Wal-Mart customers complain bare shelves are widespread

Company Surveys

Wal-Mart said the customers complaining to Bloomberg aren’t a sufficient sample size and don’t represent shoppers’ impressions of its stores nationwide. The company surveys more than 500,000 customers a month, asking them about checkout lines, store cleanliness and the helpfulness of workers, Buchanan said yesterday in e-mailed statement.

“These customers continue to tell us they have had a positive shopping experience and those numbers have trended upward over the past two years,” she said. “Our in-stock shelf availability is at historically high levels and averages between 90 and 95% We will continue to work hard for our customers and meet their expectations by offering them everyday low prices on the broadest assortment of merchandise.”

Wal-Mart U.S. had sales of about $274.5 billion in the year ended Jan. 31, more than the total sales of Target Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp. combined in their comparable periods. Wal-Mart says two-thirds of Americans shop at Wal-Mart each month. The company also had 6.6 billion visits to its U.S. stores in the last year, up 23 million from a year earlier, Buchanan said.

Share Valuation

Still, investors have lost some enthusiasm for Wal-Mart. It closed at a 0.2% discount to Target on a price-to-earnings basis yesterday, compared with an average 7.3% premium during the past year. Wal-Mart on March 20 traded at a 3.2% discount to its smaller rival, the lowest in more than a year. The shares rose 0.3% to $75.65 at 9:40 a.m. today in New York.

Martin, the forklift driver, said Wal-Mart’s low prices don’t matter because he loses money on gas when the store isn’t the one-stop shopping destination it’s billed to be. All consumers appearing in this story were contacted to verify their identities and addresses.

“As much as I need to take advantage of the low prices that Wal-Mart has to offer, the money I would save” is spent on gas to drive to other stores to buy the items that the retailer doesn’t have on its shelves, he said. “So it is easier to just shop elsewhere.”

Driven Away

Customer service also drove him away. He tried to get a watch battery changed. No one could find the batteries and a worker didn’t know how to change it anyway, he said.

“The lady told me to go to a pawn shop to have it changed,” he said.

Bob Shank Jr., 68, of Tucson, Arizona, said he and his wife shopped at Wal-Mart and “experience exactly what you’ve described.”

Shank said there are two Wal-Mart stores in his area, one of them new. At the older one, there are “different items left on shelves where they don’t belong, items on the floor not replaced, empty shelves.” Even the brand-new store has “bare shelves” with yards of empty spaces and “few employees visible, especially at the check-out counters.” He said “you’re lucky to find one” at 7:30 a.m., when he used to shop.

Shank tried several times to buy his favorite type of rum at both of his local Wal-Mart stores. He eventually asked employees whether the brand had been discontinued. He got the same response at both stores: “‘No’, they said, ‘we just haven’t had time to re-stock.’”

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