Walmart: Retail's Biggest Embarrassment

**Also see reaction from the people who actually work at Walmart, on the ground ... Mistreated Walmart Employees Speak Out Against Company. 

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I have never received more email from readers in response to a story than I did to Saturday's 24 Pictures From a Walmart That Make Sears Look Classy.

By far the most popular reaction came from a gaggle of readers saying some slight variation of the same thing to defend Wal-Mart (WMT). While I apologize for putting them in such a precarious situation, the excuse they used to explain away the condition of the South LA Walmart doesn't pass muster:

... some of your photographs are unfair or misleading. For example the pictures of the automotive oil show that the section was being redone, not just empty. The singles pieces of paper taped up to each section indicate the new layout to the employee and while they are taped up, the layout has not yet been finished or approved. So what looks like a poorly stocked store is actually one that was in the middle of doing a reset.  Same for a few of the other pictures.

I address this a bit in Sunday evening's Why Pictures of Messy Sears and Walmart Stores Matter. But here's more color.

First, what a horribly pathetic excuse.

If executives at physical retailers accept that or, worse yet, trot it out as an explanation for what I observed, the magnitude of the brick-and-mortar problem escapes me. And I'm one of the space's biggest critics.

If you can't complete a section overhaul during non-business hours or on the overnight (for stores that stay open 24 hours), you need to get creative. Because the last thing retailers should be showing their customers is a sloppy mess. That's bad for business and it's a slap in the face to the consumer. It provides no incentive -- in fact a disincentive -- to make (or get excited about) a return visit.

Consider an analogy ...

A San Francisco Bay Area radio station played the same song all weekend -- "Hot in Herre" by Nelly -- to drum up publicity for what I presume will be a format change. The stunt worked so well, it blew up all over social media. While radio has always "stunted" ahead of a format change, the national publicity matters more now given the emergence of streaming.

Why can't retail adapt this strategy to generate some pomp and circumstance for its own version of a format flip?

Do something to draw attention to the section of the store undergoing the makeover, but be creative. Make it so the visitor that sees it on Monday morning might want to come back over the weekend to see what all the hubbub was about.

I'm sure if you and I brainstormed for about five minutes we could come up with dozens of creative ways to make this happen. Ideas that beat the heck out of what we see from retail's losers such as Walmart and Sears Holdings (SHLD).

If you're Sears and you're remaking your 'Home' area, wouldn't something that requires thought and creativity trump sale signs that lead to nowhere?


Anyhow, here's a small cross section of other notable and/or common reactions to Saturday's story:

I saw your article and the pictures about WalMart. All I can say is that if you worked for me, printing that nonsense, your sorry ass would be fired.

And another from an unhappy customer:

Do you have anything better to do. and on a side note this was a shiity (sic) written article. on top of being totally worthless.

I received quite a few emails like the ones that follow. In fact, some readers even sent in their own images from Walmart stores as well as Walmart back rooms. I'll get around to printing some here in the next few days ...

I just read your article on the 24 pictures of Walmart that make Sears look classy. I wanted to tell you that I have some pictures that are much the same. Mine are taken at 2 Walmart locations in South Carolina. I was going to turn my pictures in to Walmart and when I got home thought why bother, they don't seem to care. I went shopping for ladies socks on a Saturday about 4pm and was shocked at what I found. Thank you for bringing this to the public's attention.  Cheers, Joyce

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I just saw your article about Walmart and thought you might be interested to know what happened to ours. Our small town was being terribly underserved by our Walmart. It was filthy and the shelves were NEVER stocked, even the grocery side.  We started making calls ... Eventually an NBC affiliate came to investigate...their reporter walked in alone and started taking pics with her phone.  She was tossed out, not even allowed to pay for the items she had in her cart.  At one point that afternoon there where signs posted on the front door telling customers that they would be prohibited from taking photos in the store ...
(The local TV station did a story and) ... In less than 24 hours a Walmart corporate jet landed at our little airport, the lazy manager was fired and employees and managers of nearby stores had been brought in to get our store back in to shape. It took a LOT of squeaking to get the grease but things are finally shaping up.

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The Wal-Mart in Bedford heights Ohio makes the one you have pictures of look like the greatest place in the world.

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Love the picture approach. Maybe the companies will be embarrassed into changing they're (sic) ways. You've done Walmart and Sears.. next you should do Big Lots. I m sure you will take some shocking pictures of those stores..

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I'm not going to let this die. Because it matters.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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