The Right Time To Name Walmart “Retail Champion”

NEW YORK— The selection of the annual HOMEWORLD BUSINESS®
Retail Champion often follows healthy debate among our editors over numerous qualified candidates.
Not this year.
I can’t say there are no other housewares retailers who’ve stood up to the economic pounding admirably. But, really, is there anyone who would argue against our selection of Walmart this year?
Of course, Walmart year in and year out is by far the dominant retailer of housewares and just about everything else that comes in a box, clamshell or hang card. It would have been an obvious choice in any of the seven previous years that we’ve recognized Retail Champions. Perhaps that’s why we leaned instead toward others who were able to distinguish themselves in housewares beyond sheer sales volume.
Not this year.
Not when you look at Walmart’s consistent positive comp-store sales gains against just about everyone else’s declines. Walmart was the obvious choice again, and this time that could not be discounted.
Walmart’s selection as HomeWorld’s Retail Champion this year, however, is not merely an ode to its mammoth sales volume and comp-store fortitude in an economy that has placed many retailers in a chokehold. Actually, it starts with an adjustment Walmart made a couple of years ago.
Seeking to recharge its domestic growth possibilities, Walmart seemed infatuated with cultivating a more upscale identity in select markets. You remember those stories about Walmart wanting to cater, with stepped-up formats and selections, to owners of the BMWs that were showing up more frequently in the retailer’s parking lots.
Walmart could have begun to stray too far off its natural course to extend its upscale aspirations.The retailer realized, however, it didn’t have to try so hard to attract higher-income consumers.
It aggressively seeks out better brands willing to sell the chain; and it isn’t deterred by steep pricepoints in select categories, as long as a product warrants the higher ticket and Walmart’s price is the lowest. Walmart doesn’t need to pretend to be anything other than what it is— the most efficient and most powerful price-value merchant around.
The retailer’s value appeal to all demographics has been further magnified by the economic crash.
There are still BMWs in Walmart parking lots. And Volvos. And Fords. And Toyotas. And Hyundais. And Kias. Their drivers don’t come for upscale trappings, expecting a specialty store experience. They come expecting the best prices on cranberry juice, potato chips, toothpaste, Barbie dolls, socks, bicycle helmets, screwdrivers, light bulbs; and, yes, vacuum cleaners, toasters, shavers, plastic totes, ironing boards, garlic presses, santoku knives, pilsner glasses and teapots.
In these times, if there is shame in excess, there is newfound status in thrift. No one has to shop Walmart in dark sunglasses anymore.
Walmart has refreshed its logo and lifestyle image. Its newest stores present an airy, more inviting ambiance. The retailer continues to move into higher-value brands and products while forging exclusives with popular lifestyle names.
Make no mistake, though. Saving shoppers money on everyday goods underscores every move Walmart makes. It is a mass merchant, the ultimate mass merchant, pure and simple. Mass means everyone.
The numbers don’t lie. Walmart might be the best positioned to capitalize on the downturn. That’s short-term. What makes Walmart even more compelling as HomeWorld’s Retail Champion this year is its vital place at the epicenter of a global effort to rekindle consumer shopping confidence and spark a recovery. In time, that could benefit every retailer.
And in time, there will be plenty of candidates to debate for HomeWorld’s Retail Champion.
Not this year.