As the economy began to sour, signs of changing American spending patterns surfaced. Take Palm Springs, Calif. Prior to 2008, luxury cars were a rarity in the Walmart parking lot. But as 2009 approached, BMWs, Audis and even an occasional Maserati could be seen in that parking lot off Ramon Road.
The dichotomy hasn't escaped Walmart execs, who've announced plans to remodel about 600 stores during the current fiscal year. The program, Project Impact, will create wider aisles, improve signage and displays, eliminate clutter and do away with "action alley"—pallets of merchandise stacked in the aisles.
The plan is to ensure new customers stay with Walmart after the economy turns around. It's a smart strategy. Studies of Depression-era companies that increased advertising and did everything they could to make customers happy in that downturn typically experienced an increase in profits over their competitors, and are also the companies still thriving today.