Or maybe the question should be, should a leopard change its spots?
According to a couple of news stories earlier this week (here and here), WalMart's former advertising agency GSD&M prepared a report that argues for a more upscale image for the decidedly downscale retailer. And WalMart is playing down the importance of the report.
You can read the 55 page report here.
According to the news stories, the report argues for repositioning the brand along the lines of smart shopping and better living (and thus, away from "low prices—always"). Why? Because while WalMart is the smart place to shop for brand-name consumables like toothpaste, it is not seen as a smart choice for purchases like electronics, apparel, and home decor (they call these priority departments). "Its reputation for discounts... 'works against [them]' as it tries to move upscale."
But can WalMart grow into these new areas without impacting it's existing story? Is changing WalMart's positioning and brand story to accommodate the new priorities worth the risk?
In fact, the news reports are badly misreading the report. The economic, psychographic, and competitive information in the report indicates that WalMart should stick to it's low-price story. One survey quoted in the report notes that saving money is the #1 driver of shopping and that 87% of female shoppers agree that getting the best price is the most important thing to them when shopping. What percentage of WalMart's 138 million weekly customers are begging for better service in Home Apparel or higher end brands in the electronics department? My guess, it's very low. Instead of changing its position, the recommendations are for helping consumers understand how the low price story also means a better quality of life.
So the report argues for helping customers understand that smart shopping can also mean saving time, energy, or stress. It can mean spending dollars at a company that gives back to the community. These are areas that WalMart can improve.
So why the bad reading of the report? Perhaps it has something to do with the source: WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-backed group that is critical of WalMart (and clearly has an agenda for releasing the report). Maybe the reporters should have spent a little more time reading what the report actually says. In reality, it's a fascinating look into the day-to-day challenges of appealing to WalMart's customers.
Don't get me wrong. WalMart has some massive challenges. But being the low-price leader barely makes the list. In fact, one could argue that low prices are the only reason WalMart is what it is today.
John has a discussion going on about this at Brand Autopsy.