Last year at the now-defunct Revolution, I noticed (and naturally reported) that even though Wal-mart owns my area (the nearest non-Wal-mart department store is an hour’s drive in any direction), the parking lots at the two stores close to me were surprisingly empty during the week before Christmas when you would have expected them to be over-flowing. It turned out that Wal-mart didn’t have a very good season last year; sales were down some 3-4%, which gave WM’s corporate honchos the willies.
Given that my little survey seemed to have some validity in the real world, I decided to do it again this year and here are the results: Mixed.
I visited both stores several times during the week before Christmas, sometimes more than once a day, and took a quick count of the cars in the parking lots. To say the least, it was a quiet week: day or night, there were rarely more than a couple of dozen cars clustered near the entrance. Wednesday afternoon, there were only eight, not counting mine. There tended to be more at night than during the day, as you might expect, but not that many more. The number was virtually identical to what you might have counted on any average day during the rest of the year.
The only time I saw that pattern broken was the night of Christmas Eve. Early in the afternoon, the store closest to my home was all but empty. I had to go back later for something I’d forgotten to get. It was about 530pm and the lot was almost empty. I was inside the store for about a half-hour, wandering around the empty aisles, and when I came out around 6 o’clock I noticed a line of cars, bumper-to-bumper, coming up the drive. It looked like the whole town had decided to go shopping at the same time. A queue quickly formed at the entrance as SUV after SUV pulled up to disgorge whole families before Mom or Dad went off to find a place to park.
I stood around to watch for a few minutes and by the time I left, the lot was half-full and a crowd of people were moving toward the entrance in thick clusters. Pulling out of the exit into the road, I could see that the line of cars headed into the store extended a couple of hundred yards up the street and around the corner. I could only surmise that everybody had waited until the last minute in order to take advantage of reduced prices for late shoppers – a standard practice in most department stores.
But if that’s what it was, they were going to be disappointed. WM had lowered zero prices at that point. I saw NOTHING “on sale” when I was in the store, and there were no in-store announcements of any pending.
That end-of-day flood might have boosted WM’s sales significantly, but I don’t see how it could have made up for a relatively slow-to-average week. I would expect WM’s sales figures to be down slightly again or plain flat. Given the record they claimed to be gunning for, that would be bad news.
Praise the lord….