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November 28, 2004

AS I SAID EARLIER, I've done all my Christmas shopping so far right here. Now I see that Wal-Mart sales have been disappointing this weekend. Are lots of people shopping online, or are people just buying less?

I'd report on how crowded the parking lots at the malls are, but I haven't been there, so I can't. But there may be a tie-in to this column from last year, too.

UPDATE: The Wal-Mart story seems to be much ado about not much, according to Kevin Brancato's Wal-Mart blog. He links this story, too, suggesting that many people expected slower sales this year because last year people had tax rebate checks in hand.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader James Wink emails:

I have an alternate idea of what is happening to Wal-Mart. They have devalued their brand: Wal-Mart is a place to go for the necessities of life. Target has pulled a brilliant move in placing itself as a more prestigious and higher quality brand covering the same economic demographics. While people would be more then willing to buy milk at Wal-Mart, they would prefer to buy the better quality jewelry at Target considering the cost factor is reasonably comparable. I managed to do no shopping on Black Friday (like you Amazon got a majority of my money) and spent my morning walking that trails at Great Falls and then meeting my wife in DC for lunch.

Two years ago I did a considerable amount of shopping at Wal-Mart in the Norfolk area where their Super centers are comfortable places to shop. When I moved to the Northern VA area, where there are no Super Wal-Mart, my one trip to Wal-Mart was an exercise in claustrophobia and crowd control (and this was in September not Dec). Target represents an place that is far more comfortable to shop in: the aisles are clean and wide and there are usually enough cashiers to ensure a speedy experience. The cost is marginally more but is more then worth the psychic cost of going to Wal-Mart.

Yeah. I've never understood the fashionable hatred of Wal-Mart, but I've also never really liked shopping there.

MORE: This article from Forbes suggests that Wal-Mart's problems are Wal-Mart's problem: "In an effort to defend its profits, the world's largest retailer did not discount as deeply on a wide array of products as it has in the past. That hurt sales the day after Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday shopping season, as other competitors like Sears, Roebuck and Co. lured shoppers with deeper price cuts. Customers tend to be price-sensitive and go to Wal-Mart to take advantage of the blitz of deals."