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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wal-Mart Plano - Like No Other Store!

Earlier this month I spent 10 days in Dallas, allowing me to explore a world of retail experiences like no other.... Yes, this world is in many ways a far cry from Lafayette Gourmet - A Feast For The Senses. However, the lessons remain valuable...

Take the Wal-Mart Plano Supercenter store located at 1700 Dallas Parkway which opened to the public one year ago on 3/22/2006: New Plano Wal-Mart Unlike Any Other Store posted on 3/21/2006 on nbc5i.com. The subtitle reads: "Supercenter To Be Laboratory As Wal-Mart Tests What Works". It sells sushi, natural and organic produce, an extensive selection of wine and beer and offers more atmosphere than normally encountered in a Wal-Mart.

That sounds like no other Wal-Mart I know! I had to check it out.

Starting with the view from the parking lot, the store offered surprises. Note the use of green.

The photo above captures the center of the front facade - a relatively traditional Wal-Mart statement. However, this store featured 2 entrances! On either side of that central section you see the two attractive entries framed in red brick: Home & Living on the left hand side and Market & Pharmacy on the right.

I entered through Market & Pharmacy... and stepped into the produce section of a grocery store - fruits and vegetables beautifully displayed; great visuals, good lighting. Smells of delicious things cooking [roasting chicken? bread baking?].

Essentially, one-third of the store seemed dedicated to groceries and filled with organic [or natural] products and flowers. I bought fresh sushi, walked through a dizzying array of beer and wine offerings. Visual cues were vastly improved with large graphics and imagery that actually conveyed useful information.

Adjacencies seemed better thought out: the pharmacy was across from the grocery section. A wide tan racetrack indicated a path through the store. Individual sections [e.g., clothing, toys, electronics...] were differentiated via different flooring choices [e.g., faux wood]. Lots of skylights let in natural light.

The home section actually featured vignettes to showcase how to accessorize or highlight new products. If Wal-Mart can do this, surely every flooring store can, too!

Behind the cash/wrap section, I noticed a whole slew of services: embroidery, nails, vision center, hair care, customer service, banking. In my Wal-Mart, those appear along the right wall as I enter the store and contribute to a 'cheesy' feeling. The effect here was more upscale.

Over by the Home & Living entrance, I noticed a books and stationary/card section with more intimate lighting than in the rest of the store, mood music [possibly to relax?] that I found irritating, wood veneer displays that made the products more attractive. Immediately, by the entrance was an impulse item display [similar in spirit to the Target bargains] with appealing displays of plates and bowls, as well as cleaning products. Definitely less ebullient than Target's section, but a lot more attractive than the regular Wal-Mart depressingly displayed shelf of bargains by the shopping buggies.

I encourage you to view the video included in the article above [New Plano Wal-Mart Unlike Any Other Store] as well as this link from Wal-Mart in their Local Store Designs section. It, too, includes video and photos and explains in more detail some of the radical experimentation taking place [e.g., the "clutter to clarity" concept, merchandising, marketing and operations to improve the shopping experience, better adjacencies...].

This other Wal-Mart article titled New Plano, Texas, Supercenter Takes Innovative Approach to Enhancing Shopping Experience includes many of the same details, as well as Wal-Mart facts.

More specifically, the store and the experimentation represent "a direct response to the shopping preferences of female customers who make the majority of purchases in Supercenters."

The official low-down on what is different lists [note all of the food related enhancements]:
• A store layout that positions departments in a way that female customers said made sense for them. For example, consumables, pet food, and health and beauty aids are adjacent to grocery.

• New signage and graphics that give each of the store’s eight principal areas – home, apparel, health, beauty, food, do-it-yourself, electronics, and baby – its own character, to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.

• A redesigned apparel area with its own cash registers, more space around displays and racks, and a fitting area that offers more privacy and convenience. Customers will carry most of their apparel purchases out of the store on hangers.

• A quieter shopping experience with fewer PA announcements, no in-store radio, directional Wal-Mart TV confined to distinct areas of the store and quieter cash registers.

• A significantly expanded and diversified grocery selection, with more than 2,000 premium items in wine, dry grocery, meat, cheese, and produce that are new to Wal-Mart Supercenters.

• A wine section with 1,200 different selections, including more than 700 premium items specific to this store.

• An increased selection of gourmet cheeses.

Made-to-order sandwiches, hot panini sandwiches and hot pizza.

Expanded organic and natural offerings with nearly 500 items added to the produce, deli, bakery, meat, seafood, dairy and frozen departments.

• A fresh sushi bar and a spacious, trendy, Wi-Fi-enabled coffee shop.

• A site-to-store section where customers can pick up most Walmart.com purchases without a shipping charge.

• A streamlined checkout area, including new cash registers, to help customers check out more quickly.

The apparel areas seemed very similar with soso product selection [and certainly very little depth of selection]. I loved the quietness of the store with no Wal-Mart TV blaring. The new adjacencies made sense: I found cute pet toys intuitively placed by the grocery section. I loved the bench in the pharmacy section [in fact, I've noticed more benches placed around our new Wal-Mart], and the wide racetrack seemed more cushiony than the normal concrete Big Box floor....

I regret that I did not visit the women's room [I am begging Liz or Sonya, our Wear-Dated reps in the Dallas area, to PLEASE take a swing through there with a camera], but I nonetheless found the experience fascinating and educational particularly when compared, not to other retailers or discounters, but to other Wal-Marts.

Now, when a retailer as behemoth in size as Wal-Mart starts to pay attention to its retail experience, realizing that the shopping experience matters, especially to its women consumers, doesn't that make you stop and think that something important is going on? In fact, if Wal-Mart has realized this, shouldn't EVERYONE ELSE IN RETAIL be paying attention and focusing on delivering a better experience? I sure think so. What about you?

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Stephanie Weaver said...

CB, Great post, and sounds like a great shopping experience. After seeing the documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" (www.walmartmovie.com/) I would never shop in one, however. They keep their employees at the poverty level and encourage them to use Medicaid for health care, their parking lots are extremely dangerous, and they encourage what is basically slave labor in China. Corporate giants need to learn that consumers do care about their behavior.

Thanks for the great blog!
Stephanie Weaver

CB Whittemore said...

Stephanie, thanks for the comments. I've not seen the documentary, but can well imagine the message - as I share your frustrations. I hope that the largest retailer in the world will become more concerned about the people [consumers and employees] it depends on, and use its size to create positive change. Meanwhile, I'll keep on observing what it and others do in-store.

Anonymous said...


I think you're a bit misguided in your thinking about the damage Wal-Mart does. Before you buy into a one-sided argument based on the cost of low prices, also consider the benefits enjoyed by those paying the low prices. As for "slave" labor in China, low-cost manufacturing jobs are a stepping stone into economic prosperity that would otherwise be unavailable to the Chineese. As time passes, the economic benefit will bring the standard of working and the wages paid upto first-world standards. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. I've spent the last 4 years woking in both Asia and Africa and my experience leads me to believe that when outside nations try to pay the way rather than encourage the effort required to pull out of the third world, corruption and continued pain and suffering is the end result.

All I'm asking is that when you form an opinion, you consider the entire picture rather then the distasteful aspects of the situation.

CB Whittemore said...

Anonymous, thanks for sharing your comments. I agree that it's important to take into account the big picture. There's definitely a role for the mightiest retailer to play to bring about better conditions. I have visited China and lived in Sub-Saharan Africa and have seen the poverty there firsthand. Especially in Africa, it is not a pretty picture.

Anonymous said...

I've got to disagree with Stephanie and agree with anonymous. It's silly to boycott a company based on a sensationalist, one-sided, biased film that was more concerned with creating buzz than spreading truth.

Wal-Mart gets a lot of flack because it is big. But the practices pinned on it are the practices of American retailers in general, not of retailers in particular. In fact, Wal-Mart outperforms most other similar retailers and virtually all small businesses when it comes to taking care of employees and demanding more of suppliers.

For example, Wal-Mart spends huge amounts of money on health care. Even part time employees are able to get healthcare. They also hire people who might otherwise be unemployed or on welfare and give them jobs. It is untrue that Wal-Mart encourages its employees to use Medicaid, that's just a self-perpetuating rumor started by someone who didn't have his facts straight and oft-repeated by those too lazy to check the source. Entry-level employees aren't getting rich, but they are making market wages for what they do. No Wal-Mart employee anywhere makes minimum wage---that's right, every single Wal-Mart employee makes ABOVE the federal minimum wage. And almost all of Wal-Mart's management--even all the way up to the executives--started as hourly employees. There is HUGE opportunity for advancement.

Wal-Mart parking lots aren't any more dangerous than any other store's parking lots. In fact, in many cases they are safer since they are covered with cameras, well-lit, sometimes populated by RV-travelers, and usually have Wal-Mart employees in them collecting carts and keeping an eye out.

Wal-Mart is also using its dominant position to effect positive change worldwide. They are pushing suppliers to reduce excess packaging that hurts the environment, reduce fossil-fuel-consuming transportation, manufacture more organic products, harvest only sustainable seafood, meet minimum labor standards across the world, and more.... They do all this while striving to hold down prices for the working men and women where they do business.

I could go on and on, but I've already rambled quite enough. The bottom line is that no Wal-Mart isn't perfect and yes they share some of the flaws common to modern retailers. But its supposed sins aren't nearly what they are made out to be, and its positive impact--far greater than any other business--must not be ignored.

CB Whittemore said...

C.Y.W., I appreciate your offering balance to opinions about Wal-Mart and detailing what they do right.

Including around sustainability. Definitely worth watching; I have high hopes there.

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what kind of harwood looking flooring wal-mart is putting in their new updated stores.

CB Whittemore said...

Roy, it looked to me to be a vinyl type solution as it had some spring to it. If I learn more, I'll add it here.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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