Wal-Mart is loosing business

I had an interesting discussion last night about a recent discussion on Facebook regarding Wal-Mart. This group of mom's with are done with the Wal-Mart experience. I've been saying this for years but I am not the primary grocery shopper. This task was taken away from my list of to-do's and there is one who would even suggest that this was a calculated and strategic move. Thinking back to my own experience several years ago while shopping with my wife we thought we would make an effort to save some money by shopping cheap. The whole experience at this particular location was dreadful.

We arrived relatively late evening but not so late there were drunks or anything, just a small group of shoppers and a bare parking lot.We began walking the aisles looking for the things we needed. What I did not expect was open boxes of food. It seriously looked as if people had just started walking the around as though the store was their personal pantry. This really turned me off but the kicker came as we looked for someone to ring up our sale. Hanging out on the the top of US Weekly or the International World News were some steaks. No idea how long it had been sitting there but it did beg the question, "I wonder where that is going to end up when they find it." The next thing I noticed was the wall of shopping baskets against the back wall loaded with stock to be returned to the shelves. Add all of this to the cold hospital like feel and I was done with Wal-Mart. I have never been back to this Wal-Mart in the years since this visit.

My wife continued to use Wal-Mart choosing lower prices at the sake of the experience. In fairness the store that she normally visits is not bad since it is relatively small, at least by Wal-Mart standards. The experience is the same and while she has no photographic evidence on http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/ she has seen a few gems while shopping. But recently she was given a refreshing take on grocery shopping at Tom Thumb. They have really made a significant change at the store near us. You can't walk in there without someone asking if you need help finding something. The music is fun and upbeat causing my wife to comment, "I'm so going to get busted for dancing in there one of these days." There are several factors that make shopping there more inviting, the lighting is less intense, a florist at the entrance, a deli with seating area, a bakery and knowledgeable employees that "get food".

Back to the Facebook discussion the other women on this thread were all lamenting the same miserable, cold, sterile shopping experience at Wal-Mart while excitedly sharing their local favorite that provided a better experience. The competition for a better experience is getting tough in our area. We have Whole Foods, Central Market, Market Street, Tom Thumb, Sprouts and Newflower. Perhaps these women have hit a threshold where service and experience is worth a premium, "I'd rather pay a little more just so I don't have to deal with the craziness of Wal-Mart."


My Twit-experiment Update

I added Olympic RSS news to see if that would have any affect. So far not much of anything has changed. A few retweets of gadget news is about it. I have only added a few new followers in the last two weeks. The count now stands at 1,157. Indications are that a small minority of the "auto follow" crowd periodically engage with the people on the follow list. There have been very few instances where a message was legitimately directed to the experiment account.

Mmm, Cold Brew Coffee

Mmm, I just polished off my second batch of cold brew coffee. One of the best Christmas gifts ever if you ask me. Cold brew coffee is dead simple since all you need is 1lb. of fresh ground coffee, 9 cups of good water, a large container to 'brew', a filter and a storage container for the liquid gold. Rather than come up with some sort of Lifehacker version I opted for a simple system that does the same trick. Genius and the coffee is awesome.

I started thinking about something as I was contemplating the my next batch.Unlike regular coffee the cold brew process takes about 12 hours. You have to plan ahead for your caffeine fix otherwise you hit the coffee shop. This reminded me about things we have to wait for in life. Things like traffic lights, airplanes, responses to questions, vacation days, etc and they are all beyond our ability to control. Sure we can plan for traffic and adjust our route but I can't avoid hitting every red light between home and the office. I can arrive at the airport two hours prior to departure only to find that weather delayed my flight. Would yelling at the stop light change anything? Can the gate agent control the weather?

I've have to continually remind myself that getting stressed and frustrated at the things I am not able to control does more harm than good. This has been a great week for me to remind myself that being patient is part of the game and rather than get frustrated I can focus my efforts on things that are productive. Learning, reading, researching, planning and spending time with those I love have made all the difference. Life would be easier without having these moments but eventually my patience will pay off.

If..but…I just…would you…awww

When it comes to social media I see examples all day long of businesses using social media as a broadcasting tool rather than a two way conversational medium. The clip above is a good metaphor of your customers trying to speak with you and yet you never give them the chance to talk to you directly. Imagine the impression you would leave on a customer if they called you on the phone and all you did was talk AT them. You certainly wouldn’t do that in person. Too often businesses treat social media as an extension of their “one way” digital marketing efforts.

Certainly there are opportunities to use social media beyond a conversation – where offers and marketing are included. But if your customers are looking for you on social media channels they are looking for a conversation not a banner ad. Businesses pride themselves on knowing their customers and the best way to do that is talk to them. Social media provides a fantastic opportunity to do just that. Listen, respond, ask questions, be involved in your customers lives. You’ll find that when you do they are much more likely to share your content in their social circles.

If you are still getting your feet under you this Guide to Twitter and this Guide to Facebook via Mashable.com are a great way to get started or revisit your approach.

My Twit-experiment

In the last post was hovering right around 1,000 followers and my expectation was that I would get a nice bump thanks to the iPad release and the fact that I'm pulling Engadget and Gizmodo  RSS feeds directly into my twitter stream. I really thought with all of the posts that would be sure to come my feed would pick up a bunch of followers. It didn't. To be sure there are new accounts that have been added and the number is hovering around 1,145. The number fluctuates up and down all day. No doubt people are following and unfollowing and spam accounts are surely getting purged from Twitter.

During this time I have taken to using the "RT" as well as the "retweet" feature to see if that makes a difference. It doesn't. I haven't seen any tweets from this account sent out using either method. So the traditional RT and the Twitter version have not proven to be effective at getting any more followers.

Another test I did was to see if I had any traction on a photo in my flickr stream. Nothing to exciting, but thought it would be nice to compare my personal stream to the spam stream. I had five clicks come through on my personal stream and zero on the spam stream.

My effort in this experiment is to show that number of followers don't really matter. So far that has proven to be true with no true interaction having taken place. I'm considering a few other ideas that could get the account killed so I'm holding off on those for now. So far numbers do not mean anything. Collecting numbers would seem to be a fruitless effort but will confirm that with a more targeted approach in the coming days.

iPad and the Great Flash Debate

The news from Apple last week is still getting people worked up. Now that we have had time to digest the good and bad it is nice to see more thoughtful discourse entering the stream rather than emotional overreactions. I'm a big fan of Zeldman and he was my inspiration for pursuing web development as a career back in 1996-7 as I was finishing up grad school. I hope more people will take a look at things with a level head. You can find the post here.

I agree with his assesment. Developers have been short changing themselves for years when they do not approach Flash in the proper context. Flash is an enhancement to websites and not the website itself. Back in my agency days we had clients ask for Flash all the time because it was the hot thing and could provide more of a whiz-bang effect. Even then we had hot debates about the accessibility of Flash as the presentation layer. We realized even back in those days, despite what Adobe suggested, Flash as the interface was going to turn people off, limit accessibility, add complexity to dev, lose sales, etc.

Zeldman sees the iPad with the same mass market appeal that I do. This is not a techie device but a computer that is easy, stable (we assume) and "just works". I would think most tech junkies would embrace this so they don't have to play tech support for their friends and family.