Can Wal-Mart Turn the Tide?

Faced with the risk of losing its major competitive advantage, can Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) regain its reputation for rock-bottom prices? Restoring a slew of favorite items on its shelves sounds like a step in the right direction.

The discount retail giant is responding to a long stretch of lackluster sales figures and lost market share with an "It's Back" campaign. Wal-Mart cut many items from its shelves in the thick of the recession, in an effort to get lean, mean, and simplified. Now, it's restocking 8,500 of those banished goods, including fishing poles, fabric, and plus-sized fashions, according to Reuters. In its effort to cut costs, the company apparently started eliminating items customers actually wanted.

Wal-Mart's campaign, which will include TV advertising, will also inform shoppers that it matches rivals' prices. CNN Money recently reported that major rival Target (NYSE: TGT  ) offered lower prices on a sample of basic staple items, which certainly had to be a wake-up call for Wal-Mart.

The retail giant's flagging traffic implies defections in different directions. Higher-end shoppers probably gravitated to discounters like Target and Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) , while many less-well-heeled shoppers likely grabbed rock-bottom deals at so-called dollar stores like Dollar General or Family Dollar (NYSE: FDO  ) .

Beyond Wal-Mart's usual competitors, shoppers can now find excellent deals on items at Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) and Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK  ) , in addition to bricks-and-mortar contenders like Big Lots (NYSE: BIG  ) . That doesn't necessarily make all of these companies good stock buys right now, but they could collectively weigh on Wal-Mart's future as a decent long-term investment.

Despite Wal-Mart's negative reputation in some quarters (labor issues, Mom-and-Pop-shop-killer rep, major contributor to suburban sprawl, etc.), it always had the siren song of low prices to hold shoppers' interest. In this strangely precarious economic climate for the company, its shrewd effort to regain its footing may prove easier said than done, since the Bentonville Behemoth's immense scale doesn't exactly make it a nimble enterprise. I won't consider Wal-Mart an appealing stock idea until it shows solid signs of regaining its basic competitive advantage --  preferably in the form of better sales.

Would you buy Wal-Mart now and hold it for the long haul? Or should existing shareholders hurry up and sell, and move onto greener, more growth-oriented pastures? Let us know in the comments box below.

Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick and a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Amazon.com and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Wal-Mart. The Fool owns shares of Costco and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. For more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2011, at 2:59 PM, 123spot wrote:

    I own it and will hold it for the long term, planning for its 27 yrs of div increases to help sustain me in my retirement and its expanding numbers of small neighborhood markets to help me shop at reasonable prices in my old age. Any capital gains from its new investment in Africa is just honey on the biscuit. Its constant huge philanthropic efforts for the poor in my community and Alice Walton's new Crystal Bridges American Art Museum in the heartland of the poor only deepens my pleasure in being a longterm investor in this fine business.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2011, at 3:47 PM, tshk1221 wrote:

    I would wait to buy WMT until it's 5-year average EPS increase rate shows more improvement. It is only about 8.4%. That must be one of the reasons WMT's stock price has been drifting, stuck in that $50 range. If I had WMT in my portfolio now, I would never sell it.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2011, at 5:22 PM, hdivinemad wrote:

    Another valid reason for Walmart's seems to be their lack of concern for the associates manning the trenches in the stores. During the new Walmart evolution, Management has done everything possible to cut it's labor costs. In doing so, they seem to have cut their own tendons to keep them standing above the competition. Walmart not only hurt it's workers but the local roles of the unemployed. Why would customers want to shop in a store where one can not find an associate to assist them.

    I really believe a giant step forward for Walmart would be a step backwards to 2005 when associates smiled, respected and treated fairly. This would reflect on the overall increase in customer flow and sales.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2011, at 3:09 AM, wmtworker wrote:

    I work at walmart and will continue to buy stocks through the company plan since there is no comission and they add $3.00 worth of stocks when i buy $20 worth every pay day.

    I wouldn,t buy the stocks through a discount broker.

    I buy other better stocks through sharebuilder.

    The extra $3.00 is the only thing that has been putting me ahead.I think they are probably good to buy and hold long term.

    I may sell if they go up enough,but right now i hope they get cheaper.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2011, at 10:58 PM, nvbs2 wrote:
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