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Friday, March 12, 2010

Walmart’s not-quite-3/5th compromise

The buyers at Walmart are well-known for their marketing skills and their ability to leverage high volume into deeply-discounted prices and astronomical sales. Their sensitivity to the sensibilities of their customers is apparently another matter.

That much was obvious recently, when the Web site Guanabee.com published a photo said to have been taken at a Louisiana Walmart — a shot in the toy aisle, showing ebony and ivory Barbie dolls hanging on the racks together in perfect harmony. Everything in harmony but the prices.

The black Ballerina Teresa Barbies were priced at $3. The white Ballerina Barbies were sold for $5.93.

The photo and story moved from Guanabee and the humor site Funny Junk.com to the mainstream press; ABC News reported it on Tuesday, complete with damage-control statements from headquarters.

“To prepare for spring inventory, a number of items are marked for clearance,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien told ABC News in an e-mail. “... Both are great dolls. The red price sticker indicates that this particular doll was on clearance when the photo was taken, and though both dolls were priced the same to start, one was marked down due to its lower sales to hopefully increase purchase from customers.”

“Pricing like items differently is a part of inventory management in retailing,” O'Brien said.

Not that the profit picture of a global economic raptor like Walmart exactly depends on how fast Barbie dolls are moving in the first place. From ABC News: “Whatever Ballerina Teresa's lagging sales may say about society, retail analyst Lori Wachs said Walmart may ultimately regret their pricing choice. The discount giant, which reported a quarterly profit of $4.7 billion last month, could have absorbed whatever loss it might have suffered had it kept Ballerina Teresa's price the same as that of Ballerina Barbie.”

Ah, but we’ve been here before. A reader, commenting on the story at Guanabee, cut to the chase with a refreshingly clear sense of the historical:

“3/5 of $5.93 is not $3.00.”

Image credit: Funny Junk via Guanabee.com.

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