Wal-Mart : Target :: value : meaning

WalmartAccording to Reason Express, Wal-Mart is stepping up to the Target challenge.

As we have noted, this is, among other things, a contest between value, the thing that Wal-Mart now does well, and meaning, the thing it now does badly.  If I may quote a blog entry from December of 04.

Wal-Mart is good at price but bad at meaning. It can “pile em high and sell em cheap.” But in the process it reduces the brand to a commodity and the retail experience to a trudge through tedium. Placed in the Wal-Marts , brands created to deliver potent meanings, fashion, locality, individuality and lifestyle, are diminished or missing. Wal-Mart actually manages to wick away the very meanings that add value to the product and the life of the consumer. 

If there is a single indicator of the problem Wal-Mart has created for itself, consider the in-store experience.  They have managed to turn stores into warehouses and  shopping into that "lost in a big box" feeling we all love so well. 

Target is in its own way a value hound, but it also sees the point of adding meanings.  They source these meanings from better store presentation and packaging, and from the use of  design and designers.  Target stores and products are cultural located.  They are rich in meaning.  The store and the products do not have that dreadful big-box blankness.

To challenge Target successfully, the old dog is going to have to learn new tricks.  Reason has its doubts about their hopes of successs, as do I.   Wal-Mart is going to have undergo a cultural reformation to compete.  It will have to create a corporate culture that is capable both of X (the value game) and not-X (the meaning game).  The pursuit of meaning and value now spring from different mind sets.  They encourage different corporate cultures.  When brought together in a single company, they create some of the most powerful antagonisms a corporation can endure.

First step at Wal-Mart: copies of Virginia’s book for everyone!

Second step: hire Tom Guarriello. 


Anon.  2005.  Wal-Mart Targets TargetReason

Anon. 2005. Wal-Mart takes aim at Target. MSNBC.com treatment here

McCracken, Grant.  2004.  Brands and Wal-Mart: value vs. meaning.  This blog sits at… December 2.  here

Postrel, Virginia.  2003.  The Substance of Style.  New York: HarperCollins.


2 thoughts on “Wal-Mart : Target :: value : meaning

  1. Tom Guarriello

    Well, Grant, I’ll certainly second your first step. As for that second step, I’d say, “it’s a little loose, so watch out you don’t trip!”

    I find it fascinating that the Boys from Bentonville are so late in coming to the meaning party. The aesthetic revolution has been going on for some time now and you’d think someone at Wal*Mart would have been thinking about “next” long before this. But, as we’ve seen time and time again, the human pattern making machine too often becomes addicted to operating on auto-replicate.

    We see Jeff Immelt trying to bring a new cultural imperative into GE, with innovation sharing the big stage with Six Sigma. Whether value and meaning can co-exist in Arkansas is a big question mark for me. Remember, these are folks who’re used to beating the last dime out of supplier margins; arguing the meaning which that dime will deliver is not something they’ve encouraged in the supply chain. But we’ll see, won’t we?

  2. Supergenius

    Didn’t K-mart try the same thing with their Martha S. line?

    What ever happened to K-mart anyway?


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