Walmart on the offensive: Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be an interesting 2014

          Laura Heller

Walmart is on fire these days, in the best sense. The retailer, it seems, has gone on the offensive with a carefully orchestrated series of announcements and speaking engagements that shine a spotlight on positive initiatives.

Regular readers would be forgiven if they thought this publication had been refocused strictly on Walmart, because right now, in retail, it does seem to be all about Walmart.

The retailer is opening new formats and debuting new initiatives, executives are making the rounds on speaking circuits and nary a day goes by when it isn't talking up new programs. 

First, there was the opening of a new convenience store sized format, Walmart to Go. It's not the first time the retailer has opened a tiny concept, but paired with earlier announcements that it would be ramping up small store expansion and populating food deserts with additional locations, it looks like Walmart is serious about taking on dollar stores, gas stations and just about any corner mom and pop on the fringes of existing markets.

And if there's any doubt that Walmart has the lowest price, there's a new Savings Catcher price match program that will credit the difference back to shoppers. A Spring-time version of Black Friday targets home improvement chains with a sales event in that channel's strongest season.

Walmart is also launching a new offensive against electronics and entertainment retailers with a new trade-in program for used video games, presumably aimed at besting GameStop at its own game.

"Gaming continues to be an important business for us and we're actively taking aim at the $2 billion pre-owned video game opportunity," said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Walmart U.S. "When we disrupt markets and compete, our customer wins. They'll save money on video games and have the flexibility to spend it however they want." As long as it's in Walmart stores—payment for used video games comes in the form of store credit.

I've attended a half dozen retail conferences already this year and Walmart has had a speaker at all of them. From RILA's Supply Chain conference to eTail West, the Shopper Marketing Summit, SXSW and even Forbes' Reinventing America, Walmart executives are out in force talking up mobile, social, manufacturing and marketing initiatives.

Some of this is consumer focused—intended to put a dent in the ill-will directed at the retailer. There are pledges to hire veterans, campaigns promoting the dignity of work and a social media campaign that seeks to leverage loyal shoppers by turning them into brand advocates sharing positive comments. But the greater impact on competitors will come from the many new formats, pricing strategies and operational initiatives.

All this and the first fiscal quarter isn't even over. It's going to be a very interesting 2014.

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