Companies that have a leading market share position in their industry often have a tough time when it comes to how they are viewed by customers. For instance, Comcast, McDonalds and America Airlines/US Airways (now one company) are often at the low end of their industry’s customer service rankings. Another company that also finds itself in this unwanted position is one of the biggest on the planet – Walmart.
However, while customers who actually shop at Walmart give the retailer low ratings, many people who are not customers possess an even dimmer view. Some dislike Walmart because it has become too big and dominating, and they believe no business should be this large. Others harbor distaste not just because of Walmart’s size but because they blame it for the demise of many small, local retailers. And still others are turned off by the in-store experience that at times has lead to customer-on-customer altercations.
Whether you are a Walmart supporter or you are fiercely opposed what they do, from a marketing perspective, you have to be at least somewhat impressed with the investment they are making to improve the retail experience. Now this is not to say Walmart is at the cutting edge of retail innovation. In fact, they tend to take a wait-and-see approach before jumping into something new. For example, their entry into online selling did not occur until the early 2000s, more than five years after Amazon started shipping products. But who can blame them for taking innovation somewhat slow considering how many stores they have and that adding something new may involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars. So before they adopt a new marketing method they do what good marketers do – lots of research and testing.
A good example of Walmart researching and testing innovations can be found in this Washington Post story. It reports on several new tools the retailer is developing to assist shoppers. For example, one tool being tested at the company’s Sam’s Club division is aimed at improving online grocery orders that are then picked up at the store. This tool has customers notifying Sam’s Club when they are on their way for pick up, which enables Sam’s Club employees to wait until the customer is near the store before they package frozen product. The other tools include an order storage system, where a customer retrieves their online purchases from a secure bin housed at gas stations that are located on or near main roadways, and a mobile app that shows exactly where a specific product is located in a store.