Listen to your customers and lose $1.85 billion!

Walmart just proved it’s possible!  According to Phil Terry in his blog, Daily Artifacts, “Walmart made a common mistake repeated hundreds of times in the business world: they relied on what customers said in a survey versus what they actually do in the stores” and online.

Customers were telling Walmart they wanted more space in the aisles and less clutter.  “But as Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, knew they wanted broader selection even more.“

Besides losing an estimated $1.85 billion in sales since remodeling their stores in 2008, Walmart spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the ill-conceived store remodeling project.  Wider aisles.  Shortened shelves.  15% of inventory removed from the stores.  Slimmed down merchandise on “end caps” (displays at the ends of aisles).

The immediate result was loss in sales and a dramatic decline in same-store sales across the country.

Too bad for the “Godfather” of American retail.  But what can Big Wally teach nonprofit fundraisers?

  1. Surveys and focus groups usually “discover” only what is easy to verbalize.  Important information that is harder to put in words usually remains hidden.  Pay more attention to what donors do than what they say.  How they respond to particular offers.  What actually moves them to give?  That’s where their heart is.  And that’s what they want from nonprofit fundraisers.

  2. Copycats come in second (or last).  Walmart was remaking itself into Target with the 2008 remodeling project.  But shoppers already had a Target.  Walmart was distinctively different in many ways.  Don’t lose your unique brand, even if it’s a little funky, a touch unsophisticated and not exactly like anyone else.  That’s a positive, effective brand.

  3. Clutter is actually content.  Arrange your clutter right, and it will entice customers like the mythological Greek Sirens.  In a retail context, that means products ready to fall into your cart.  For direct marketers, that means words and graphics that seduce the senses and move the heart and mind of the potential donor.  Overwhelm your donors with what they’ve shown they want from you.  Actually, give them more than they think they want or need.  Donors will exit their experience with a shopping cart filled with joy and satisfaction, much fuller than they expected when they entered your “store.”

Your donor will actually thank you for helping them take Walmart’s “Save Money/Live Better” tagline to the next level.  You’ll be providing the opportunity for donors to save some of their money to invest in the important mission of helping others live better.

Rob Zawoysky