October 25, 2005

Xbox 360 in Select Wal-Mart Stores (UPDATED)

UPDATE 10-25: Wal-Mart has pulled the plug on Xbox 360s because of interference with its world-famous inventory system.

It is still unclear which specific part of the 360 console was causing the interference in the first place...and whether it could interfere with other consumer wireless devices as well. When questioned about this issue, a Microsoft spokesman was confident that it would not.

"The issue is specific to the equipment used in a few retail environments," the spokesperson said.

"Xbox 360, like portable phones, wireless network routers, and Bluetooth devices, emits radio frequency in the 2.4GHz band. It is possible that devices that do not comply with FCC/ETSI rules of operation in this band may not properly handle interference from other 2.4GHz sources. Such devices would be extremely rare in a home environment."

joystiq has been all over the recent release of the Xbox 360 display demos in Wal-Mart stores. An evaluation:


Positives:

* Overall, the demos were enjoyable and one of our readers even stuck around long enough to beat the Call of Duty 2 demo (you still have a job after that, dude?)
* 3 readers in Addison, IL read our post and bumped into each other at their local display (Joystiq party!)
* The AC power brick is apparently not as big as we were led to believe

Negatives:

* Caution: the ergonomics of the oddly-angled display may result in neck sprains!
* Bugs: collision detection issues were apparent in some of the games
* Mini boss battles with 6-year-olds who wouldn’t let go of the controllers (anyone work out a hack for this?)

UPDATE: Houston, we have a problem -- the 360 seems to interfere with handheld inventory scanners!:
2.4 RF will screw with the Symbol handhelds which are pretty much the backbone of Wal-Mart day to day business. That’s probably why they shut the consoles off. Even wireless speaker system demos that run on 2.4 will screw things up. — bb

the walmart i live by and sadly work at, has a problem with the hand scanner not working properly because of the 360. strange indeed. — darksar

the scanners they use operate around 900Hz, they cant use cordless phones cuz they mess with the outdated system — darksar

I work at walmart…. the truth is that the 2.4ghz interferes with our “Smart”system. nation-wide all walmarts had to stop using the pa system, because costumers complain, so 360’s 2.4 is a scapegoat. at my store we use wireless home theater systems as our excuse — BugX

Posted by Kevin at 12:11 PM

October 18, 2005

Wal-Mart Serving the Wicca Community

The Canada Free Press notes Wal-Mart's wide offering of Wicca books and materials:

If you’re not getting what you’re looking for out of Bible classes at the church you attend, there’s The Wicca Bible: The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft.

The Wal-Mart of all things Wicca only includes one anti-Wicca book, Protecting Your Teen from Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult.

If you’re a newcomer to the world of Wicca, there’s the inevitable Wicca & Witchcraft for Dummies.

This gives Cate Kaufmann an idea of the number of her fellow believers:
But, to get to my point, it appears from an article in the Canada Free Press recently, that there may actually be enough Pagan folk out there to support a congregation. After all, Wal-Mart just isn't likely to invest in stuff that won't sell.

Of course, the folks shopping for Pagan material at Wal-Mart might not really be the sort we want showing up at Ritual. On the other hand, I'd rather see them participating in Ritual with me than standing outside of Circle watching us with a shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other.

Posted by Kevin at 4:55 PM

October 13, 2005

KY at WM

Drudge notes that K-Y body oils sold well at Wal-Mart, and some coastal advertising/media elites are shocked that Middle America doesn't fit their stereotypes:

That sex sells comes as no surprise. That it's now selling quite nicely at Wal-Mart Stores -- the naughty-magazine-yanking retail nanny -- may come as a shock, AD AGE reports.
From the full article:
Not that J&J is suggesting anything kinky. K-Y’s growth stems from studying its middle-American consumer base, where it found clinical problem-solution ads weren’t resonating but marketing to “enhance intimacy between committed partners” could, Mr. Peterson said.
Mr. Peterson's talk -- "MEANINGFUL CONSUMER INNOVATION" -- was given here, but no details are available.

Posted by Kevin at 4:25 PM

September 27, 2005

Hilfiger

Via Fark, Wal-Mart may be interested in acquiring Tommy Hilfiger. No, really:

Women's Wear Daily is reporting on its Web site that the world's largest retailer is believed to have initiated the idea of a buyout, and will start conducting due diligence as early as this week. The industry publication says a deal could be signed before Thanksgiving.
Here's the original article ($), and here's the New York Times account:
Executives close to the process cautioned that Wal-Mart had only expressed an interest and had not yet begun any diligence or held any substantive talks. The executives also warned that it was unclear how serious Wal-Mart may be.

Posted by Kevin at 10:14 AM

September 22, 2005

Sucralose

It seems Wal-Mart has been selling Splenda -- repackaged as Altern since August. The maker of Splenda, Tate & Lyle, realized that Wal-Mart's product, supplied by an as yet unknown third party, came from its own Alabama factory. This is only a problem because the third party probably doesn't have the right to resell to Wal-Mart. Uh, oh:

Analysts pointed out that the big worry was that if Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, could source non-Tate sucralose regardless of any legal challenges to that source based on Tate's patents, then food and drink makers would be able to buy cheaper sucralose.

Wal-Mart started to test market its own-label version of sucralose, called Altern, in early August in two of its U.S. stores, priced at a 30 percent discount to the Splenda brand sucralose sold by Tate & Lyle and McNeil.

Tate immediately launched an enquiry and identified the sucralose as coming from its Alabama plant, the only factory in the world that produces the sweetener.

Tate is responsible for sales of the Splenda brand to food and drink makers, while McNeil controls sales to retailers.

The Telegraph had previously reported:
Oh sugar! What's that appearing on the shelves at the mighty Wal-Mart? Why, it's Altern - Splenda by any other name, but it tastes just as sweet. It is only three quarters of the price as well, so Tate & Lyle is experiencing a nasty sugar rush about the whole thing.

No one is really sure where Altern has come from. It is sucralose, which is exactly what Splenda is, but the product is so hedged about with patents that Tate & Lyle believes no one else can get anywhere near it. Either Wal-Mart has been buying the stuff from a manufacturer somewhere in China, or it has been sold it by someone who Tate & Lyle or partner McNeil has supplied.

It was supposed to be a China link, to avoid patent rights, but...:
"It's very easy to produce in a laboratory but very hard to manufacture," she said, adding that she was very confident in the company's patent protection. "We've patented every process around Splenda," she said.

"There are seven rings of protection around it." These "rings" include the brand's strong image as well as its patents. She added that Wal-Mart, which could not be reached for comment yesterday, had removed Altern from its shelves.

Goldman Sachs, however, believes that the commoditising of Splenda is only a matter of time. Wal-Mart's Altern, which was priced at 24pc below Splenda, must either have come from a manufacturer other than Tate & Lyle or McNeil or must have been supplied by an intermediary who had received the product from Tate & Lyle or McNeil. Either way, the consequences for the company are alarming.

According to a research note from the investment bank, it has established contact with "a number of Chinese manufacturers that do not appear to be affiliated with Tate & Lyle and are willing to offer commercial quantities of sucralose, albeit on a modest scale".

What were Wal-Mart vendors thinking??? Perhaps they were told that a new way of producing sucralose had been devised, since it's the process, not the substance, under patent:
The analysts also pointed out that the matter and composition patents for the substance have already expired - and generic manufacturers may be able to make use of the expiry of two patents, one in 2006 and one in 2009.

Posted by Kevin at 1:52 PM

August 19, 2005

WM & Target Pushing "Back to College" Chic

Even more evidence that the college dorm decoration craze belies the oft-repeated claim that college is getting too-expensive. Even Wal-Mart is pushing stylish dorm furniture, including a sleek "city-style" IKEA-flavored futon.

wm_city_style.jpg

Perhaps they are just trying to match Target's offering:

target_city_style.jpg

At $150, Wal-Mart's futon is $20 cheaper than Target's.


UPDATE: Well, IKEA has a $160 futon which is, well, different:

ikea_futon.jpg

I like the way Wal-Mart's futon looks best, but you'd have to try sleeping on it for a complete evaluation, no?

Posted by Kevin at 1:55 PM

August 7, 2005

Is Wal-Mart Becoming More Fashion Conscious?

According to a recent article in the Washington Post [registration required], Wal-Mart wants to upgrade its fashion image, especially in its clothing lines, but through-out its stores.

Wal-Mart's shoppers ... consistently seek clothing and home decor outside the chain -- namely at J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Target (in that order, studies show). One hundred million consumers shop at Wal-Mart every week, but only 34 percent buy apparel there, according to a study by STS Market Research.

For decades, the retailer has relied on its suppliers to tell the chain what's fashionable. The problem was that the company had no way of knowing if the vendors were wrong. "A lot of suppliers got used to selling us large quantities of last year's look," said Watts, the vice president of product development.

It seems odd that Wal-Mart would trust its suppliers on style but negotiate hard on price. Why don't they just ask their suppliers what a good price would be, too? That they don't suggests there is something missing from the article.

The implication of this practice is that both Wal-Mart and its suppliers have been playing a non-repeated game in which Wal-Mart negotiates very low prices but also gets dumped on with older styles. This game might work so long as both players expect not to deal with each other again in the future. But playing the game repeatedly with different players has affected Wal-Mart's strategies.

Given this change in goals for Wal-Mart [the desire for more up-to-date fashions], if the suppliers want contracts with Wal-Mart in the future, they cannot just dump unfashionable merchandise with Wal-Mart for low prices when Wal-Mart takes their word for what is in style.

If Wal-Mart wants more up-to-date styles, it has [at least] two options. One is to develop longer-term working relationships (aka repeated-play games) with its suppliers . The other is to monitor fashions more closely itself; setting up a fashion centre on Fifth Avenue in New York City indicates that Wal-Mart has chosen the second of the two options.


(also posted at The Eclectic Econoclast)

Posted by TheEclecticEconoclast at 11:23 AM

June 8, 2005

How Should Wal-Mart Go Upscale?

Daniel Gross has a truly pathetic piece about Wal-Mart in the latest Slate. As Kevin noted earlier [see the first link here], Wal-Mart is considering moving upscale, to some extent.

First, Gross is skeptical:

The problem is trying to get people to buy the good stuff from a place associated with the bad stuff.

... Retailers can drop from the luxury market to the mass market. (See, for example, the cheaper Jaguar X-types and the more expensive XK models.) But it's not clear they can do the reverse and move from low-end to high-end. What if Hyundai were to unveil a $50,000 luxury SUV? It would have difficulty getting its existing customers to trade up.


This is just plain ignorant. Honda started as a small-engine company, making small motorcycles long before they entered the U.S. auto market. Toyota initially was a small, economy car company, but look at their high end now. And, in fact, Hyundai is bringing out a luxury sedan [thanks to Kevin for this link]. He even cites McDonald's, but remember 40 years ago when all they offered was a basic 15-cent burger and contrast that with the McDonald's menu today. In other words, upscaling is successfully done often.

Then he gives some really useless advice:

(1) Make an intense study of Restoration Hardware's inventory management. Rather than pile up cheap goods to the ceilings, Restoration tastefully sprinkles expensive tchotchkes around even-more-expensive leather chairs.
Maybe, but I doubt it; this strategy seems to work for small, niche-market shops, but it probably contributed to the demise of old-time department stores. If you come to depend on high-margin junk, you're dead when Wal-Mart or similar stores begin selling it at low prices.

Even worse is this:

(2) Dispatch teams of anthropologists to Southampton, N.Y., in August to watch folks strolling up and down Main Street. Convene focus groups to plumb the psychology of customers, who, already possessing 200 pairs of shoes, are willing to spend their ancestors' hard-earned cash on four more pairs at Saks. (To get people to show for the groups, forgo the usual $50 plus punch and cookies. Offer Botox and vitamin-spiked water instead.)

Arrgghhh.... anthropologists?? in teams??? as marketing specialists??

I love reading about and studying anthropology; it has much in common with the new institutional economics. But I'd be careful about relying on them for marketing advice.

(3) Establish greeter re-education camps. The handshake, the smile, and the friendly welcome may go over big in rural North Carolina, but upscale customers like to be ignored, mistreated, and discouraged. For a hefty fee, trainers from Barneys and Bergdorf-Goodman will teach Wal-Mart greeters to instantly recognize A-listers and to identify the telltale signs of big spenders (seventysomething men accompanied by twentysomething blondes) and of tourists who will look but not buy (Gap bags).

What exactly is he trying to say? That the Wal-Mart greeters should be rude to attract upscale business? Maybe in some instances, but most of the time this is just plain wrong (except for those snobs who are ashamed to be seen in Wal-Mart).

One thing Wal-Mart does very well is sell known-quality, brand-name products at low prices. There is no reason they cannot do this for mid-scale and up-scale merchandise along with the merchandise they already carry.

My advice if Wal-Mart wants to attract more upscale customers is two-fold:

1. Ignore Daniel Gross, and
2. Try to get rid of the plastic-rubbery-chemical-type smell in the stores.

Posted by TheEclecticEconoclast at 6:04 PM

June 2, 2005

New WM in Beijing Sells Black Market DVDs? (UPDATED)

Frank Yu describes his experiences in a new WM in Beijing, interspersed by relevant quotes from Star Wars movies. Frank had a great time, but he became suspicious that Wal-Mart was selling bootleg DVDs:

One chilling discovery during the visit came when we went to investigate the DVD movie selection aisle on the first floor. Along with the usual local Chinese movie DVDs encased in hard plastic box packaging, there were also foreign DVDs polywrapped in plastic with simply the cover sheet and the DVD inside packaged in the same manner that pirated DVDs were sold in China. Most surprising of all was that the price of Disney�s Dumbo was only about 6 yuan(that's less than 1 USD). Pirated DVDs from other Beijing stores cost about 10 yuan while poor-quality street versions cost about 8 yuan. These DVDs were cheaper than the pirated versions sold around Beijing. I cannot confirm if those in the store were actually legitimate or not, but given the price and packaging I would make a guess that they were not. I should not be surprised since pirated DVDs have been found to be sold in Chinese post offices and government buildings by vendors who set up a table inside. Since almost all retailers in Beijing seem to do the same thing as well, one gets desensitized to the practice until you realize that this is Wal-Mart.
If the DVDs are legitimate, then Wal-Mart is undercutting the prices of movie pirates, which is simply astonishing.

UPDATE: In the comments, Frank, the author of the linked article, notes that he has posted a photo of the DVD shelf in question. Thanks, Frank!

Posted by Kevin at 8:19 AM

May 17, 2005

The Quality of WM Clothes

There is much customer disagreement on the quality of clothing at Wal-Mart. Disappearing Blog overheard a discussion between a mother and her children about it, and adds in his own two cents:

I listened to a mom arguing with her kids about clothes. Her kids wanted to shop at the Gap, and Dillards, buy shoes at Foot Locker, and jewelry at Zales. And the poor mom explained that they didn't have the money for those stores. But she could take them to Wal-mart and get them quite a bit of clothes for what they would pay for one shirt at one of those stores.

The kids replied,"Wal-Mart clothes suck. Only poor people shop there."

I just smiled. The kids have a lot to learn....

The clothes look just the same, only less expensive. And the mom is right. I buy three or four outfits, for what someone would pay for a shirt or pair of socks at Dillards. Really. A shirt costs me between $60 and $70 at Dillards. I could get three shirts, a pair of shorts, a pack of new socks and underwear, and a pair of shoes for the same price at Wal-Mart.

"But they aren't the same quality, Wal-Mart stuff doesn't last as long!" you say. Well, think again. My clothes have lasted quite a while from there, and while you are still trying to stay in the latest fashion or go the opposite direction, and start your own, I am not having to buy new clothes. And they are high quality.

Posted by Kevin at 2:21 PM

April 15, 2005

WM Supporting the Little Guy?

Of course this is a press release, but looking behind the hype shows how the sheer breadth of Wal-Mart should make it be able to counter entrenched media distribution networks:

In the spirit of supporting the little guy, Wal-Mart has struck a deal with independent film distributor Excel Entertainment Group on DVD distribution rights for the award-winning film "Saints and Soldiers."

In a deal unprecedented in the industry, Wal-Mart gained exclusive big box rights for national distribution which includes key retailing space and heavy in-store advertising. "The partnership we have with Wal-Mart is very, very exciting," says Randy Davis, VP Motion Picture Distribution for Excel Entertainment Group. "With all the risk that independent filmmakers take in producing a movie and taking it to the mainstream, it�s great to see such a retail giant stand behind the little guy."

There's an alleged "Mormon message" in Saints and Soldiers.

Posted by Kevin at 3:46 PM

Swooshless Nike Selling at WM

Nike is going after WM shoppers:

VANCOUVER, Wash. � After long arguing that its brand would be devalued if it sold in discount chains, Nike Inc. has made it to Wal-Mart Stores. But you won't find its trademark swoosh anywhere.

Customers at over 400 Wal-Mart stores nationwide can buy a pair of $37.64 Starter sneakers engineered by Nike and introduced last month. The world's largest maker of athletic apparel bought the Starter brand last year with the specific aim of entering the value end of the retail business....

The Nike-engineered Starter sneakers, which sport a sleeker design, sell for nearly $40 � far below the $110 tag for a top-of-the-line Nike shoe. But at nearly twice the cost of the sneakers just down the aisle, the new Starter shoe is scraping the ceiling of what many penny-pinching customers are willing to pay

Posted by Kevin at 11:02 AM

April 14, 2005

Mississippi Strawberries

Wal-Mart's infamous international distribution system can handle local produce too:

A Pine Belt produce farm is teaming up with Wal-Mart to promote Mississippi strawberries.

Commissioner of Agriculture Lester Spell launched the event Thursday along with representatives from Wal-Mart and Eubanks Produce Farm.

It is the first large-scale promotion for Mississippi-grown strawberries in Wal-Mart stores. The product, labeled "Make Mine Mississippi," will be showcased as customers enter the stores.

Posted by Kevin at 9:20 PM

March 30, 2005

Wal-Mart Credit Reports

WM really does sell almost everything for less.

For instance, 3-in-1 credit reports for $26.88, or $7.36 for a single TransUnion report. That's compared to $29.95 and $9.50 if you go to truecredit.com without going to Wal-Mart's website first.

Posted by Kevin at 2:27 PM

March 15, 2005

Why is WM the Top Jewler in the US?

I've been wondering about this (press release):

In 2004 American consumers spent $57.4 billion buying jewelry and watches, a dramatic 6.9 percent increase over previous year. As a category in the durable goods segment, jewelry and watches outperformed the overall durable goods sector, which only rose 4.7 percent by comparison.

Jewelry and watches were purchased by half of U.S. consumers in the past year, with �twenty-something� to �fifty-something� women with higher incomes representing the core target market.

For the last several years discounter Wal-Mart has been the nation�s #1 retailer of jewelry, despite the fact that the prime target market for jewelry -- high-income women from 25 to 54 years -- are the least likely of all consumers to shop for jewelry in discount channels.

How are jewelry marketers and retailers to understand this dichotomy in the marketplace -- that the ultimate luxury good is sold most by the nation�s top discounter and that lower-income shoppers who spend under $100 on each item of jewelry bought have propelled Wal-Mart to their #1 position?

No answer is given. And the full report costs $2,700 Euros, so we will have to do with assuming that the lower-income market is just, you know, larger, than the alleged "core target" demographic.

Posted by Kevin at 1:39 PM

February 17, 2005

Levi's Sticking With WM

As noted earlier Levi Strauss is betting on Wal-Mart. In fact, it will focus more on retailers like WM and less on warehouses:

Levi said it cut back its business with discount warehouse clubs as it sought to place its Levi brand products in retail stores as more premium -- and more profitable -- items.

This is part of the company's strategy to close out poor-performing clothing lines and focus on expanding its core Levi products and successful lower-priced Signature brand sold in discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Posted by Kevin at 3:01 PM

February 15, 2005

WM Class Action for 9 Faulty Bicycles

Add another class action to the pile:

A class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a California company for importing defective bicycles that injured at least nine children.
The suit, filed in Marin County Superior Court, alleges that Wal-Mart conspired with San Rafael-based importer Dynacraft Industries and investigator Carl Warren & Co. to cover up the fact that the front wheels of the bicycles can easily detach after hitting a bump, causing serious injuries.

According to the suit, at least nine children sustained injuries ranging from broken teeth to head trauma....

"In each case, they reported it to Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart continues to sell the product. These bikes are out there still being used by kids who don't know what they are riding."

What's the problem?:
The front wheels of the bicycles can easily detach after hitting a bump.

Posted by Kevin at 6:11 PM

February 4, 2005

Flyfishing Gear

Over at BoomtownUSA, Jack Schultz has some fine observations of a new WM Supercenter in Idaho:

At the entrance to the new store was the Wal-Mart Fly Shop, the first of its kind in the country. No it�s not a new Fear Factor fad shop! They sell equipment and flies for fly fishing. Eastern Idaho has some of the best fly fishing streams in the world, so selling fly fishing products makes a lot of sense.

I asked Jim Evans, whose official title is merchandising supervisor but who sure looked like the general manager, how they happened to get into selling flies. He told me, �The district manager thought that it might make sense here, so they tried it.� Evans is an avid fisherman who told me that the shop is aimed at first time and intermediate fishermen.

Posted by Kevin at 11:22 AM

February 1, 2005

WM Sells iPod Mini, Shuffle

I hadn't realized that WM was selling Apple products:

Wal-Mart Stores has quietly begun selling Apple Computer's popular iPod Minis in select stores, the mega retailer's first big move into the market for the enormously popular digital music players.

The discount chain is selling Minis in a "limited number of stores," a Wal-Mart representative said Monday. The representative declined to elaborate on how many of the company's nearly 5,000 stores are carrying the device.

Some Mac forum commenters think this is a deal with the devil.

Posted by Kevin at 6:54 AM

January 31, 2005

Indian TVs Soon at Wal-Mart

How long before "Made in India" is the new "Made in Japan"?

MUMBAI: India�s second largest TV brand, Onida will be soon available in across Wal- Mart stores across the USA.

Mirc Electronics, makers of Onida and Igo brans of colour TVs has sent a few TVs for testing purposes and a regular supply contract is expected by April, company sources said.

�We have sent a small batch of televisions to them but it is at a preliminary stage and a clearer picture would emerge by the end of March or in April,� official said.
The company has shipped 3,000 units of Onida televisions to Wal-Mart.

They're trying hard to expand their export base elsewhere.

Posted by Kevin at 11:59 AM

January 27, 2005

Wendy Zellner on WM Banking

Wendy Zellner's Businessweek reports on WM are always worth a read, especially if now if you're a banker:

This relentless push into financial services is starting to send shivers through the banking industry. Few believe Wal-Mart will stop with basic services as it applies its low-price, high-volume formula to yet another business category. And while other companies, from Nordstrom to General Motors, have bank and thrift charters or hybrid Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured industrial loan companies (ILCs) in tow, no one trips alarms like Wal-Mart.

ON THE MOVE. Many community bankers are convinced the behemoth won't rest until it has obtained full banking powers. "It's not a question of if Wal-Mart is going to be a bank, it's a question of when," says D. Anthony Plath, a finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Clearly, Wal-mart is on the move. Over the past three years, the giant has steadily built alliances with financial-service providers, such as MoneyGram International and SunTrust Banks, enabling it to offer services such as bargain-price money orders and wire transfers. It has bank branches operated by partners in nearly 1,000 of its massive supercenters.

READ IT!

Posted by Kevin at 10:39 AM

January 21, 2005

The Wal-Mart Discover Credit Card

Wal-Mart Discover is apparently just another flavor of the Discover card

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville said Friday it has partnered with GE Consumer Finance and Discover Financial Services to issue a new credit card.

The new card, Wal-Mart Discover, is expected to be available to customers by March, according to a Wal-Mart news release.

The card features no annual fee and can be used both inside and outside of Wal-Mart stores. Customers also will be able to receive 1 percent back from GE on all purchases, Wal-Mart said.

It was made possible by a recent lawsuit:
It's Discover's first major card deal since October, when the Supreme Court let stand an antitrust ruling that forced Visa and MasterCard to stop preventing member banks from issuing rival cards.

That made it possible for Discover and American Express to seek partners to issue their cards in the United States.

Will it come with a smiley face on the front? Isn't that what co-branding is all about?

Posted by Kevin at 1:32 PM

January 8, 2005

America's Vanilla

At Chicken Soup for the Vegan Soul, we find that Wal-Mart is not above silly renaming:

At Wal-Mart, they call vanilla ice cream "America's Vanilla" now, because French Vanilla must have bothered someone. It's not much more subtle than "Freedom Vanilla." Pretty soon, they'll have petitioned Bonne Maman preserves to change their name to Soccer Mom jelly.

Posted by Kevin at 12:20 PM

January 5, 2005

Selling Booster Seats in NC

A new state law requires children under 8 and/or 80 lbs to ride in a booster seat; this has North Carolina parents scrambling to comply with the law:

A new state law that requires children under age 8 or 80 pounds to ride in car seats has caused a run on the equipment in stores around North Carolina.

A dozen or more stores in the Charlotte region sold out of car seats early this week. A Wal-Mart in Gastonia sold 71 on Tuesday alone.

"They are just flying off the shelves," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Suzanne Haney. "We are getting shipments, but they are selling as fast as they are coming in."

The new law that took effect Jan. 1 aims to protect children who are too large for a car seat but still too small for seat belts. The booster props up the child so a vehicle's seat belt fits properly. Violating the law carries a $25 fine and $100 in court costs as well as two driver's license points.

Posted by Kevin at 2:10 PM

December 30, 2004

Do WM Ads Change the Nature of Phone Calls?

If you haven't studied the complexity of federal telecommunications regulation, you might find this bizarre:

What has AT&T been doing? Well, it's been issuing calling cards to American troops -- 325,000 of them worth $6 million in calls to those in Iraq and 25,000 to injured service members at hospitals stateside. The donated cards are the same as those sold at stores, so they contain ads from Wal-Mart and SAM'S CLUB. That, though, isn't the exploitation that McCormick is concerned with. The USTA's objection is AT&T's assertion that the inclusion of the ads makes the cards an "information service" rather than a strict telecommunications service.
This let's them avoid a lot in taxes... and a broken regulatory scheme...

Posted by Kevin at 12:19 PM

December 28, 2004

WalMart.com Sells Anti-WM Book!

Reader Buck Hicks sends in a link to How Walmart Is Destroying America And The World: And What You Can Do About It by Bill Quinn, for sale on walmart.com. The abstract:

Since Wal-Mart opened two superstores thirteen miles from Grand Saline, Texas, half of the retail businesses in Bill Quinn's once-thriving hometown have closed. But dismantling the American dream wasn't enough for this retail Goliath, and now Wal-Mart is aiming for world domination. If you've ever wanted to fight for the little guy, now's the time -- and this feisty Texas grandpa will show you how.
The book has a delivery date of 4/28/05...

UPDATE: They've taken the page down at walmart.com, but lucky for you all, I anticipated their reaction and created an Adobe PDF copy of the webpage earlier today!

Does this prove that somebody at WM corporate reads this blog???

Posted by Kevin at 2:03 PM

December 23, 2004

WM Gun Background Checks Exceed Federal Requirements

Here's some more relating the recent lawsuit over a suicide committed after WM sold a mentally unstable woman a shotgun.

First, I should note that according to a CNN online poll, a lot of people think that gun background checks should include a mental history, even though that is currently illegal.

Second, Wal-Mart sold the gun because the background check came in clear. If the background check had not come back, WM would not have sold the gun at all. WM's actions should be taken in context of its actual Wal-Mart policy on background checks, which is tougher than federal standards:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest gun seller, is strengthening its policy on background checks of firearms buyers beyond the requirements of federal law.

The retail giant directed its stores to hold up sales in which the time limit for a background check had expired because of concern criminals could still get guns, spokeswoman Jessica Moser Eldred said.

Potential gun buyers nationwide undergo a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The dealer can sell a gun, though, if the check isn't completed within three business days.

Managers at Wal-Mart's 2,600 American stores must wait until the check is made, no matter how long it takes, before selling a gun, according to the memo signed by company executives. The memo was dated May 31 and the policy is now in effect.

The policy applies only to rifles and shotguns, since Wal-Mart does not sell handguns.

Third, a while back WM halted selling rifles and shotguns in California. Strangely enough, the AP used the image of a revolver--which WM doesn't sell--to accompany its story.

wal-mart-revolver.jpg

Fourth, here's Walmart.com's online shotgun store, if you're still Xmas shopping, although you will have to pick up the guns and ammo in the stores.

Posted by Kevin at 11:59 AM

December 20, 2004

iLo -- WalMart Brand Electronics

When brand-name companies cannot provide goods at the price point desired by WM, WM can try to go off-brand, but it prefers to sell the same product labels as everyone else. However, now it will be starting it's own brand, iLo:

Wal-Mart isn't the only big name to launch its own electronics brand or pay more attention the lucrative space in recent months. Best Buy launched Insignia, a house brand for televisions, PCs and devices such as portable DVD players this fall. PC makers Dell, Gateway and Hewlett-Packard have also all mounted efforts to tap the consumer electronics market this holiday season with their own flat-screen televisions and music players.

Although Wal-Mart isn't attempting to replace the brand-name products it already carries, it is positioning iLo as a lower-priced alternative. It's also willing to offer some types of electronics, such as DVD recorders, that companies such as Dell haven't been interested in.

Wal-Mart enjoys a fairly unique position as an electronics supplier. It caters to a broad audience of consumers with more than 3,000 stores in the United States and maintains tight relationships with Asian electronics manufacturers, which it can use to turn out its iLo gear.

But Wal-Mart, which carries well-known consumer electronics brands including Panasonic, Sanyo and Sony, aims to use iLo to plug gaps in product availability or pricing in its selection, said Karen Burke, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.

Here are the current iLo products. Is iLo the new Realistic?

(h/t: technocrat)

Posted by Kevin at 9:54 AM

December 15, 2004

Hel*Mart

Looking for anti-WalMart gear for that special someone this holiday season? Hel*Mart has what you're looking for. Now, I'm not a believer, but I still found this a poor combination of imagery and activism:


jesus_would_not_shop_there.jpg

Btw, some of their shirts are made in the USA; the one pictured above is made in the US and Mexico!

(Note that ALP is NOT affiliated with Hel*Mart; also, I have posted the image through fair use provisions of copyright, not with Hel*Mart's permission).

Posted by Kevin at 3:13 PM

December 10, 2004

$200 Linux Box at WM

Via a press release:

Xandros, the leading developer of easy-to-use Linux solutions, today announced that Wal-Mart.com is carrying a fully loaded Linux desktop computer with the pre-installed Xandros Desktop Operating System (OS) for only $199.98.

Built by Microtel and available at Wal-Mart's online store,* the new desktop PC offers a complete suite of pre-installed software for home, school, and small office desktop use. The PC provides an affordable alternative to all other PCs on the market today. The $199.98 price tag includes a free subscription to the Xandros Networks news and update facility which features a huge inventory of open source and commercial software that can be downloaded and installed with a single click.

The $200 box can be found here at walmart.com. IMHO, by current standards it's a rather paltry setup, but that's what you get for an entry-level machine.

Posted by Kevin at 9:42 AM

November 30, 2004

Walmart.com Going Upscale

Discount prices are for the top 10% of income earners too :


NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Discounter Wal-Mart can keep "rollin', rollin', rollin'" back its prices but Walmart.com has loftier intentions.

The retailer's online unit next week is launching a four-day Thanksgiving online special that will feature upscale items such as cashmere sweaters, high-end electronics like flat-screen TVs, portable multi-media systems and even shiatsu massage chairs exclusively for Web shoppers.

"These are high-end items that consumers typically find at specialty stores and not necessarily at Wal-Mart," CEO John Fleming said In an interview with CNN/Money Thursday. "The idea is to take our base business and layer it with unexpected products."

Said Fleming, "I think of this as going above and beyond in terms of price points and the assortment of products that we currently offer."

The high-end products may be a little out of character for the world's largest discounter, but Fleming said shoppers will be pleased with the competitive prices.

The article contains an excellent summary of walmart.com's troubled history:
Wal-Mart's dot-com unit got off to a shaky start. First launched independently in 1996 with no online puchase functions, then relaunched in January 2000 as a joint venture. In 2003 it finally became fully acquired by Wal-Mart and has grown to become one of the leading online shopping destinations, competing with industry leaders Amazon.com and eBay in terms of average visitors per week.

Posted by Kevin at 10:49 AM

Not a Surprise: 70% of WM Goods Made in China

Drudge is highlighting this China Business Weekly piece:

Wal-Mart's China inventory to hit US$18b this year
By Jiang Jingjing (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2004-11-29 15:21

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, says its inventory of stock produced in China is expected to hit US$18 billion this year, keeping the annual growth rate of over 20 per cent consistent over two years.

The trend is expected to continue, company officials revealed.

"We expect our procurement stock from China to continue to grow at a similar rate in line with Wal-Mart's growth worldwide, if not faster," said Lee Scott, the president and CEO (chief executive officer) of Wal-Mart....

So far, more than 70 per cent of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China.

Experts say Wal-Mart's plan of increasing its procurement from China has granted the firm a positive corporate reputation in the country.

"Buying more products in China means more job opportunities, which helps the firm win not only the government's hearts, but also the customers' appreciations," said Wang Yao, director of information department under the China General Chamber of Commerce.

In the United States, poor people find it possible to afford cheap "Made In China" products for their daily necessities, Wang said.

Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, entered China in 1996. It has opened 39 stores, including supercenters, "Sam's Clubs" and neighborhood markets in 15 cities around China, including Beijing, Harbin and Dalian.

Quite a while ago, WM stopped its pro-American campaign when they realized what a foolish strategy that really is for a discount retailer. So they buy most of their manufactures from Chinese suppliers at far lower cost. Please note that this has NOT, on net, transferred manufacturing jobs to China from the US, since the number of manufactuing jobs is decreasing in both China and the US!

Posted by Kevin at 10:38 AM

November 29, 2004

WM to push Firefox

As I've noted elsewhere, WalMart is a major player in the effort to lower computer prices. WM's primary contribution is to sell off-brand hardware bundled with with operating systems and office suites away from Microsoft. Now they are pushing the Firefox web browser:

Now Firefox is going to start showing up in retail stores as a preinstalled browser on PCs from Linspire--the company formerly known as Lindows. The browser is being bundled alongside the OpenOffice.org office productivity suite which is considered an open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. Retailers like WalMart Stores' (nyse: WMT - news - people ) WalMart.com and Staples (nasdaq: SPLS - news - people ) carry Linspire machines.

Posted by Kevin at 11:12 AM

November 19, 2004

12 Toys of Christmas

WM releases its recommendations for the top 12 Christmas toys:


* Cabbage Patch Kids(R) Dolls;
* Barbie(R) as the Princess and the Pauper Doll Assortment;
* Marvel(TM) Spider-Man 2(TM) Triple Action Web Blaster;
* Leapfrog(R) Leapster(TM) Multimedia Learning System;
* ESPN Game Station(TM);
* Little Tikes(R) Hummer(R) H2 Ride-On;
* Color Video Now(TM) Personal Video Player;
* Bratz(R) Funk Out Doll Assortment;
* 1/6 Scale Radio-Controlled Cadillac(R) Escalade and
Hummer(R) H2 or SUT;
* Plug-it-in and Play TV Games(TM);
* Schwinn(R) 20-inch Sting-Ray Bike; and
* Sesame Street(R) E-L-M-O(TM).
How much do you want to bet that at least 10 of these 12 will be top sellers? Is this a recommendation list, a forecast, or a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Posted by Kevin at 2:19 PM

November 18, 2004

John Barnett on WM's Product Discrimination

As I've written before, WM can choose to not sell anything it wants; anyway, it sells online what it doesn't sell in the stores. That rationale doesn't appease everybody:

The place most of these security moms and NASCAR dads shop should clue us in to their relative mentality. America's own Mecca, Wal-Mart, has the most bizarrely discriminatory policy of entertainment sales of which I'm immediately aware. They do not carry parental advisory labeled CDs, but they DO carry R-rated films. They carry Mature rated video games, but only conditionally. Many Wal-Marts in Indiana refuse to carry "San Andreas," while all Wal-Marts carry "Halo 2." Both games are rated Mature, but apparently "Halo 2" has greater sales potential amongst Wal-Mart shoppers, and therefore it's sellable. Why expect more from a chain of stores that openly endorses Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" books on its Web site as "important works of modern literature"? I guess the supposedly impending apocalypse is less of a threat to the fragile minds of kiddies than fake nude pictures of Supreme Court justices in the Daily Show's banned-from-Wal-Mart "America: The Book."

Posted by Kevin at 11:30 AM

November 9, 2004

Upload at Home, Print in Store

WM and Sam's now let's you upload your digital photos at home, and have them ready in the store in less than one hour:

The new service, unparalleled by any other retailer, allows customers to upload digital photos at http://www.walmart.com or http://www.samsclub.com, edit, share and order images online, and pick up photo prints within one hour at a local Wal-Mart Store, Supercenter, Neighborhood Market, or SAM'S CLUB location with a One-Hour Photo Center - approximately 3,000 nationwide locations by year end. Wal-Mart and SAM'S CLUB's Photo Center online software has been updated to provide customers with improved Web site features, ease of use, and speed.

"Today marks a giant leap in an industry that is constantly evolving," said Dave Rogers, vice president, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "We are taking our one-hour photo service to a whole new level by making this technology available nationwide through our Web sites and the One-Hour Photo Centers in our stores and clubs. We believe it will revolutionize the way our customers process digital photo prints."

The base price will remain the same for digital prints ordered in One-Hour Photo Centers Wal-Mart or SAM'S CLUB locations. Each 4x6 print costs $0.24 at all Wal-Mart Stores, Supercenters, and Neighborhood Markets with Photo Centers, and $0.18 at all SAM'S CLUB locations with Photo Centers. All prints are provided on the same high quality photographic paper used for printing digital or film prints.

Currently, if you want to upload, you have to have the photos mailed to you or the store...

Posted by Kevin at 10:24 AM

October 28, 2004

WM Discriminates Against George Carlin

In addition to refusing to carry Jon Stewart's new book in stores, WM is refusing to carry George Carlin's:


News > Newsmakers
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Carlin's no joke for Wal-Mart
Report: Discounter returns 3,500 copies of George Carlin's new book; cites ordering "error."
October 28, 2004: 11:50 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Funnyman George Carlin's new book "When will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops," is no laughing matter for discounter Wal-Mart.

According to the New York Post, the world's largest retailer reportedly has returned 3,500 copies of Carlin's book, citing an ordering error.

The book, published by Hyperion, is currently No. 28 on Amazon.com's top-sellers list.

Carlin, popular for his subversive comedy, addresses politics, religion and hygiene in the book. Its cover is a rendition of the "Last Supper" with Carlin pictured sitting next to Jesus' empty chair, the report said.

Posted by Kevin at 12:38 PM

October 25, 2004

Amazon Entry into DVD's will hit WM too

As I noted elsewhere, Amazon's entry into the DVD delivery business scared Netflix to lower its prices. It has also made WM reevaluate their own strategy:

The other key player in the market, Walmart.com, the online service from Wal-Mart Stores, said last week that the company was evaluating its own pricing strategy, having gone from offering the lowest to the highest price in a matter of about 10 days.
Sometimes the threat of entry is enough to lower prices! Also important:
Walmart.com has been quietly building its DVD rental service since its debut in June 2003. Kevin Swint, Walmart.com's director of entertainment and photo, would not disclose the number of DVD rental subscribers the company has, but he said that business had "grown beyond our expectations."

And despite the price cuts from Blockbuster and Netflix, Walmart.com's service remains the least expensive in at least one regard, Mr. Swint said. It offers a program in which subscribers can rent an unlimited number of movies over the course of the month for $15.54, while keeping only two at a time. (Other services allow customers to keep three at a time.)

That offering, Mr. Swint said, is the site's most popular DVD rental option. "We're really bullish about this service," he said, "and our customers are enthusiastic."

The structure of sales is crucial to understanding price differences.

Posted by Kevin at 11:41 AM

WM Discriminates Against Jon Stewart

WM has cancelled an order for Jon Stewart's new book, "because it has a photo of naked older bodies with the faces of the U.S. Supreme Court judges pasted on them."

The book also contains robes that can be cut out, and tells readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."

But Wal-Mart execs felt that the shock of full frontal nudity might be too much for the unsuspecting shopper's eyes.

"We felt a majority of our customers would not be comfortable with the image in our stores," Wal-Mart spokeswomen Karen Burk told the New York Daily News. The book is still available at Walmart.com at 45 percent off the $24.95 list price. We still wanted to give the option of buying it from Walmart.com," Burk explained.

Posted by Kevin at 11:35 AM

July 20, 2004

WM Sells Clothes Online--Again

Wal-Mart has figured out how to compete with low-cost competitors selling clothes online, and has decided to re-enter the market:

The world's largest retailer announced it will offer more than 15 apparel brands, including exclusive Wal-Mart brands such as George, Faded Glory and White Stag, at its walmart.com site.

Walmart.com spokeswoman Amy Colella said that the company pulled apparel from its online offering due to high order fulfillment costs back in 2001....

The company said customers who need to return apparel purchases can do so using the U.S. Postal Service or by returning it to a local Wal-Mart store.

Posted by Kevin at 11:34 AM