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

Wal-Mart: A Victory Lap and Some Cold Water

Well I’m feeling flush with excitement.  First I got it kinda right on 3D printing, and now there’s another case where you’ll need to check my ego: Wal-Mart seems to be obviously moving forward with e-Commerce.   Awhile ago I suspected Wal-Mart could indeed “go geeky”, so I’ll consider this a partial victory.

In short, Wal-Mart clearly has to move with the times to have a presence in e-Commerce, and is clearly doing it.  I’d add that when you throw on it’s mobile investments, Silicon Valley skunkworks, and Vudu, it can play pretty big.

But since I first speculated on what Wal-Mart can do, I think their reputation has gotten worse.  I’m no fan of Wal-Mart at all, so consider my bias pre-announced, but I think that people think even less of them than they did a few years ago.

So here’s where I see a potential issue: Wal-Mart’s reputation can affect their ability to move forward.  I present this, of course, for analysis.

First, there’s a recruiting issue.  I know plenty of people who won’t even go into a Wal-Mart, so how many are going to want to work for them?  Not sure how a big of a dent this’ll put into potential talent, but I’m sure the dent is there.

Also keep this in mind – working at Wal-Mart puts that on people’s resumes.  How many people who would work for Wal-Mart would not do so due to what others may think.

Secondly, there’s the competitor issue.  Yes, Wal-Mart has a huge “install base,” but it also has penny of people gunning for it directly (Target, Amazon) as well as indirectly (virtually everyone else).  All it takes is an alliance between several ornery competitors to give Wal-Mart some pain.

Third, I think Wal-Mart may be at a demographic disadvantage.  I’m not sure how well their current demographic is going to adapt to a more high-tech Wal-Mart, and what kind of heavy e-commerce base they can count on.  I’m not sure, frankly.

Fourth, back to reputation.  Wal-Mart has a repetitional weakness that competitors, issue #2, could probably use against them.  If you think others won’t get nasty, think again – especially considering Wal-Mart could be a serious threat to them.

So quick summary of this:

  • I think Wal-Mart is moving forward.
  • I think competitors will use Wal-Mart’s reputation issues against them, and in some cases they won’t have to try.  It could lead to some very strange bedfellows.
  • If Wal-Mart gets highly aggressive, this is going to be really interesting.  I suspect they’re going to go for gradual evolution instead – far easier.

Could be a very interesting time in the Geekonomy.

– 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

Geeks May Save Wal-Mart

Geeks may just save Wal-Mart. Gods, I don't believe I'm saying this.

I'll get it out of the way, I'm not exactly a fan of Wal-Mart. It's a combination of business factors, quality, effects on community and so on. You know, the usual.  I'm not exactly going to diss success, but I think Wal-Mart's been on a kind of a race to the bottom.

In fact, it looks like that bottom is being reached pretty fast, as this article notes:  Wal-Mart shoppers are running out of money:

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