Bloomberg News noted this week that Walmart's shelves are getting rather bare, and it links that SKU sparseness with an interesting payroll statistic: In the past five years, the world's largest chain has added 455 U.S. stores while dropping the number of U.S. workers by 20,000.
The Bloomberg story said this "thinly spread workforce has other consequences: Longer check-out lines, less help with electronics and jewelry and more disorganized stores, according to (shoppers interviewed)."
"Last month," the story continued, "Wal-Mart placed last among department and discount stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the sixth year in a row the company had either tied or taken the last spot. The dwindling level of customer service comes as Wal- Mart (WMT) has touted its in-store experience to lure shoppers and counter rival Amazon. It's not as though the merchandise isn't there. It's piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn't have enough bodies to restock the shelves."
Bloomberg referenced a relatively vague memo — minutes of an officers' meeting — that said someone at the meeting said the chain was "getting worse" at stocking shelves. According to the story, the document said that an executive vice president had "been appointed to work on the restocking issue."
Walmart officially said there is no restocking problem. Walmart's communications director, Brooke Buchanan, emailed: "Our in stock levels are up significantly in the last few years, so the premise of this story, which is based on the comments of a handful of people, is inaccurate and not representative of what is happening in our stores across the country. Two-thirds of Americans shop in our stores each month because they know they can find the products they are looking for at low prices."
Before Walmart prepares to change its tagline to "Save Money, Live Better, Finish Shopping Elsewhere," something to consider: Beyond the reality that all major chains are going to have some merchandise unpacked in the aisles or waiting to be brought onto the floor — unless they do it while the store is closed, they have no choice — we're seeing no evidence to support that the employee cutbacks are having a material impact on Walmart shelves.
To be fair, Walmart rivals certainly want to encourage these kinds of stories. The mere perception — rumors, really — that shelves are empty at Walmart would influence customers to shop elsewhere before they've even gone to their local Walmart to see whether it's true.
- Bloomberg story