The COVID-19 pandemic has affected companies large and small. While much attention has gone to small businesses struggling to keep their operations afloat, the giants are also grappling with flagging sales. Walmart says it’s one of those companies. In March 2020, it shut down all 2,500 of its auto care centers to focus on the retail side. Now customers with lifetime tire warranties are suing to recoup the products and maintenance they were promised.
COVID-19 in the business world
To say the pandemic hasn’t affected retail giants such as Amazon and Walmart is untrue. On top of ensuring that millions of employees are safe at work, retailers must deal with a drop in production and sales. As an essential business, Walmart has been allowed to keep its stores open, but what’s happening at them remains a big concern.
According to CBC, Walmart’s corporate affairs director, Adam Crachnik, announced the auto care centers’ closure in an email. Though service centers are just a small part of Walmart’s operations, car maintenance is also essential. The shutdown isn’t meant to be permanent, but many customers still want to reap the benefits of Walmart’s lifetime guarantee despite everything that’s going on.
Controversies regarding Walmart’s business model and employee treatment (such as this one Reuters reported on) seem to slide off the superstar chain like Teflon. But the sticky car care situation could be different if things don’t go Walmart’s way in court.
Walmart’s controversial move
Walmart played it cool in its announcement, citing the need to concentrate on the crucial parts of its stores as the primary driver for the auto centers’ shutdown, CarComplaints.com reported.
“Our people are working hard to have every part of the store ready to serve customers,” Walmart stated in its announcement. “To help support our people and focus on the most critical areas of the store right now, we will temporarily shut down our Auto Care Centers to allow those associates to focus on stocking and cleaning in the rest of the store.”
However, as many observers have pointed out, the auto shops’ closure has probably helped the company keep a little more cash in its pockets. But that won’t help customers who already paid for tires. And for those struggling financially during the pandemic, perks such as Walmart’s lifetime tire policy can be the difference between several hundred dollars’ worth of repairs and the free one they were promised.
Add the fact that much of the maintenance and fixes would often be tied to the tires themselves, and the lawsuit might have legs.
The class-action lawsuit seeks damages that “include, but are not limited to: amounts paid to Defendant for the promised services, the loss of the value in their tires, and damages suffered from purchasing replacement tires or tire services elsewhere.”
Simply put, Walmart promised goods and services as part of its promotion. Because the shops are only temporarily closed, the company is obligated to make good on its promises, according to the lawsuit. However, if history proves anything, Walmart might get off the hook again.
Regardless of the lawsuit, Walmart, which managed to open makeshift movie theaters in some locations, might soon welcome customers back to its car care centers. Though the auto industry was understandably stagnant for several months during the COVID-19 shutdown, it’s beginning to regain traction with a population that still needs cars and services, SME reports.
However, Walmart might have to answer for the closures if it doesn’t fix the situation soon. To cash-strapped car owners, the company’s next move could show whether it values customers over sales.