Walmart Goes Old School, Promises “Low Prices. Every Day. On Everything.”

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During the recession era, Walmart made a distinct shift upscale in an attempt to woo more affluent consumers. The move proved to be a disaster, and the world’s largest retailer has suffered through an extended sales slump amid accusations it betrayed blue-collar shoppers everywhere. To bring the masses back, Walmart is now promising to go back to its roots: Instead of periodic, hit-or-miss “Rollback” prices, the retailer says shoppers should expect “Low prices. Every day. On everything.”

That’s the new slogan, announced in Walmart’s press release and soon to be seen and heard on TV ads the world over. The retailer is going old school not only in terms of a renewed commitment to lower prices, but also with stores featuring more items and an overall more cluttered appearance. Why nix the cleaner, more streamlined approach? Retailers have found that “strategic clutter” is good for business. Shoppers may say they like less junk on shelves and in aisles, but they buy more when items pop up, overflow, and catch their attention in every direction. So guess which approach retailers are taking?

With that and the old-school-low-prices theme in mind, thousands of items that disappeared from Walmart stores over the last few years will soon return to store shelves. Some 8,500 items will appear (or reappear) in stores, meaning an increase of 11% more selections to choose from in the average Walmart. Goods returning from the dead will be notified with an “It’s Back” sign on store shelves.

In the press release, Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart’s chief merchandising officer, is quoted:

“Our company is determined to create the best one-stop shopping experience and low prices on the right products backed by a clear, consistent ad match policy.”

That “one-stop shopping experience” phrase is key. What Walmart wants most of all is for consumers to embrace it as an entirely one-stop shopping experience. Walmart wants shoppers to stop shopping around at other stores. It wants the consumer to shop “every day” and buy “everything” he needs at Walmart, without even thinking about heading elsewhere.

Another part of the press release states:

The company’s ad match policy is the most competitive in the market, eliminating the need to shop around to save money.

OK, let’s think about this. By definition, an ad match policy only works for the consumer if he shops around. Walmart will match prices of competitors, but only if a clerk is alerted to the competitor’s price. The only way a clerk will be alerted to this is if the consumer shops around and checks out the competitor’s ads.

So how in the world would any ad match policy eliminate the need to shop around? To take advantage of an ad match policy, it’s entirely necessary to shop around.

Also, let’s look at how “clear” and “consistent” Walmart’s ad match policy is. In one part of the press release, here’s how it reads:

Simplified guidelines: Customers do not have to bring in a competitor’s advertisement. If customers find a lower advertised price, we’ll match it at the register.*

Once again, the release states: “Customers do not have to bring in a competitor’s advertisement.”

Still, it’s up to customers to find the lower advertised price. And, down at the bottom, the asterisk gives a pretty good indication that the customer must have the printed ad to get a price match:

*Walmart will match the price of any local competitor’s printed ad for an identical product.

I’m not a big Walmart shopper, but surely I can’t be the only one to find this neither “simplified,” nor “clear,” nor “consistent.” You don’t have to bring in the competitor’s ad. But you do have to find it. And you do have to prove it, in the form of a printed ad, to a store clerk. How do you do that without actually bringing the ad into the store? Got me. Little help?

These policies also sound sorta like “strategic clutter.”