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Walmart’s well-deserved crown

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After prolonged debate and careful consideration, the editors of MMR have determined that Walmart be recognized as the publication’s Retailer of the Decade for the 10-year period that ended on December 30, 2020. (A special section detailing Walmart’s decade will appear in the March 22 issue of MMR.)

In many ways, this was not a difficult decision to reach. Over the past decade, the Bentonville, Ark.-based discount retailer has continued doing what it has effectively done for the past 58 years: transformed mass retailing to a degree never before seen in the United States. To that end, Walmart has become the yardstick by which the U.S. mass retailing community is measured. Thus, the perpetually asked question “What is Walmart doing?” continued, in the last decade, to be the most often asked question in the U.S. retailing community. And the answer, whether positive or negative, has dictated and shaped the response of the entire retailing community.

More specifically, that community has continued to react and respond to Walmart’s strategies, whether successful or problematic. Where a Walmart initiative has succeeded, that success has prompted an appropriate response from U.S. retailers. Where its success has been in doubt, an entirely different response has been forthcoming.

None of this is particularly surprising, given Walmart’s dominant position among U.S. retailers. The company reaches virtually every American consumer with a proposition that, for better or worse, is difficult to ignore. If price is the driver that brings customers into retail stores, Walmart’s “always the low price” strategy remains today, as it has for nearly 59 years, the button that triggers a visit to the store. Whether Walmart’s claim is, or has ever been, entirely accurate is beside the point. American consumers, in the main, believe it to be true. And in unprecedented numbers they have continued to act accordingly.

But price, in and of itself, is by no means Walmart’s only advantage. In the decade that just ended, the Bentonville behemoth continued to build on that base, sharpening its grocery selection, improving its apparel assortment, honing such basic categories as pharmacy, health and beauty care, sporting goods, consumer electronics, and all manner of basic merchandise, to the point that shopping at Walmart, either to make a purchase or check a price, has remained the automatic consumer response it has been for some considerable time.

All the while Walmart has, over the past decade, improved its store environment. Indeed, the Walmart U.S. consumers shop today bears little resemblance to the store their parents shopped a generation ago. Put another way, where price was once the only attraction, it is today one of many consumer inducements. Put another way, this not your father’s Walmart.

Then, too, evaluations of Walmart frequently overlook the experience and caliber of the retailer’s leadership team. To use an already overused phrase, to those who know Walmart’s executive team, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, no explanation is possible.

None of this is to imply that Walmart is without faults. One could make a compelling case that Target or Amazon or a dozen different grocery retailers or several drug chains are equally deserving of a Retailer of the Decade honor. But the feeling among MMR’s editors is that Walmart continues to deserve that designation — and will successfully wear that crown until another American mass retailer wrests it away.

Congratulations, Walmart. This is yet another well-deserved designation.


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