Margaret Hancock long considered her local Walmart superstore her one-stop shopping destination. But during recent visits, the retired accountant from Newark, Del., says she failed to find more than a dozen items, including certain types of face cream, cold medicine, mouthwash, bandages, and hangers. Walmart’s loss was a gain for Kohl’s, Safeway, Target, and Walgreens—the chains Hancock visited for the unavailable items. “If it’s not on the shelf, I can’t buy it,” she explains. “You hate to see a company self-destruct, but there are other places to go.”
Wal-Mart Stores has been cutting staff since the recession—and pallets of merchandise are piling up in its stockrooms as shelves go unfilled. In the past five years the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Walmart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to company filings in late January. In the same period its total U.S. workforce, which includes employees at its Sam’s Club warehouse stores, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent.