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Walmart sign on store.
Walmart's response to tales of customer dissatisfaction at empty shelves and long lines has been that those are anecdotes and things are great in Walmart stores, so just shut up. Maybe so. But there are a whole lot of anecdotes out there saying the same thing, and more than 1,000 Walmart customers contacted Bloomberg's Renee Dudley with their stories after she wrote about the problems at Walmart. Problems like empty shelves:
Shank tried several times to buy his favorite type of rum at both of his local Wal-Mart stores. He eventually asked employees whether the brand had been discontinued. He got the same response at both stores: “‘No’, they said, ‘we just haven’t had time to re-stock.’”

He also used to buy jeans at Wal-Mart. “Now a lost cause,” he said, after failing repeatedly to find them in the sizes and style he wanted.

And when customers can find what they want, they come up against reliably long lines:
“We wait until we’re about to put items on the conveyer belt, then one of us will run back and get the ice cream,” Grimes said of his family’s strategy. “Otherwise it will melt. We know we’ll be standing in line 20 minutes or more.”
Walmart's right: When you're talking about a company with 4,005 stores in the United States, complaints from more than 1,000 customers are anecdotal. But they're stories about the state of Walmart stores as much as they are about individual customer experiences. It's not that these people are reporting things that happened to them alone, like one Walmart worker being rude to them or a gallon of milk having turned. They're reporting collective experiences—standing in line with 10 other people, shelves bare for everyone to see. And there are hard numbers that make these stories make sense: Walmart has cut its workforce by tens of thousands since 2008 while adding hundreds of stores. It shouldn't come as a surprise that customers are seeing evidence the store's workers are stretched thin.

Presumably Walmart is taking this more seriously behind the scenes than it's admitting in its defensive comments for the record, if only because this is some very bad publicity. But given that Walmart's whole way of doing business is founded on squeezing the most out of its workers while paying them the lowest wages possible, it would take not just a few tweaks to staffing levels but a major attitude shift at the highest levels to really address these issues.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Tue Apr 02, 2013 at 09:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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