A company's mission statement needs to accomplish two goals: It should clearly state what the company does. And it should offer an inspirational, but not overly highfalutin, message to its customers and employees.
The best retail company mission statements manage to find the sweet spot between aiming too low and saying nothing of real value and aiming too high and declaring the business's products and superior customer service will change the world as we know it. They don't sound like religious statements or make promises no company could ever hope to deliver on. And they're at least reasonably truthful and easily understood.
Here are a few mission statements from retailers—in alphabetical order by company name—that could use some improvement.
Giant e-tailer Amazon.com has a statement on its website that begins with its founding mission:
When Amazon.com launched in 1995, it was with the mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” This goal continues today, but Amazon’s customers are worldwide now, and have grown to include millions of Consumers, Sellers, Content Creators, and Developers & Enterprises. Each of these groups has different needs, and we always work to meet those needs, innovating new solutions to make things easier, faster, better, and more cost-effective.
First of all, the word "endeavors" should be cut so that first sentence makes better sense ("... the mission 'to be ... and to offer...'"). But more importantly, that mission statement rewrites Amazon.com's history: It started out as a retailer of only books, not "anything [customers] might want to buy."
Energetic teams. Fun atmosphere. Exciting opportunities.
That’s what you’ll find at Best Buy. Care to join us?
You can feel the energy here. And we’re not talking about the hum of electronics (there’s that, too). We’re talking about people.
Best Buy employees are friendly, enthusiastic and willing to help you succeed. Sure, we’re a big company—the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer—but that doesn’t stop us from having fun while doing what we love: bringing technology into people’s lives in meaningful ways.
When you join our team, we consider you part of our Best Buy family. And what you do here every day will support our goal to make people’s lives better, easier and more enjoyable through the great products we sell.
So if you’d like using your talents to help improve people’s lives, bring it! We’d love to have your energy here.
Everything that Best Buy is now—and strives to become—ultimately ties back to our core values as a company.
Unleash The Power Of Our People
Learn From Challenge And Change
Show Respect, Humility And Integrity
Have Fun While Being The Best
Business strategies morph over time but Best Buy’s values as a company will never change.
The Culture section contains a couple of sentences that could serve as the basis for a mission statement: "bringing technology into people’s lives in meaningful ways" and "make people’s lives better, easier and more enjoyable through the great products we sell."
The things listed under Values mostly aren't values: Unleashing the power of our people? Having fun? It's also odd for a huge corporation to speak of humility. How would a company demonstrate humility? And who would benefit from a company being humble? And in what way?
The company also has a very large pdf of its Code of Ethics as well as statements about diversity and inclusion, conflict minerals, and human rights, among other issues. Of course, there's nothing wrong with having those things, but a company of this size could use a succinct and powerful mission statement as well.
On its website, Walmart has a statement that speaks to what it does best—sell things at rock-bottom prices—while overselling its ability to improve people's lives:
Walmart helps people around the world save money and live better—anytime and anywhere—in retail stores, online and through their mobile devices.
Customers don't go to Walmart because they think it will help them live better; they go there to get the cheapest price on laundry detergent. And what does Walmart even mean by living better? This is probably a case where more words, not fewer, would be better.
The statement could also use some rewording because it reads like people are actually living in Walmart stores, and online, and through their mobile devices.
Online shoe store Zappos.com has the most ridiculous mission statement:
At Zappos.com, our purpose is simple: to live and deliver WOW.
Zappos.com is living and delivering WOW. Are you living WOW? Have you gotten WOW delivered to you lately? Isn't it about time you started living and receiving WOW?
Twenty years ago, we began as a small online retailer that only sold shoes. Today, we still sell shoes—as well as clothing, handbags, accessories, and more. That "more" is providing the very best customer service, customer experience, and company culture. We aim to inspire the world by showing it's possible to simultaneously deliver happiness to customers, employees, vendors, shareholders, and the community in a long-term, sustainable way.
We hope that in the future people won't even realize we started selling shoes online. Instead, they'll know Zappos as a service company that just happens to sell ________.
Consumers value companies that offer terrific customer service, but it's silly to talk about your company's future direction with a fill-in-the-blank.
Zappos.com also has a webpage with an awful lot of text about its 10 core values. One of them is the terribly uninspiring "Do more with less." The others may be well-intentioned and worthy of pursuing, but they're far from a "simple" statement of concepts the company holds close to its collective heart.