The retailer Americans love to hate, Consumer Reports readers anyway

Walmart is the nation’s largest food retailer, and 140 million people shop its stores each week, yet somehow the company ranked second to last on a ranking of the best and worst supermarkets in America.

The ranking was compiled by Consumer Reports and appears in the May issue. The publication does some fine product testing work, but every so often it surveys its readers on their retail experiences and then serves up the information in the form of rankings. The May issue’s cover story on the best and worst supermarkets is a good example, with the rankings based on 24,000 shoppers’ (Consumer Reports subscribers) experiences at 52 retailers between April 2010 and April 2011. The top ranked chains were Wegmans, Trade Joe’s, Publix and Fareway Stores. Walmart was ranked 51st just ahead of Pathmark.

“No chains tried their customers’ patience more than Walmart Supercenters, Pathmark and Pick ‘n Save, where roughly three fourths of shoppers had one or more problems,” according to the publication. “Shoppers who frequented Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer and the chain with the most shoppers in our survey, were most likely to be miffed about the lack of open checkouts, out-of-stock regular items, indifferent employees, spotty pricing and confusing store layout.”

Those are all disturbing issues for Walmart that need to be taken seriously, but it does make you wonder why -- if the products, employees and overall store experience is so poor -- so many people shop at Walmart given the abundance of alternatives and intense price competition in the food channel. One explanation is the bias inherent in Consumer Reports' analysis of the retail industry, which is arrived at by a flawed methodology. Consumer Reports surveys are based on the opinions of its readers whose demographic profile likely differs materially from the general U.S. population so a less than accurate view of shoppers’ attitudes is presented. Look at it this way, if Consumer Reports product testers were evaluating their own magazine’s research methodology it would receive a failing grade as would the lack of disclosure about the demographics of survey respondents. This isn’t to suggest that the views of Consumer Reports readers aren’t relevant or that Walmart doesn’t have ample opportunities for improvement, but it is hard to reconcile the fact that no one sells more food than Walmart and yet it is ranked so low.



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