Tales from the Wal-Mart

I thought that Wal-Mart was supposed a “customer connected, always tuned it” kind of retailer, with virtual electrodes tied into the consumer consciousness so that if North America wakes up wanting green peanut butter on Monday morning, they’ll find it at Wal-Mart on Tuesday.

Tonight we went to Wal-Mart to buy a fan for Oliver’s room. We went to Wal-Mart because it was 8:41 p.m. when this need struck us, and we knew Wal-Mart was open later than anywhere else.

Because we shop so little at the store, the layout of Wal-Mart doesn’t exactly make sense to me. I know where the diapers are, and the Oreos, but everything else seems randomly assigned to zones that don’t reflect my stuff classification guidelines.

So we wandered from “small appliances” to “housewares” to “hardware” to “sporting goods” — all possible locations for a fan — until I gave in and asked a clerk.

No, we don’t have fans,” he said.

Don’t have them right now, or you don’t carry them at all,” I replied.

No, we carry them, but they’re out of season right now. Would an air cleaner do?”

It is 11:24 p.m. It is August. It is 22 degrees outside right now, down from almost 30 degrees earlier in the day. If there is a season for fans, this is it.

We drove up the hill to Canadian Tire. We forgot they were open until 9:30, and found them open. They had about 25 varieties of fans in stock running from $12 to $160. We bought a Twindow, our 4th — it’s a well-made dual fan with several speeds and thermostatic control that fits between the window and the sill.

Is this an aberation, or is Wal-Mart not all it’s cracked up to be?


Alan's picture
Alan on August 13, 2002 - 12:05 Permalink

I went to Walmart to buy pens the other day as it is the closest place to where I now work. The pens were priced like it was 1988. But there was a big bin of Kraft dinner next to them; all the kids toys were related to movies or TV programs and not playing; and there was the odor of hydrogenated oil floating in the air from the internal McPigs outlet. They often do not have what I want, just what is cheap wholesale.

The quality is also questionable. I prefer Crappy Tire as it smells like tires and the stuff you want is there. Once, buying my first drill bits, I was assisted by someone who was not dressed in the red of CT staff. I asked if they were on their day off. They said yes — from Walmart: “do you think I would buy the crap they sell there”.

Walmart is now bigger than Chrysler or Ford or GM — it is bigger than many nations. To get there, they have helped gut small town downtowns and defeated the evil Kmart — not much else. If I really loved money or was broke, I would make sure I spent it there so I would have more in my pocket. A glorified dollar store. At least the Giant Tigers in Ontario are open about it.

Stephen DesRoches's picture
Stephen DesRoches on August 13, 2002 - 13:57 Permalink

Wal-Mart and Zellers are much alike based on what they keep in stock. Their seasons are usually 2 months faster meaning if you need a fan, get it before the summer, if you need a snow shovel, get it before the winter. Does this make sense? Not really but it

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on August 13, 2002 - 16:11 Permalink

Canadian Tire is renowned for their ability to keep just enough in stock. Apparently they are up there with Dell. An engineer friend of mine is off in September to join the ranks of their “how many 10-penny galvanized nails did we sell between March 12 — 15” team.

Justin's picture
Justin on August 14, 2002 - 00:17 Permalink

Fans and air conditioners are ordered two seasons in advance. Additional stock can be had, but at this time of season it is mostly ‘dogs’ available from the normal corporate channels. Forget sourcing them from the supplier: the turn-around for that is over 2 weeks and that’s if the supplier over-produced… not likely. Two weeks is an eon in this business. Yup, merchandise is out of season early into it’s season… except hockey. Wal-Mart Charlottetown has only a couple of years of sales history but will be better prepared next year. CTC has a small edge in knowing this market. And, gone are the days of ‘carry-over’ stock, so Wal-Mart may have a bit of difficulty learning their upper limits of seasonal stock until someone accidentally over-orders. Give them one more season and check out week 33. I bet they have fans.