While I was digesting the news this week I heard how well Walmart was doing in Q4. Full disclosure, I have limited shopping experience at Walmart. My online shopping is for products that I can’t source locally or when I need a specific quality item and I have positive experiences with a specific online brand. As for Walmart and their domination of the low-cost retail market, here are my insights as to the change in customer behavior and how Walmart had been the beneficiary of changes in the market and buying habits.
Earning and Work life balance
“ Walmart’s doing really well while people are more likely to stay in, shop online, binge watch movies and order pizza.” paraphrasing news broadcaster. With more freelance and gig-jobs, part-time work is not only common, but for many, part-time work has become a necessity, especially in highly populated areas where the competition for jobs is much more intense. The full-time work that is available is more demanding of people’s time, thus reducing work/life balance. It has been hypothesized that people are avoiding the expense of going out to shop not only because of the great ease of online shopping, but also because the product quality is not as important as it once was to many consumers, who are now placing greater value on low cost and reduced time over the quality of the goods. This has made Walmart an ideal player in the market according to the hypothesis.
Freelance and Gig work
I also think that there is a bigger and sadder picture that leads to this type of customer behavior in the current market. While I have not conducted any academic research to support either assumption at this time, it has been reported that the poverty and wealth gap is growing and changing the world, and these effects are more apparent than one may think. The population is in part taking in more non-traditional forms of employment such as gig and freelance work, where using their own assets to make a profit such as delivery, and hospitality services, (Lyft, Air BnB) making the population more exhausted. Now people are coming home from a much longer than what was once considered a normal working day (8 hours). The flexible and remote workforce injects work deep in the home life and adds stress when there is no option for “leaving work stress at the office”… because the office is home.
Quantity over Poverty
While many Walmart employees cannot even afford to raise a family on a single income, the need for families and independent adults to have more than one income makes it harder to have free time and expendable income to do things like go out and enjoy anything let alone one of America’s favorite pastime such as retail therapy. The sales associates at discount retailers often do not have the same drive to sell as their commission seller counterparts can drive up engagement and make the shopping experience more of an event than a necessity. Because discount retailer sales associates who work on an hourly wage are very aware that customer service is no guarantee of additional compensation, the customer experience is often sub-par to that provided by sellers who are rewarded with more lucrative sales incentives.
Free Time Well spent
It seems that the comparisons that can be made from the increase in discount and low-cost retailers with low-paying jobs has had a spillover onto a larger segment of the population of working adults. For the people taking on additional work (be it freelance, gig-work, or having multiple part time employment), the free time available for going out to enjoy one’s self has fallen to the wayside, resulting in a gap that has been filled in by binge watching tv, social media, and RPG’s with food and goods purchased online that include purchases that are undoubtedly delivered by a person working their way through the day until the start of their next gig just a few hours later.
Profit at all cost
Walmart’s 10k states: “strategy is to lead on price, differentiate on access, be competitive on assortment, and deliver a great experience. Leading on price is designed to earn the trust of our customers every day by providing a broad assortment of quality merchandise and services at everyday low prices”. While there are many large companies that compete on cost in many different industries, in the long term, the customer loses out more than the firms because of the increase in waste from products that are of poor quality, or made with the intent to be replaced quickly. As time goes on, low-cost products give way to low-wage jobs, and the decrease in resources perpetuates the problem.
Haves and Have more
The greatest resource that is depleted, in my opinion, is the population that does not receive an education, training, apprenticeship, or mentorship that produces understanding and value of self, time, and community. That is where Walmart now profits, and will continue to profit from the masses working and working and working to buy stuff and enjoy the little free time they have. Simply because they do not have the time between their multiple-job work days from logging on or signing in to generate a few extra bucks to dedicate to finding what is really needed: better products, better people, and better relationships. This is what’s overarchingly driving the gap between the wealthy and everyone else from a consumer’s perspective…maybe.