"The Wal-Mart moms … are shopping on Friday and Saturday after they get paid, and they're not going to the stores on Monday and Tuesday," Sozzi said.
Despite the ongoing struggles of its core customer, Sozzi said Wal-Mart is "stuck in this weird gray zone" in terms of appealing to a higher-income consumer. It ran into issues a decade ago when it attempted to shift its apparel category to skew toward higher-end labels, which "flopped" and led to deep markdowns, said Ken Perkins, Retail Metrics president.
"They've had so many missteps over the years, particularly in the apparel space," Perkins said. "I've got to believe they're a bit gunshy in that space."
A number of recent initiatives appear aimed at targeting a relatively younger, higher-income consumer, Perkins said. These include its new video-game trade-in program, which launched in March, the organics food push with the Wild Oats label, and a sharper focus on the Web.
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Wal-Mart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett said the retailer serves a broad customer range, and its new strategies are aimed at engaging its existing customers and attracting a new customer.
"Customers' needs are changing. Period," Barnett said. "This whole idea of wanting to know what is in the foods you're eating, or things to be grown locally or organically, that's not just a trend for a higher-income consumer."
In Sozzi's opinion, Wal-Mart needs to continue to go after the low-income consumer, and "hope and pray" that it offers some enticing products in home or organics, which can persuade a Macy's or Nordstrom customer to come visit.
Perkins, on the other hand, said he thinks Wal-Mart should also focus on bringing in a higher-income consumer. He added that some of the retailer's recent initiatives, mainly its improving online shopping capabilities, could bring in a new demographic. But he also pointed out that it's incredibly hard to move the needle at a retailer logging billions of dollars in sales.