The Wall Street Journal ran the piece on its front page. "Wal-Mart Era Wanes Amid Big Shifts In Retail."
But, it is old news. The company is too down-market. It is not politically correct. The internet is taking customers. Many consumers want quality over price. Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) does not offer enough personal service to customers.
The Journal sums it up this way: "For 10 years through 2005, Wal-Mart's sales gains at stores open at least a year averaged 5.2%. So far this year, its comparable-store sales, a measure of market share, is up just 1.3%. The pricing gap between Wal-Mart and rivals has narrowed, and more customers are now choosing convenience over wading through a supercenter."
That all may be true, but it also misses part of the point. Wal-Mart's sales have hit a mediocre patch during one of the greatest economic expansions of the last several decades. The rise in home prices and improving wages made the consumer feel a bit richer. He wanted a better shopping experience. He could afford better stuff. His home equity loan let him buy nicer clothes, a new car, and some up-market furniture for his house.
But, that era of prosperity may be ending now. Consumers may well begin to look for bargains. They may need them to stay in the game when their variable rate mortgages reset at higher interest rates
The low cost of shopping at Wal-Mart will be back in style. The consumer is starting to feel pinched.
Douglas A. McIntyre is a partner at 24/7 Wall St.