Commentary

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. By Any Other Name Is Just Plain Walmart Inc.

To the delight of copy editors everywhere, Wal-Mart Stores is dropping the hyphenation come Feb. 1 and will simply be what the signs in more than 11,700 parking lots around the world say it is: Walmart. Of more significance than standardizing the spelling of the brand moniker, however, is company’s decision to jettison “Stores” altogether.

“The name change chiefly demonstrates the company’s growing emphasis on serving customers seamlessly however they want to shop: in stores, online, on their mobile device, or through pickup and delivery,” Walmart states in the release announcing the news yesterday.

Indeed, “the biggest company in the world has a chip on its shoulder right now — and that’s probably a good thing. Why? The ever-growing challenge from online retailers is pushing Walmart to be a much better operator in the digital world,” Brian O'Keefe writes for Fortune.

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“For us, a big part of it is being paranoid,” Walmart chairman Greg Penner said today at the Fortune Global Forum in Guangzhou, China. “We’re at our best when we’ve got a competitor that’s really challenging us.”

O’Keefe goes on to observe that, if that is the case, Walmart “is doubly blessed” because it has both Amazon and the Chinese online retail titan Alibaba, which is itself getting into bricks-and-mortar operations, egging it on.

And as important as digital is becoming, keep in mind that “roughly 95% of Walmart’s sales continue to be generated in its stores,” as the Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai writes.  

“While our legal name is used in a limited number of places, we felt it was best to have a name that was consistent with the idea that you can shop us however you like as a customer. As time goes on, customers will increasingly just think of and see one Walmart,” president and CEO Doug McMillon says in a statement. 

“McMillon has sought to position the company as an e-commerce powerhouse — and a rival to Amazon.com Inc. — by acquiring web retailers like Jet.com and Bonobos, offering two-day free delivery, and hiring Ivy Leaguers to help run its internet operations. It’s also teaming up with Google on voice-activated shopping. The push has led to online sales growth of at least 50% in the U.S. over the past three quarters, more than triple the pace of the broader e-commerce sector,” reports Matthew Boyle for Bloomberg Technology.

Much of Walmart’s success online is, in fact, due to Marc Lore, who came to the retailer when it purchased his Jet.com startup for $3 billion last year. That’s why Lore is No. 19 on the just-published Recode 100 list of “the people in tech, business and media who mattered in 2017.”

“Walmart's tweak upends a 47-year-old tradition. The company, which was known as Wal-Mart, Inc, when it incorporated in October 1969, added the word ‘Stores’ three months later,” writes Charisse Jones for USA Today.

“The change won't boost Walmart's bottom line, but it's more than just cosmetic, some analysts say,” Jones continues. “It signals that the way in which Walmart sees itself has shifted, and it wants to ensure that view is communicated to others,” Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy Global Data, tells her.

“Other big companies have changed names to signal a shift in strategy to customers or investors,” points out Sarah Nassauer for the Wall Street Journal. “Steve Jobs in 2007 decided to shorten Apple Computer Inc.’s name to Apple Inc. as it moved into phones and other devices. Google Inc. became Alphabet Inc. in 2015 as the company branched out into more businesses beyond search, like self-driving cars and robots.”

Branding consultant Allen Adamson tells Nassauer that companies in transition often “sit down with a group of investors and say, ‘Forget everything you heard before, we are different now.’ That is why some companies pursue a change.”

Back in 2009, the company began appending news releases with an advisory to reporters that stated: 

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is the legal trade name of the corporation. The name 'Walmart,' expressed as one word and without punctuation, is a trademark of the company and is used analogously to describe the company and its stores. Use the trade name when it is necessary to identify the legal entity, such as when reporting financial results, litigation or corporate governance.”

“Um, what?” wrote the estimable Jane Wells for CNBC, expressing the collective frustration of journalists everywhere who, on deadline, had to figure out which persona of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer was issuing news. 

Henceforth, Walmart it shall be!

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