(Un) Welcome to Walmart

Unless you’ve been under a rock these last few days, you’re probably aware of the decision of several major retailers to drop Confederate flag merchandise. In a fit of political correctness, Apple went so far as to ban Civil War games because they had (gasp!) Confederate flags.

That’s their right, of course. If a retailer thinks they can attract business by banning purple pinwheels, more power to them. But then we get what happened to Elaine Glidewell.

As a graduation present to her nephew, in May Ms. Glidewell ordered a class ring from Walmart. Her nephew’s high school mascot is the Rebel (guaranteed to give social justice warriors everywhere a serious case of the vapors), so naturally the ring sported a Confederate flag.

Now, we have to make one point clear. Walmart refunded Ms. Glidewell’s money, which means she had already paid for the ring or a portion of it. In other words, Walmart had already sold it to her prior to their ban. They accepted the order and the ring had arrived at the store. But when Ms. Glidewell went to pick it up, she was told that the store could not give it to her despite the fact they had already accepted full or partial payment when she placed her order. Ah, but political correctness trumps an agreement between a store and its customer, and so Walmart refused to follow-through on their end of the deal. They refunded the poor woman her money and told her they would melt down her nephew’s ring.

In the above news story, Walmart director of national media relations Brian Nick was unapologetic. If you read down to the end, Mr. Nick claims Walmart was working to put Ms. Glidewell in touch with third-party venders. Even so, Mr. Nick misses the point: It’s one thing for a retailer to refuse to carry merchandise; quite another to refuse to fulfill an order it has already received along with the money. As the ring was ordered prior to the ban, the proper thing for Walmart would be to process it, then  refuse to place orders for any other ring with the Confederate flag. If Sam Walton were still alive, Walmart might have done so.

Alas, Sam Walton is dead and apparently so is the personal commitment to the customer that played a huge role in making the company a retail giant. That personal commitment seems a thing of the past, along with door greeters and stores that had a cheery feel. Today the Walmarts around here are sterile things with bare concrete floors, shrinking inventory, and shelves that take a long time to restocked. It’s as if the chain no longer wants customers, and it shows. Walmart isn’t doing so hot these days.

You can, of course, order from Walmart online, and I’ve done so in the past. But the troubling thing about the Fort Smith incident is I’m no longer sure I can trust Walmart to deliver. This is what Mr. Nick and the entire Walmart chain has forgotten: Customer service is ultimately about winning trust, and that counts a lot more than political correctness. The fact is that customers, at least around here, can no longer trust Walmart to keep non-seasonal items stocked on the shelves. For that matter, after the Fort Smith incident, there’s going to be questions of whether Walmart will send what we ordered, or give us our money back instead.

History is littered with retailers that forgot what made them great. I remember when Woolworths was the Walmart of its day, and TG&Y wasn’t a slacker, either. Now TG&Y is gone, and Woolworths is a shadow of its former self. I feel for Walmart employees, who are, for the most part, friendly, but who can’t magically make stock appear on shelves, or increase the inventory of goods, or make a company put the customer first. Unless Walmart realizes what Sam Walton did, that its first business is to the customer, it doesn’t look good.

I guess Walmart could shift from retail to energy by hooking a generator to Sam Walton’s grave. He’s probably turning fast enough to power the nation.