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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Walmart : An Agile Learning Giant

(Via Fastcompany)
Wal-Mart is famous for being tight-lipped about its inner workings, but here's a fascinating blow-by-blow account NYT today of how the world's largest retailer responded to disappointing sales on the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. What's remarkable is how quickly this enormous organization moved. Make no mistake, Wal-Mart can dance adds,Fastcompany.

Within a couple of hours of suspected downtrend in sales, Michael Duke, the president of Wal-Mart, had gotten messages on his Blackberry that sales were off at stores around the country. For any retailer: the Christmas season accounts for a disproportionate share of its yearly income. For Wal-Mart, analysts estimate the holidays represent close to 20 percent of annual sales, or about $50 billion.
Michael Duke and senior executives visited several competing retailers and got their suspicions confirmed. He brainstormed with execs and store managers about which products to mark down. In a rare interview on the inner workings of the company, walmart executives described - day-by-day and some cases, hour-by-hour - how they reacted to initial dismay. They explained what they did to steer the stores back on course, from the markdowns to the open-microphone meetings with workers to the multimillion-dollar ad campaign.
A team met over the weekend to finalize the list and contact suppliers. On Tuesday, stores nationwide offered the new prices. On Thursday, Wal-Mart broadcast a video for its stores suggesting new displays. The next day, the displays were up, and a new ad campaign was underway. On Saturday, the company conducted a meeting with 500 employees asking for more ideas -- and acted on 21 of their recommendations.
The result? The retailer expects December sales to be up three percent. Although it's not the holiday season it had initially hoped for, it represents a heck of a comeback.

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