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Everywhere you look, it seems, there’s an article about empty shelves and bad service at Walmart. “Hey, Walmart, it’s hard to make sales when store shelves are empty,” chides a headline for a Brad Tuttle column on Time.
An oft-cited statistic is that while the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer has increased its number of U.S. stores by 13 percent in the last five years, its workforce has shrunk by 1.4 percent. A March article by Bloomberg says there are too few workers to reliably move the trucked-in merchandise from the storage area (what Walmart calls “the steel”) to the shelves, where people can buy it. That observation is based on interviews with Walmart employees (called “associates” in Walmartese).
And, Bloomberg reported: “Last month, Walmart placed last among department and discount stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the sixth year in a row the company had either tied or taken the last spot.”
A Walmart spokesperson told Bloomberg that store stocking has not been in decline.
That Bloomberg story prompted a large reader response. “More than 1,000 emailed complaints signal that Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s restocking challenges are more widespread than the world’s largest retailer has said,” a follow-up story said.
This time, Walmart responded that its own much larger sampling shows that things are better than ever. “These customers continue to tell us they have had a positive shopping experience and those numbers have trended upward over the past two years,” the spokesperson told Bloomberg. “Our in-stock shelf availability is at historically high levels and averages between 90 and 95 percent.”
But, The New York Times says, Walmart executives are concerned, particularly about the stocking of fresh foods like produce.
Internal notes from a March meeting of top Walmart managers show the company grappling with low customer confidence in its produce and poor quality. “Lose Trust,” reads one note, “Don’t have items they are looking for — can’t find it.”
Analysts have noticed too. “In its larger supercenter stores, Walmart can’t keep the shelves stocked, and that is driving customers away,” Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor of grocery industry publication The Shelby Report, told the Times in an e-mail.
We’d like to know: Has that been your experience? Are you getting the goods you’re looking for and the prompt customer service you want at checkout and elsewhere in the store? Has your Walmart shopping experience been in decline in the last year or two?
While we’re at it, here’s another thought: Some research says retailers are better off if they provide decent pay and benefits, which keeps and incentivizes workers. But raising its low wages would require Walmart to raise prices.
Which would you prefer: cheaper goods or better service, including fully stocked shelves and quicker checkout? (Did you know that members of the Walton family, whose late patriarch founded the chain, held four spots on Forbes’ 2012 list of the 10 richest Americans?)
Sound off on our Facebook page.