Time Catches Up to Project Impact but Wal-Mart Forges Ahead with Family Fun

Last Updated Sep 10, 2009 8:34 PM EDT

Time has discovered Project Impact, although a little late, but, still, the magazine has made a start at catching up to the sequence of initiatives that Wal-Mart is launching around the goal of becoming the go-to retailer for the frugal consumer.

It's not a necessarily a formal goal, but it's central to CEO Mike Duke's vision for the company. In just about every public pronouncement he's made since taking over the reigns last year, he's discussed a new consumer who spends what's made that month with little resort to credit but with careful consideration to family priorities and meeting them with the least outlay of cash.

In Wal-Mart's most recent conference call, Duke even described walking the store with a customer who he seemed to feel personified this new consumer.

As he related it, via a transcript from SeekingAlpha:

Those who know me know that I talk a lot about being obsessed with how we can improve our customers' experiences in our stores. Let me just take a moment to share a short story with you. I recently spent a few hours visiting with a customer in her home and then shopping with her. Unfortunately, because of today's economy, her family income is down about 40 percent.
She and her husband have three children under five years old, and the budget is much, much tighter than last year. So as a result, they have had to sacrifice. They really don't go out to eat much anymore. She doesn't buy any clothing for herself anymore. She's had to eliminate some other services, so they truly have had to find ways to manage their budget.
As we walked through a couple of stores, I learned that she's buying more private brands, and she'll buy larger pack sizes to save money, and she also pays more attention to ads. She said that one of the hardest things to do is to say no to her kids, and she's having to do that more often.
Duke cited Wal-Mart's new ways of laying out and displaying merchandise as something that it has done to make the shopping experience better for customers like his shopping companion. Project Impact is the force that's driving those lay outs and display systems through the Wal-Mart chain. With lower fixtures making the store easier to view and navigate, an increasing emphasis on the most popular products and a focus on home and electronics that make staying in to save money that much more pleasant, Project Impact isn't just a marketing term to Duke, it's a statement about how he sees the consumer evolving, and he sees a consumer who will take the experience of the recession to heart and change fundamental habits in a lasting way.

So, Wal-Mart keeps launching ancillary initiatives to serve a new consumer and adapt to what Duke terms the new normal " where people are saving more, consuming less, and being more frugal and thoughtful in their purchases."

Now, Wal-Mart is establishing what it terms Family Night Centers in each store. Stocked with activities and savings on popular items from manufacturers such as Hasbro and Disney, the centers are designed to be one-stop destinations supported by a microsite www.walmart.com/familymoments featuring tips from mom bloggers about how to create a engaging family night plan, as well as information about recommended products, healthy snack and dip ideas, new items and G-rated video games.

The Family Night Centers follow on the heals of initiatives including the introduction of Twilight boutiques in stores some months ago that supported release of the movie DVD and, currently, KISS Korners in electronics and Halloween departments as moves to make Wal-Mart a place where consumers can conveniently purchase products that enhance the home environment inexpensively. The KISS effort, as well as a recent move around a Myley Cyrus music release â€" both of which include exclusive items â€" featured CDs for under $10.

So, it's good that Time caught up to Project Impact, but if you want to understand where the world's largest retailer is heading, you must considered the smaller initiatives that support the larger, and you have to get current, too.