Stephanie Fierman Sees No Magic In Wal-Mart
Thursday December 18th 2008, 5:16 am
Filed under: stephanie fierman

It amuses me how the media sometimes appears to struggle to assign some form of magic to Wal-mart.stephanie-fierman-walmart-evil.jpg

AdAge recently had a cover story on the chain that made the odd observation that Wal-mart benefits because most of its locations are in states where gas is cheap(er).  The article’s thesis is that falling gas prices have helped Wal-mart shoppers in part because the chain is concentrated in Midwestern and Southern states “where prices have fallen the most,” WSL throws in that declining gas prices benefit lower- and middle-income consumers the most.

Does this strike you as… grasping?  It certainly struck me that way or, at best, as something that deserved a one-sentence observation rather than a multi-thousand-word piece.  BJs, Kohls and any other large chain will benefit from the same falling prices.  If Wal-Mart has more stores in more depressed areas of the country, fine: but revelation?  Hardly.

Then in the same issue, there’s a very large article describing how some are blaming Wal-mart’s advertising for the trampling death of an employee in Valley Stream, NY on Black Friday.  As a more rational consultant points out, we don’t blame musicians when fans get hurt at concerts, or cereal makers when moms buy sugary cereals in the grocery store.  Not enough security outside the store?  Possibly.  But blaming “specific marketing techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create… frenzy and mayhem?” That’s just weird.

It all goes in one bucket:  people struggling to uncover some piece of black magic that can account for Wal-mart’s performance.  Whether it’s the global phenomenon of falling gas prices or hypnotic post-Thanksgiving advertising, we need some explanation on a grand scale.

There’s no there there.  I’m the first to criticize Wal-mart, talk about Wal-mart, stay away from Wal-mart… but Wal-mart is just doing what it does best:  leverage real estate, buying clout and regressive employee policies to deliver low prices and lots of variety.  It’s not magic:  it’s just retailing.

Black Friday    Wal-mart


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