Mom Bloggers Question if Walmart Lost Its Vision

On MomHouston, more than 100 users commented on her post. The two most popular comments, which were recommended by over 400 users, addressed a dislike for the brand. One commenter using the user name Disco_Stu wrote, "Amen. The downturn Wal-Mart is a microcosm of our country slowly lowering the standard of living."

It's this sentiment that Stauber is hearing from other readers. The story has more than 17,000 impressions, and Stauber has received e-mails, Facebook messages and tweets from strangers about the piece. The post is garnering huge reaction in the blogopshere.

But are Walmart's prices really going up? Are its shoppers being turned off? The evidence is mixed.

Consumers found that the prices at Walmart and 10 other retailers are comparable, according to a survey conducted by nonprofit testing organization Consumer Reports from April 2008 to April 2009. When it came to satisfaction, Walmart ranked number nine -- second from the bottom -- ahead of Kmart by only one point based on the survey.

The magazine's readers grumbled about Walmart's longer lines and smaller aisles. The quality of merchandise -- such as apparel, jewelry and electronics -- also left much to be desired, they said.

Such dissatisfaction is a popular sentiment among Stauber's mom community of about 400 blogs, she says. "I was one of the last hold outs," says Stauber.

Kelly Russell, a stay at home mom of four, based in McKinney, Texas, is another unsatisfied customer. The expectant mom who operates the blog, A Full Table, was won over by the giant affectionately referred to as "Wally World" by some because it offered more bang for the buck from and what was once a "one stop shop."

But over time the Russells found themselves adding more stores to their shopping routine as the aisles narrowed and the brands on the shelves downsized. "Walmart has a very limited of supply of what they keep on the shelves," says Russell. " The store went from 10 brands on the shelf, to two to three, things that I don't want to buy, and the produce is moldy or nasty."

After spending $7,200 a year shopping at the popular retailer, the family says they have cut their spending there by more than 50 percent due to poor food quality, customer service and pricing.

On a recent trip to the retailer, which has more than 3,000 stores, Russell's husband picked up a loaf of Italian bread but found it had mold when he opened it at home. He skipped the trip back to the Walmart to return the bread because of the long lines at customer service.

Overall, 44 percent of consumers of the 30,000 people surveyed by Consumer Reports were unsatisfied with Walmart's customer service.

WalMart is reacting to some of these concerns, based on the changes made over the last few months, says Veiders. "I think they have reacted to what their consumers are doing in their stores because they've changed their pricing strategy," she says.

"As the economic pressures abate store (s) experience starts to play a bigger role in buying decisions and traffic. Times still aren't great but they are certainly less bad," says Arnold.

The role of word of mouth cannot be quantified, and while it can play a long-term role in customer traffic, Walmart has a weapon that's hard to beat due to its massive buying power: price cuts. "In the heart of recession price is all that matters. The store experience becomes secondary," says Arnold.

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