Walmart – When a brand forgets its customer base, and then remembers

Up front – I do not shop at Walmart. I’ve never stepped foot in a Walmart store. I’m not part of their customer base.

With that said, I have to give credit to Walmart for the funny, fresh and timely commercials that I have seen over the past few weeks. I particularly like the camping trip and the camouflage Easter egg hunt. Not only are the commercials funny, but the message they are sending is loud and clear. 

I was curious about the change in tone and appearance of the commercials, as they were different from commercials of the past few years. There had to be a reason for these changes and I wanted to find out what it was. So, I did some research and found out that Walmart had made a rather large mistake and they were on a path to fix it.

What I found was that Walmart had strayed from their message of “low prices everyday, on everything.”

They removed customer favorites and replaced with them with heavily promoted items, changed pricing and merchandising, and might have skimped on their price matching policy. Their customer base lost faith in them and, for the first time, Walmart suffered losses – for over two years. That was huge, as Walmart has been a consistent leader in profits, even when the economy started its nose-dive. However, Walmart heard their customers.

They listened to the grumbling, saw their revenues shrink, and then they acted.

The new commercials are loaded with regular, everyday items with a couple of specialty items, and they show situations that might ring true to those watching. They went back to their original message. They have fixed their “Ad Matching” program so that there are no misunderstandings, and they’ve made it simpler for the customer to ask for it. They made the commercials humorous with a point.

They’ve also started focusing advertising and marketing on local stores – commercials are playing to various regions around the country, spotlighting real employees in real stores. They’ve made it personal. For example, a customer who shops in one of the Sacramento stores (highlighted in a recent commercial) might recognize an employee from the commercial and say to that employee that they saw them “on TV.”  That’s a personal connection that brought the customer back into the store.

In addition to the changes noted above, they brought back more items that are pertinent to the area (i.e. Phoenix gets pool supplies and Minnesota gets snow blowers). They listened when customers complained when those items were not available and they took positive action.

Walmart made the mistake some businesses do at some point.

They forget the customers that got them there and they focus only on the bottom line.  By making changes in their merchandising to boost their bottom line;  it cost them – in revenue and, more importantly, in customers. You can’t forget the people who made your business what it is. Acknowledging your mistakes and then fixing them go a long way to recovering a customer’s trust in you. When the customer has faith that you will do right by them, they will spend money for your product, service or merchandise. The key, in my opinion, is to listen. Listen to whether or not your customers are happy, and then act accordingly if they’re not.

Your customers (or clients) are the backbone of your business. Forget that and you could end up with your bottom line being empty. Or, you can do what Walmart did. They want to regain the customer trust (and revenue) that they lost. By listening to their customer base, they went back to the message and merchandising that had always worked.  Time will tell if this is successful.

They deserve kudos for acting in such a proactive way…even though I’m not a customer.

  3 comments for “Walmart – When a brand forgets its customer base, and then remembers

  1. Pam
    April 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Great post and perspective from a non-shopper of Walmart. Unfortunately, I have to shop at Walmart when I am in New Mexico (because it is the ONLY place to shop). What I have noticed in the last month is they raised their prices considerably. So now they don’t necessarily offer the lowest prices every day but they will be happy to match any other ads.

  2. @samfiorella
    April 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Is it really proactive? Did they listen to their customer or their dropping profits? Seems to me that had they listened to customers, they would not have made the changes that caused them to backstep?

  3. April 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Yes, I am not fan of Walmart either, having been a vendor of theirs and having seen first hand the lies that happen behind the scenes is scary.

    It is refreshing to see big business listening to their customer and being more proactive. Now the question for me as being a supporter of small business…when will they get on the ball and apply these same tactics and create something like Dan Gordon in Oklahoma City giving them double digit increases in their business for 2010 and 2011.

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