02 January 2007

Wal-Mart and Long-Life Lightbulbs

In the US, Wal-Mart has set a goal of getting compact long-life fluorescent bulbs (that cost 8 times as much, but last 10 times as long, as incandescent lights) into 100 million households.

By comparison, before their push, they were only selling 1.65 million a year in August 2005.

It's almost insurgent in the way that Wal-Mart has promoted the bulbs.

But, where the bulbs are being produced must be leading to vast amounts of cargo-freight-related carbon emissions ... bulb manufacturers are flying "entire planeloads" of bulbs from Asia to the US to keep up with swelling orders from the chain.

Regarding the obstacles that the chain faced:

Because compact fluorescent bulbs last up to eight years, giant manufacturers, like General Electric and Osram Sylvania, would sell far fewer lights. Because the bulbs are made in Asia, some American manufacturing jobs could be lost. And because the bulbs contain mercury, there is a risk of pollution when millions of consumers throw them away
Regarding the marketing changes they introduced (take note, B&Q and Homebase):

At the same time that it pressured suppliers, Wal-Mart began testing ways to better market the bulbs. In the past, Wal-Mart had sold them on the bottom shelf of the lighting aisle, so that shoppers had to bend down. In tests that started in February, it gave the lights prime real estate at eye level. Sales soared. To show customers how versatile the bulbs could be, Wal-Mart began displaying them inside the lamps and hanging fans for sale in its stores. Sales nudged up further. To explain the benefits of the energy-efficient bulbs, the retailer placed an education display case at the end of the aisle, where it occupied four feet of valuable selling space — an extravagance at Wal-Mart. Sales climbed even higher. In August 2006, the chain sold 3.94 million, nearly twice the 1.65 million it sold in August 2005, according to a person briefed on the numbers.

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