Sunday, October 9, 2016

WalMart's New Emphasis a Good Thing?

After destroying much of small-town America's downtown infrastructure over the past 30 or so years, it appears WalMart--in an effort to avoid its own destruction--is going the way of Amazon.com.

The numbers are unsettling: About 95 percent of store closings in recent years have come to those stores, on average, within 10 miles of a WalMart retailer, according to a Salon story. America has fought back, however. More than 450 communities have said "no" to WalMart construction since the 1990s (list here).

According to the story, the physical presence of the "dinostore," as writer Al Norman unfortunately describes it*, will disappear sooner rather than later and we will have a lot of 100,000-square-foot (plus) empty boxes dotting the nation's landscape. Already, WalMart has downsized its newer stores, some of which are simply grocery stores (there's one on U.S. 24 near Vinton, for example).

Doug McMillon, Wally World's head honcho, puts it succinctly: "We are a company that must become more of an e-commerce and technology company." That'd be about right.

Already, e-commerce is the major player in most of my purchases. Frequently, the product I want--say a copy of PhotoShop,which I ordered Friday--is unavailable at the price I want in a store nearby. So I bought it online for a little over $50 (it retails for more than $100). I couldn't find a cover for my SmartPhone for less than about $50, so I ordered one online for $10. No big box, no rent, no overhead, lower price (and no shipping cost in either case).

Downtown is not saved with this e-shopping, but downtown is far less important to most shoppers than low price, and less expensive most often means big, which has come to mean online. There are some exceptions that warm the heart of people like me: locally owned, small bookstores are making a comeback nationally. They were nearly killed off by the big boxes and now the big boxes are taking a dive at the feet of amazon.com. Amazon.com is WalMart's newest threat. The irony is as circular as the logic.

The beneficiary here is the pocketbooks of most of us. Jobs? Likely taking a hit. America's manufacturing economy? Another hit, since WalMart has traditionally been the No. 3 country on the list of importers of China's goods.

Change? Yes, lots of change. But is that a good thing? We'll have to wait and see.

(*Norman also wrote this agonizing sentence: 'Dinostores, once seen as the dominant species of retailing, are now viewed as ill-adapted to the climate change overtaking the marketplace, most notably the global warm-up of online shopping.")

(Graphic: 24news.ca)

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