Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership

Wal-Mart wants to be your stock broker

May 25, 2007, 5:36 PM UTC
Fortune

A small item in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye recently about a new tie-up between mega-retailer Wal-Mart (WMT) and a discount brokerage company in Washington state called ShareBuilder Corp. The Journal reports that Wal-Mart recently has begun including ShareBuilder’s services on its Web site and plans to begin testing discount brokerage in its stores. This after the Beast of Bentonville recently backed away from its bid for a charter to run an industrial bank.

No one has paid much attention to this fascinating little report, but they should. Wal-Mart opponents will cite this as an example that Wal-Mart wants to sell everything. Already Wal-Mart offers other financial services, including money orders, bill payment and check-cashing services, according to the Journal. The better question is whether or not Wal-Mart has any business in the financial services business and whether its customers want to attend to their portfolio while they’re shopping for groceries. In fact, it’s precisely the strategy Sears (SHLD) followed once upon a time. Its strategy was called “socks to stocks,” for everything you could buy under one roof. In the early 80s, Sears had cobbled together Dean Witter brokerage, Coldwell Banker real estate agents and Allstate insurance. All are gone from Sears today (and Dean Witter is gone altogether), but this chestnut of an article from Time Magazine capturs the Big Store’s ambitions at the time — and why the strategy ultimately wouldn’t work. A snippet:

Though some bankers are doubtful that many people will want to buy their stocks and socks under the same roof, Sears officials believe that the company’s trusted name and the allure of one-stop shopping will attract masses of new customers. Another Sears attraction may be that its financial centers will not be keeping bankers’ hours. Most will be open until 9 on weeknights, all day Saturday and on Sunday afternoon. Says Sears Vice President Charles Moran: “You have to visit other financial service offices when they want to be open. Ours are open when you want to visit.”

Ah, those were the days. Is Wal-Mart trying to bring them back?