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« Why Powerboat Marketing is Out | Main | On Mindless Certainty vs. Considered Wisdom »

October 20, 2004


Vicki Thomas

Hi David:
Congratulations on your revelations at the DDI conference. As a 59 year old active turned off shopper that has become invisible at the check out counter I look forward better trained and more sensitive sales people. I find it interesting that as you address this issue that there are less clerks on the floor to help. Less cash registers that can actually process billing and so much clutter in the stores that it is a turn-off, which is why so many women my age find great joy in shopping online which is quiet, faceless and efficient.
Your observations about WalMart lacking soul does not match the spin and human interest seen in their recent TV commercials and we are a nation that responds to spin.



Which area of retail do you think is most deficient or has the greatest need in this respect?

David Wolfe

Vicki: I would readily admit that most of my experiences as a retail shopper are qualitatively lacking -- as was the case when I visited a Lowe's yesterday.

What I experienced at the DDI Forum is, as I see it, a sign of things to come, not emblematic of the norm today.

As for my comments not matching Wal-Mart's recent "spinning," I would say that -- as the word "spin" suggests -- Wal-Mart is not being authentic. It is going through PR motions without any "soul" behind its actions. In talking with Harvey Hartman yesterday, he said that his research indicates pervasive hollowness in consumers' feelings about Wal-Mart. They shop Wal-Mart out of a sense that saving money is good, but they do so with little or no emotional gratification.

Mike: Big box retailers certaintly has a long way to go to give customers good experiences aside from saving money. Secondly, I would say that retailers that focus their marketing on younger age groups are most deficient. And I would speculate that they would begin picking up older customers if they cured this deficiency.

For example, Charlie Cotton, VP of Retail Merchandizing for Quiksilver Americas indicated at the DDI Forum that he wants to broaden the age range of his customer base and realizes that the quality of the customer experience is key to doing that.

Yvonne DiVita

David, can we expect to see a fading away of fast food incompetencies? All the major players, McDonald's, Burger King, and Arbys, employ underpaid help that is eager NOT to help you, but to get you out of their faces. I generally avoid fast food but occasionally fall prey to its lure... and I always come away disappointed, annoyed, and confused -- how can they continue in business with such badly trained help? There is NO customer service at these establishments. I'm clueless about their ability to stay in business. Can you shed some light on that?

Dick Ross

You are never too foo foo. Just foo foo enough.

John Michael Day

After a recent speaking engagement in NW Arkansas(virtually in Wal Mart's HQ backyard) I came away with the feeling there are two dominant paradigms at work, depending upon one's place in the foodchain. One paradigm seemed to express that the mega-retailer is a supersized success story that is now quite naturally experiencing the litigious throes and assaults on the brand due to the sheer mass of employees and vendors in the equation. This viewpoint originated from vendors and community business leaders who enjoy a healthy relationship with Wal Mart. There were equally as many defensible comments made that were on par with your friend and notable researcher, Mr. Hartman. In their experiential universe, the common denominator was a mutual resentment for the control that Wal Mart exerts over anyone who wants to get product on their shelves. That being said; I personally believe that consumers will continue to fill their aisles despite PR flaps and foibles because it was never "that lovin feeling" that drew the convenience/price conscious shopper to them in the first place. That is of course, unless some very scary skeletons are exhumed to shock and revolt the public. Just one more observation respectfully submitted for your consideration.

David Wolfe

Yvonne: There will always be incompetencies in fast food outlets. However, I beleive that we will see improvements among the major players like McDonald's, Burger King, and Arbys. If this doesn't happen, lesser players with employees who have been trained and motivated to give customers better experiences will start "eating their lunch." That's the way things work in free markets. The fast food industry will learn sooner or later that menu, price and speed are no longer enough. The customer experience must be not just problem-free, but enjoyable as well.

John: Of course, Wal-Mart's size invites more litigation and allegations of moral if not legal transgressions than when it was a much smaller operation.

And notwithstanding the rising tide of criticism for its alleged "heartlessness," Wal-Mart will continue, as you sugggest, to have a strong hard core of loyal customers for whom saving money is quite enough justification for patronizing Wal-Mart.

However, I see Wal-Mart's continuing growth progressively slowing for two reasons. First, its core customer group consists of 25-44-year-olds, an age group that is now shrinking in size, and for years to come will not experience population growth.

Secondly, changes in the moral foundations of our cultural ethos will challenge Wal-Mart's narcissistic self-focus which has left it without concerned for the bigger picture in which it operates and for the well-being of others, from vendors to the community at-large.

More and more companies are beginning to see that they operate within a socioeconomic ecosystem whose well-being is integrally linked with their own well-being, thus to operate with the narcissistic inner-directed focus of traditional business enterprises is short-sighted and leads to policies and actions that can jeopardize the socioeconomic ecosystem on which a company ultimately depends.

John Michael Day

I wholeheartedly concur with your comments that relate to the shrinking 25-44 cell and its effect on the giant. The gradual shifts in the moral underpinnings of money spending consumers is a strong argument as well, but it seems to me that this is a relative argument if the rest of the big box community continues to struggle with where to plant their "for the good of the people" stake. Your thoughts?

Peter Davidson

Where do you see the role of technology in all this. I think you may see some additional focus on humanity in businesses that focus on a more mature customer base. Those that focus on youth, like fast food and certain big box retail will continue to focus on speed and price. They will increase the use technology like computer systems and robotics. What do you think?

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