Reporting on Walmart, America’s largest retail store

by June 5, 2019
Walmart is America’s largest retailer, and the largest employer in some states. Here are some tips to help you get started in your reporting. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Each week, 76% of adult Americans will shop at one of Walmart’s 4,769 (give or take) locations across the country. As the U.S.’s largest retailer, Walmart raked in over $135 billion in 2018, and they currently employ over one million Americans.

For better or worse, what happens at Walmart impacts large swaths of Americans–especially the financially fragile who depend upon Walmart’s low prices.

With Walmart in the news so often, there are numerous story angles business reporters can use in their reporting on the discount mega retailer.

Walmart Increases Prices

Their corporate mantra may be “Save money. Live better,” but the discount mega retailer recently indicated that it will need to raise prices on goods sourced from China due to tariffs which were expanded again earlier this month.

Many of the products which will be impacted by the tariffs are consumer goods like furniture, clothing and various tech products. Therefore, even a modest price increase could have huge consequences on Walmart shoppers and the local economy.

Walmart’s impact on local businesses

The impact Walmart has on a local economy is so well known, it has its own name: the Walmart Effect. When a Walmart store moves into a new area, its low costs and aggressive “price match” policy tends to attract consumers away from local shops. These local businesses are forced to compete by lowering their own prices–which they probably can’t afford to do for long. In the end, a Walmart store has the effect of eroding competition, lowering the wages of employees at competing stores and eventually forcing smaller companies out of business.

Jobs and automation

As the country’s largest private employer, Walmart becomes extremely important when reporting on jobs. Here are a couple ideas for angles:

Walmart has been testing ways to automate its operations to save costs and increase productivity. A while back, Walmart began testing “scan and go” technology in select stores–giving customers the option of scanning their own goods as they shopped and paying through an app, eliminating the need to wait in line at the cashier. If successful, scan and go could eliminate the need for human cashiers entirely — thus eliminating those jobs.

Walmart is also eliminating their greeters in as many as 1,000 U.S. stores according to NPR. This could potentially impact thousands of workers, many of whom are elderly or have a disability.  

Start your reporting

• Try to measure how important your local Walmart store is in the community. Are there many alternatives, or is Walmart the only discount retailer in the area?

• If you have a Walmart in your area, observe the competition. Are there alternatives where consumers can shop, or is Walmart one of few options customers have? You can probably find an online directory of businesses in your area.

• Talk to the local Chamber of Commerce and see if they’ve noticed a change in spending habits and the overall health of the area’s economy.

• Find out how important Walmart is in terms of jobs in your area. Walmart is the primary private employer in 21 states. Is yours one of them?

• Try to find former associates who were let go due to job elimination. Ask them about it, and see what they have to say about working for Walmart.

• If a new Walmart is moving into the area, what is the reaction of local businesses who would be put in competition with Walmart? Talk to local business owners and see if they have concerns.