It contains a lesson you should pay attention to no matter what kind of business you're running, and regardless of whether you shop at Walmart.
The change is pretty simple. In March, Walmart announced that it was adjusting its U.S. store hours as a result of the pandemic.
That meant that 5,000 Walmart stores, some of which had been open 24 hours a day, shifted to a 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. schedule (unless they already had shorter hours). As part of that change, Walmart also added a temporary "senior hour," one hour before stores open on Tuesdays, during which only people over the age of 60 were allowed to shop.
The reason, of course, was to let shoppers who were more vulnerable to the coronavirus shop during a less-congested time. While senior hour was supposed to be only a temporary addition, this week, Walmart told USA Today that it's decided to continue it indefintely.
"As for operating hours, right now our priority is making additional services available (auto care center, vision center, etc.) as it is safe to do so," Walmart said. "After that we'll decide the best approach to expanding hours."
I shared a link to the story announcing the Walmart change on my daily email newsletter this week. The reader response -- uniformly skeptical if not downright opposed, given the timing -- surprised me.
It also made me think through the business case for and against offering a senior hour.
"I'd have to wake up at 4:30 get dressed and out the door by 5:30 in order to arrive at Walmart by 6:00," wrote one reader, who is 84 years old and who called the Walmart idea "idiotic," since it's only one day per week. "I don't drive in the dark for your safety."
Another reader wrote: "I am a tail-end Baby Boomer and over age 60. While it's admirable that Walmart (and other retailers) are opening early for 'seniors' and those with compromised immune systems/other health issues, I will not be getting up at 5 a.m. to go shopping!"
I asked Walmart for comment, but haven't heard back. Still, setting aside public relations and altruistic reasons, holding Walmart's senior hour very early in the morning, during a time when the stores would not otherwise have been open, is an interesting tactic from a financial standpoint.
Walmart has giant fixed costs, including the construction and maintenance of all of those big box stores. By opening early, Walmart should manage to squeeze out extra revenue without fewer extra costs -- employee salaries, utilities, and the like.
Maybe it's not that much incremental revenue. But the other option, taking an hour that they were already planning to be open and converting it to senior-only shopping, would have accomplished the exact opposite result: cutting into an hour during which Walmart would already have been drawing revenue.
In other words, a likely net loss--at least on a pure, sales-per-hour basis.
Personally, I'm not old enough to shop during senior hour, and I likely wouldn't be up that early anyway. Maybe you're in the same situation.
But it's worth thinking through Walmart's dilemma here and applying it to your business. Especially during the pandemic, is there a creative way you can squeeze more revenue out of the same fixed costs?
Is there a service you can offer or a customer base you can target using most of the things you've already acquired or are producing?
And if so, can you do it in a way that will make delight your customers, and keep them loyal to you once the crisis is over? If so, you might be very glad you did.