Bentonville, AR. Consumer Reports Trashes Wal-Mart
Last November, Vanity Fair and 60 Minutes published a telephone poll which surveyed a random sample of 1,097 Americans. When given a choice of 5 companies, and asked to pick which company "best symbolizes America today," 48% chose Wal-Mart -- more than 3 times those who selected Google. (Microsoft, the N.F.L. and Goldman Sachs were the other also-rans.)
The results of that survey could be construed to mean that post-bailout America is truly 'best symbolized' by a power-sotted corporation that exploits its workers, drains our manufacturing base, hammers our trade deficit, and floods our markets with cheap sweatshop products from China. Yes, Wal-Mart 'best symbolizes' what corporate excess has done to that America.
This week we have another survey -- this one from Consumer Reports magazine -- which surveyed 30,666 of its readers over a year's time, asking them to rank experiences and products at 11 retailers, including Wal-Mart. Consumer Reports issued this brief disclaimer: "Results might not reflect experiences of the U.S. population."
Wal-Mart will not be reprinting the Consumer Report survey on its website. The results are not very flattering -- and they're not very different from a similar survey the magazine published eight years ago.
For openers: "Last year shoppers spent $405 billion at Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. But according to a new study by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, they might be better off if they switch stores."
Consumers shop at Wal-Mart for one reason only: presumed low prices. But CR readers said prices at the 10 other retailers (which included JCPenney, Sears, and Target) were "at least as good."
Almost 75% of Wal-Mart shoppers found at least one problem to complain about, and half had two or more complaints. In terms of overall store rating, Wal-Mart finished 10th out of 11 stores, barely nosing out Kmart at dead last.
"Wal-Mart was near the bottom of the Ratings," CR concludes. "The number of complaints about Wal-Mart's lines and narrow aisles was above average. About 44% of its shoppers had a problem with the staff if they sought help. Quality of apparel, jewelry, kitchenware, and electronics was rated below average."
This is not the message Wal-Mart spent $2.4 billion in advertising this past year to cultivate. Wal-Mart boasts that it serves customers more than 200 million times per week The retailer has a bloated store base spread out over 603 billion square feet of selling space in America alone. The mantra at Wal-Mart is "fast, friendly and clean." Or as Wal-Mart puts it: "Busy moms expect a clean and efficient store layout."
But the Consumer Report survey suggests a company whose presentation is slow and unfriendly. According to CR readers, Wal-Mart and Kmart had the least knowledgeable staffers, and Wal-Mart's cavernous supercenters were cited as "stores that were too big to navigate easily." The 2010 CR survey notes that Wal-Mart shoppers were "particularly peeved" at the cumbersome merchandise return process at the giant retailer. 20% of the returns took more time than expected, readers said. Worst of all, checkout lines were worst at Wal-Mart, cited by 46% of readers who had shopped there.
Wal-Mart is stung by such criticism, because the company is obsessed with its sleek and tidy image. "As I walked through one of our stores," writes company CEO Mike Duke in Wal-Mart's current annual report, "the engineer in me loved seeing the efficiency and smoothness of how our operations executed and performed."
On the one hand, Wal-Mart tells its shareholders that it "achieved record customer experience scores for the year, reflecting increased traffic, and higher 'fast, friendly, clean,' scores." Apparently Wal-Mart didn't cross tab any customer satisfaction surveys with Consumer Reports readers.
What you can do: The "engineers" at Wal-Mart may seek comfort in the fact that Consumer Reports is only seen by an estimated 7.3 million readers -- while Wal-Mart has 200 million customers every week. But Vanity Fair has only 1.2 million readers, so maybe Wal-Mart needs to do some more focus groups with those "Busy Moms" who drive their bottom line.
Wal-Mart's self-serving hyperbole about efficiency and seamless shopping has become a mainstay of its culture, and is taken for granted by the media. But this week, Consumer Reports readers kicked some dirt on that shiny exterior.
Readers are urged to go to the Consumer Reports website and read the survey results. Then call Wal-Mart customer service at 1-800-Walmart with the following message: "I saw the Consumer Reports reader survey which ranked Wal-Mart just ahead of Kmart as the worst retailer. I'm a Busy Mom who likes a fast, friendly and clean store -- but it looks like I can't expect to find any of those qualities at Wal-Mart. Maybe if you paid your workers a decent wage they'd feel more like being fast and friendly."