Officially, Friday was the last day of business at the Factoria Walmart in Bellevue, though by then the cavernous store had been mostly picked clean by bargain-hunting crowds that, according to staff, put Black Fridays to shame.
By Thursday, the store’s inventory was down to some clothing and personal items like sunglasses and a lot of liquor. A smattering of shoppers milled around a small roped-off section near the front doors like gawkers at a celebrity estate sale — glad of the bargains but troubled by the passing of someone who had seemed so successful.
“I’ve never seen a Walmart going down,” said Kent contractor Jimmy Jones as he pushed a cart with a dozen bottles of Veuve Clicquot Champagne. “Walmarts always going up.”
Indeed, it is generally Walmart’s competitors that have shut down whenever the big-box retailer has come to town, which it did, by the hundreds each year. Even in those rare cases where Walmart faltered — as, say, with some of its smaller Neighborhood Market stores— “it’s very rare for them to close” a large location like Factoria, says Jeff Green, a grocery industry analyst with the Hoffman Strategy Group.
But there are exceptions, clearly. In a statement, Walmart officials said the “decision is based on several factors, including historic and current financial performance.”
A Walmart spokesperson also said the store, which the company was leasing at The Marketplace at Factoria mall, was actually much smaller than Walmart’s mega successful “super-centers.” It had only a small grocery section and no pharmacy; it was ill-suited for services like curbside pickup and online delivery that Walmart sees as increasingly important to the future of retail.
The Factoria store likely faced other, more universal challenges.
Like many retailers, the Factoria Walmart had seen a rise in shoplifting, according to several workers, and had been short-staffed, some customers said. Ashely, a regular who declined to give her last name, said that whenever she had to return something to the Factoria Walmart customer service, “nobody was there.”
On a deeper level, though, the Walmart at Factoria may simply have been left behind by the neighborhood.
Traditionally, Walmart has aimed for the bargain-hunting part of the retail marketplace, says Green. The average Walmart customer has an annual household income of $76,000, according to a 2019 survey by Kantar Retail and reported by Business Insider.
Such customers might have been more common in Factoria when Walmart came to town, in 2012. Household incomes averaged around $120,000, census data from 2011 shows. The average one-bedroom apartment went for $1,100, according to Elliott Krivenko, director of market analytics at CoStar.
But after nearly a decade of booming growth and arrival of tech- and other higher-wage workers, the neighborhood has changed. Average household income is closer to $190,000. That one-bedroom apartment is nearly $1,900.
“The gentrification of Factoria has brought in a younger, [more] affluent household that isn’t necessarily the Walmart customer,” says Green.
Customer Jordan Dickerson puts it more succinctly: Walmart “got priced out of the neighborhood.”
Walmart still gets some of those higher-income shoppers, of course. But according to the Kantar/Business Insider data, the big box retailer actually draws significantly fewer of those shoppers, defined as having $100,000 or more in household income, than do its main competitors, Costco, Amazon, Kroger or especially Target, which has somehow managed to attract both many of Walmart’s bargain hunters and more affluent shoppers, says Green.
Indeed, right next door to the Factoria Walmart is a Target, which, while far from packed on Thursday morning, had a fair number of customers, lots of staff and packed shelves.
Friday’s closure came with a silver lining for some.
All 147 employees of the store will be paid through July 15 and are eligible to transfer to other area Walmarts. For those at the lower end of the pay scale — the average Walmart worker in Bellevue earns around $19 an hour, according to ZipRecruiter — moving to the Walmart in, say, Renton, likely means working nearer to where they can afford to live. Several staff said long commutes were one reason for staff shortages.
And while some of Walmart’s mall neighbors miss the foot traffic Walmart generated (18 of the mall’s spaces are currently vacant, according to the mall’s website) others will be pleased.
That goes for rival Target, which according to one amused employee, has already picked up not only some of Walmart’s former workers, but many of its customers.
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