What’s in a name?  Walmart has announced that all of its 21 currently existing Walmart Express format locations are changing their trade names and converting store signage to that of the Walmart Neighborhood Market.  One would have to think that simply converting the trade name from Walmart Express to Walmart Neighborhood Market is unlikely to suddenly wakeup consumers to the wonders and merchandising of the much smaller Express format.

Shortly after the Express format was announced in June 2011 and seemingly as Walmart discovered that consumers expressed rather tepid interest in these ‘works in progress’, the traditionally big box retailer began to lump the Walmart Neighborhood Market format with the Walmart Express concept when issuing predictive press releases about the hopeful future of its ‘small format’ stores.

Within a half year of the opening of the first Walmart Express location, the concept totaled nearly a dozen stores.  These were deemed by most as Walmart’s long sought answer to the continued success of the dollar store chains, which were commonly believed to be the envy of the big box king.

At this point however it seems that the concept hit a wall.  Stores sported signs asking shoppers for suggestions to improve and grow the new concept, labeling them a ‘work in progress’.

Walmart then closed a much publicized Express location in Downtown Chicago.  The store was within close proximity to a nearby Supercenter.  Many observers wondered why open an Express location so near to the mega-world of a Supercenter.  At first Walmart stated that it viewed the Express store as a natural complement to the Supercenter.  Few surmised this would become a trend unless the ‘work in progress’ morphed into a merchandising operation that had more to offer than only a compact footprint.  By the end of this Express store’s first annual lease, Walmart abandoned this valuable real estate site.

After this, Walmart all but halted expansion of the Express format and only last year did Walmart increase the count to approach the current total.  For much of the past two years the company responded to questionable progress from its U.S. store financials by projecting plans to grow its ‘small store’ base.

Expanding on its plans, the company consistently issued bold numbers for growing new 40,000 sq. ft. Neighborhood Markets and barely touched on the possibility of opening a handful of new diminutive Express locations.  This served as pretty much the writing on the proverbial wall for a potential demise of the Express concept.

Though the current move only calls to rename the Express stores under the Neighborhood Market banner, one must wonder if the 15,000 Express prototype is really in future corporate expansion plans.  Walmart’s recent tendency to lump the two together as ‘small formats’ seems questionable, aside for the Neighborhood Market stores being nearly three times the size of an Express.  Neighborhood Markets are Walmart’s version of a traditional supermarket.  The Express concept is by no means a small supermarket.

Walmart Express represents a truly small prototype for Walmart.  But if seen as a dollar store, it is about twice the size of most dollar locations.  To view these two concepts as meeting similar goals seems at least a bit absurd.

Walmart management has stated that shoppers should have little trouble accepting the Neighborhood Market name on Express stores as Neighborhood Market is a widely known and accepted brand.  On the other hand, Walmart Express is actually barely known.  However, it is likely that Express shoppers who are already familiar with the Neighborhood Market concept will be confused with a relatively tiny prototype.

When Walmart first announced the Express as a concept, it was seen as a fulfillment of the retailer’s longtime dream to compete in the amazing growth of the dollar store market.  What will the few shoppers who know the concept think of it now?

Has Walmart abandoned its dollar store dream?  Or does a possible acquisition of the available Family Dollar seem ever more tempting?