Steve Says He Was Wrong About Wal-Mart

Some time ago I wrote a post that Wal-Mart might end up turning into a hip company, using technology to improve the consumer experience and perhaps be less hated.

Then I worried their reputation could affect this transition.

I’d like to report that now, no, I do not expect Wal-Mart to get it together, to be hip, to be particularly high-tech, or to just plain suck less.  I withdraw my statements.  I think I was wrong.

Three things made it very apparent to me that you’re not going to be a Happy Wal-Mart Geek moving them into the 21st century (or the 20th).

First, Wal-Mart’s heavy investment in their grocery business. That’s perhaps a logical move for them, but not a sign of them going high-tech.  This is a case of taking advantage of a pretty easy market using their usual methodology.

So in one way, they’re going a simple route.

Of course simple route or not, Wal-Mart is doing pretty dismal in its stocking and hiring, impacting the customer experience with long lines and empty shelves.  Though this report is filled with anecdotes, it does call out several important points, the most relevant one being:

In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers.

Yes.  There are more Wal-Marts – but Wal-Mart employes less people.  This shows in the service, which wasn’t exactly hot anyway.

This is not a sign of a company willing to spend money to improve.  Or at least not get worse.  This has the distinct stink of number-crunching and bottom-lining – find out how bad you can be and still make a lot of money.

This isn’t the sign of a company that’s going to have a sudden technical awakening and re-invent itself.

Finally, yes, Wal-mart has been experimenting with delivery and services.  The latest consideration (not implemented, but considered) is to involve customers in the delivery process.  You get a discount if you help deliver stuff.

Now services that let people make some cash delivering things, sharing resources, etc. do exist.  But considering Wal-Mart’s record this is not a forward-thinking idea in my opinion; this is another case of “how do we cut costs.”  It also looks like a potential disaster or boondoggle if done at all, and concern over legal and other issues could kill it.

But it’s not innovative.

So, I’m going to withdraw my previous statements.  I don’t think Wal-Mart will surprise us by one day going geeky.  I don’t think they’ll move with the times.  I think they’re stuck semi-permanently in cutting costs and scrounging for opportunities, and at best playing catch-up.  There’s no room here for innovation.

Sorry.  Looks like all we’ll be doing is criticizing them.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at