Mom Bloggers Question if Walmart Lost Its Vision

Everyone loves a good deal, and low prices were reason enough for Texas mom Lisa Stauber to travel up to 30 minutes to the nearest Walmart to nab the best deals for her family of 11.

But after 12 years prowling the aisles of the retail giant, the mommy blogger finds little reason these days to shop at the store where she once spent more than $10,000 annually.

Aggravating lines, restrictive grocery choices, higher prices, and poor customer service were enough to curb visits to the store, says the Houston resident, who has shopped at numerous Walmart's throughout the South. After shopping around, Stauber says she was able to find better deals and more choices at stores like private supermarket chain H-E-B.

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"For much of produce, I will only buy organic, which Walmart doesn't offer and I save 25 percent, [on those items] at other stores, says Stauber." (The retail chain says it does in fact sell organic produce.)

After hearing from some readers that cheaper prices was their main reason for shopping at Walmart, Stauber kicked off what she's calling "The Walmart Challenge." "I've issued a challenge in the comments [section] of the Houston Chronicle post, and on my blog as well [for readers] to list the top 10-20 items bought at WalMart, and I'll do a follow up post to see if those items are actually cheaper at Walmart or if that's just a perception," says Stauber.

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Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has thrived during the long recession but the bloom may be coming off the rose. The company saw a 1.8 percent decline in second-quarter U.S. comparable store sales "due to small average transaction size and softer customer traffic," according to a report by investment research firm Morningstar.

"Traffic is down," says Matt Arnold, a consumer analyst at Edward Jones based in St. Louis. A portion of that loss is because "they were gaining traffic from upscale retail destinations and now that there is a realization that the economy is at least somewhat better, some of those people trading down are incremental trading up, and that's having an effect on traffic."

Like most retailers, Walmart was challenged this year by more consumers tightening their purse strings. The company did an aggressive price rollback campaign in attempt to drive traffic to their consumable goods, and competitors reacted with their own discounts, according to Christina Veiders, managing editor at the trade magazine Supermarket News, based in New York City.

These offers may be what lured consumers like Stauber to the competition. A Walmart loyalist for years, Stauber, whose blog Milehimama.com gets more than 17,000 visits a month, has a huge reach. It's the website the mom blogger once used to share her allegiance to the brand she has since given up. In a bit of a swan song, Stauber published her gripes on MomHouston.com, operated by Houston Chronicle.

She believes Sam Walton's vision of "buying American and customer service" has fallen by the wayside.

"It's a broader trend in retail in general to purchase from China and other regions -- they're all sourcing in general from overseas, it's not really a Walmart issue," says Arnold. "It's definitely not new, it's been a trend that's prevalent way over a decade."

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