requirements. Demonstrating the clout of Walmart, many other big-name retailers, including Target, CVS Health, Kohl’s and Kroger, quickly followed suit, also mandating masks for in-store shoppers. Not to be outdone, Arkansas then followed its biggest cash cow’s lead and also made it a requirement for people to wear masks in public.

Walmart clearly recognized many Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, were keen on wearing masks. Further, the retailer saw an opportunity to be not only be industry leaders but to potentially re-recruit shoppers who are refraining or drastically reducing physical store shopping while seeking the safety of e-commerce. Intentional or otherwise, definitely infringing on Amazon’s market share.  And while they serve as a great example for this purposes of this blog, Walmart is not the only smart company stepping up their game with innovation and development, refusing to fade for lack of being relevant.

In what appears to be other cases in point for Walmart, they are making more unprecedented plays to build brand affinity and endear themselves further into America’s family fabric, as they partner with Tribeca Enterprises and turn a slew of their stores parking lots into drive-in movie theatres. They also just recently launched Camp by Walmart which consists of dozens of activities accessed via the Walmart app for free.  And get this… Drew Barrymore, Neil Patrick Harris, LeBron James, Idina Menzel and Todd Oldham serve as the camp counselors, leading kids through sessions varying from arts and crafts to fitness and other activities to make the most of summer.

Walmart could have rested on its laurels, sticking to their retail bricks & mortar knitting, deciding to not overtly compete with Amazon, and not take a stand on masks, but doing both certainly keeps them in the conversation.  And flexing all those creative muscles, engaging in strategic partnerships, and developing new creative programs proves that it’s never the wrong time to follow the leader or, better yet, be one.

Walmart is a consumer insights driven organization, and as such we expect we’ll continue to see them pushing ideas and innovation boundaries.

~ Marketing Workshop