How Do Retail Giants Like Wal-Mart Affect Consumer Choices?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 22, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Kill Bill is going to sell a lot of DVDs at Wal-Mart (search) when it goes on sale, but that's only because it's been toned down to get an R rating...

Wal-Mart has lot of power and a lot of input in the entertainment, publishing and retail industries. Joining me now to talk about the Wal-Mart effect, Deloitte Research (search) chief economist Carl Steidtmann (search).

Mr. Steidtmann, the big question, how much effect does Wal-Mart have on our culture?

CARL STEIDTMANN, RESEARCH CHIEF ECONOMIST, DELOITTE: Any retailer has little effect on our culture. What they're doing is reflecting back that culture to us.

GIBSON: You know what I hear all the time is a lot of whining from New York magazine publishers who want to put more partially clothed women on covers and can't get those things at Wal-Mart, from Hollywood producers who want to have more blood splashed on the screen, can't do it. Wal-Mart wont' do it. And for that matter, video game producers who are now causing Wal-Mart to get sued.... Does Wal-Mart have a right to say, “Look, we are not going to impose this stuff on our customers?”

STEIDTMANN: Well, look, the challenge that any retailer faces is making a selection of goods that they are going to put in their stores. If you look at magazines, there are 17,000 different titles. I don't care how big of a retailer you are, you cannot put all 17,000 in.

So you have to make some selection as to what are the magazine titles that are going to appeal to the core customer you are going after. That applies to magazines, or movies, or apparel, or food or whatever your core product mix is. You've really got to make a choice. That's really what good retailing is all about is making choices that really reflect what your customer is interested in.

GIBSON: But has Wal-Mart become kind of a barometer about what the rest of America, that part that we don't see because we obsess on New York or we obsess on L.A., but what the rest of America finds acceptable?

STEIDTMANN: I wouldn't think I would go that far. Again, Wal-Mart, even though they are quite large, they still represent a relatively small share of total retail sales.

GIBSON: They do?

STEIDTMANN: It may be $200 billion in the U.S., but we're over a $2 trillion retail economy. So it's still a relatively small segment of the total retail economy.

GIBSON: Why do you think then that there's all this complaining and sobbing about Wal-Mart infringing on our rights to put more naked women on magazine covers, to cut up more people in movies, to make more nasty CDs?

STEIDTMANN: I think you would have to ask the people who are making those charges. There are still a lot of other channels of distribution to sell product through besides Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is not the only retailer out there.

GIBSON: Do you have any insight on whether Wal-Mart is making the decisions in Benton, Arkansas...

STEIDTMANN: Bentonville.

GIBSON: Bentonville, Arkansas, I'll get a million e-mails about that, whether they do this simply because they have their finger on the pulse of their customer base or that they are actively trying to censor some of the moviemakers, magazine producers, CD makers and so forth?

STEIDTMANN: No retailer, I think, is into censorship. I think what they're really looking at is who their customer is, what does that customer want? What are their expectations when they come to that particular store? And if they don't satisfy their customer, that customer goes someplace else. So if they really are missing an opportunity here, that creates an opportunity for some other retailer to stock this product.

GIBSON: Deloitte Research chief economist Carl Steidtmann. Mr. Steidtmann, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming on.

STEIDTMANN: My pleasure. Thank you.

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