Saturday, September 18, 2021
Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Walmart of the future may not include overnight RV parking

By Mike Gast
Walmart has long been a haven for the over-the-road RVer. Stores were everywhere, complete with acres of unused parking, and most put out the welcome mat for those looking for a quick and easy overnight stay.

But that is changing fast, and for a lot of different reasons.

To fully understand what the future might hold for overnight boondocking at Walmart, you have to understand why the practice started, and what the world’s largest brick-and-mortar shopping behemoth has planned for its own future.

It all started with Sam

Walmart founder Sam Walton loved RVers. He opened the first true Walmart in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. As he added more stores, he tended to open them in smaller communities, where he could totally control most of the retail traffic.

His model for success also relied on a sophisticated logistics network that involved a lot of big trucks. That led to big unloading dock facilities that took a lot of space. Walton bought up all of the land he could around the stores, and the parking lots became massive. That was a good thing for RVers, who were welcome to spend the night along lot edges.

Sam Walton, who died in 1992, always considered RVers great customers, and encouraged his managers to allow overnight stays when they could and when local ordinances allowed. Walmart’s website even states, “Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers.” So, then, why the sharp decline in stores that allow overnight parking?

Times, they are a-changin’

Walmart’s corporate offices are quick to state that parking lot policies are left completely to the discretion of local store managers. They are free to allow the practice – or not – if it doesn’t run afoul of local ordinances.

For most of the first two decades after Sam’s death, that arrangement worked pretty well. The majority of store managers welcomed RVs. Most RVers were grateful, and careful to be good stewards of the privilege.

But in the past 10 years, there’s been a steady decline in the number of stores allowing RV parking, even though there are now 4,700 lots at Walmart Supercenters and smaller stores in the U.S. In 2010, just shy of 80% of U.S. Walmart stores allowed overnight RV stays. Today, it’s closer to 55%. Without Sam Walton’s encouragement, many managers are choosing to close their lots to RVs.

What’s different?

If you’ve stayed overnight at a Walmart lately, you’ve likely noticed one of the problems. The boom in the popularity of RVing means there are more RVs scattered around the lot. Some of those recent additions are new RVers who may be unfamiliar with what’s known as “Walmart etiquette.” That includes keeping slide-outs retracted, not cooking outdoors and not turning the lot into a typical campground experience. Other new Walmart boondockers are local folks who have lost their homes and have taken to living in their rigs full time, setting up wherever they can.

All of this has led to more abandoned trash, dumped tanks and an overall mess. So, it’s no wonder that many Walmart managers are saying, “enough.”

More communities are also passing ordinances barring overnight parking, mostly in an effort to discourage those living locally in their RVs. Some ordinances are also driven by local campground owners who would rather have the overnight RVer’s business.

But there are a few other factors to consider.

Walmart is going head-to-head with Amazon

Walmart wants to be the world’s largest retailer, period. So does Amazon. To have a chance to stay in the game, Walmart is quickly rethinking their entire business model to integrate the online and retail shopping experiences. Walmart e-commerce was up 69% in the 4th quarter of 2020, while the number of in-store transactions declined 11%. Many of those changes could doom the future of overnight RV parking.

Consider these developments:

  • During the pandemic, Walmart offered the shoppers the option of placing orders online and picking up purchases at the store via a slew of orange or blue parking stalls. Those stalls took away chunks of the parking lot. It also forced shoppers to circle the lot, zigzagging through parked RVs as they waited for a pickup stall to open.
  • Walmart experimented with in-store pickup of online orders using an inventive kiosk approach. Shoppers didn’t like it and it’s been abandoned. What shoppers said they really wanted were more outside pickup options. So, stores are now installing even more drive-through lanes for item pickup, again cutting into the space in the lot.

Walmart is redesigning its Supercenters

  • Walmart announced last fall that it is completely redesigning 200 Supercenters across the country by the end of this year and plans to redo 1,000 more locations by the end of 2022. The “new” stores will push shoppers to use an integrated Walmart online app to find what they are looking for in the stores. Walmart officials say the program is modeled after the way airports use apps and signage to help travelers navigate through airports. They’ll also offer contactless payment options (Walmart Pay) and a lot of self-checkouts. Aimless browsing is dead. The goal is to get shoppers in and out of the stores (and parking lots) as quickly as possible. RVs parked along the lot edges won’t help that plan.
  • The mega store chain is also looking into following Amazon into the automated store space, where shoppers’ membership credit cards will be automatically recognized when they enter the store. There won’t be any checkouts. You just wheel your new stuff right out the door, and auto scanners charge your card for your purchases.
  • Communities are putting pressure on Walmarts to add green space to their lots, including more trees, grass, and curbed islands – all not good for RV traffic.
  • Last fall, Walmart experimented by offering free drive-in movies in Supercenter parking lots. The effort shows they are interested in ways to better utilize the space. Other retailers, including fast food outlets, have also said they’d like to open outlets along the edges of Walmart lots.

What’s that got to do with RV parking?

All of the items above illustrate that the Walmart shopping experience and the physical designs of their stores are changing rapidly. You can imagine the pressures on store managers facing complete redesigns, construction of even more new lanes for item pickup, and the rapid deployment of technology store-wide to seamlessly blend Walmart’s online shopping with traditional retail. Managers have a lot going on.

So, dealing with the negative aspects of a growing crowd of overnight RVers likely isn’t high on their list of priorities. It’s much easier to just ban the practice, and that’s what’s been happening.

What you can do

It’s likely that the number of Walmarts allowing overnight RV parking will continue to dwindle as the number of new RVers and the “rolling homeless” continue to grow, along with the problems they cause.

Walmart corporate-level officials insist that they are staying out of the local issues and will leave the RV parking decision up to the local store manager. If that stays the case, it might be time to show managers who still allow the practice a little more love.

Know whether the store allows overnight stays before you arrive, and ask the manager if it’s still OK when you get there. Follow common sense etiquette. And clean up any messes, even if they aren’t yours.

And if you think you can just roll over to the nearest Cracker Barrel, know that they are facing many of the same issues. But then, there’s always the casinos.

We recently asked you what you would do if Walmart no longer allowed overnight RV parking. Click HERE to read some of your responses.

Related:

Walmart Frequently Asked Questions, including parking RV overnight

##RVT998

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dcook
4 months ago

An observation. I stayed at the Walmart in Deming NM last Monday night on my way to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I parked my truck camper in the corner and made no signs of setting up camp. I went in and bought some provisions to show my appreciation for this well appreciated option. I walked around the little “Island of Trees” in the lot that I was parked next too just to wind down and relax and enjoy the cool evening there. I noticed how clean everything was and the different flowers they had growing in the island. The next morning I woke up early and noticed their were seven 18 wheelers all backed up against the island. They showed their appreciation by throwing out countless bags of garbage in the little island, all different colors of “tee’shirt ” bags all full of cups, cans, paper, etc. The sad part, there was an empty trash can 20 feet from there. I have seen this many times before from truckers. Try not to park next to them so we dont get the bad wrap.

Gloria Harris
4 months ago

We have stayed in Walmart parking lots as far away from the actual store as possible. We shop there for food and supplies before getting a few hours of sleep and are gone at daylight. We have always appreciated a safe place to park and never dump any thing. We were traveling to Florida with a friend that could not drive at night, was unable to reach our RV Resort and was very happy to have a place to rest until daylight. This will be missed. Thank you to the managers that do allow over night stays.

David
4 months ago

What are your sources with regard to the statement “In 2010, just shy of 80% of U.S. Walmart stores allowed overnight RV stays. Today, it’s closer to 55%.”

Mike Gast
4 months ago
Reply to  David

Jim O’Briant, overnightRVparking.com. He’s also been quoted in stories on CNN on the subject. That attribution should have been included in the story. Apologies to Jim.

David
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Gast

Thanks for the reply. I know Mr. O’Briant has been collecting this type of data for a long time.

TomS
4 months ago

Years ago we broke down at a West Virginia rest area on I-64, burnt the cable to the solenoid off. Got restarted and made it into Beckley WV to an auto parts after it had closed that was next to a Wal-Mart. Did a little shopping in WM and asked to spend the night, got a hell no, then explained I wasn’t going anywhere until I got parts the next day. Had no problems that night, but did take a bean can and made a heat shield that I put on with the new solenoid.

Jeff Craig
4 months ago

Where Wallyworld is ‘missing an opportunity’ by not having dump stations and ‘one night’ parking, P/FJ is picking up the slack. My wife has been dealing with a few of their executives who come into the Seattle area, and after the chain was bought by everyones ‘favorite’ CW CEO, they;ve been on a renovation spree, adding dumps, potable water and RV parking slots to their existing Truck lanes. Look in the PFJ app, and you will see many locations now boast these amenities. That said, I tend to stay in WM lots ONLY when they are convenient to our drives, and are usually gone in 8-10 hours.

Edmund Rapin
4 months ago

I have never stayed overnight at a Walmart in fifty years of camping. I probably never will. I plan my trips so that I have a campground available when I stop for the night.

Wayne
4 months ago

We were turned away from a Walmart in Washington State. They stated it was because of the mobile RV “meth” labs!!
This is called “painting with a wide brush.”
Garbage and dog poo not picked up irresponsible dog owners could be a factor in weeding out the RV travellers.
This, sadly, I have seen many times.

Bob Harker
4 months ago

I do not understand why the great majority of RV bloggers that are providing links to products do so through Amazon – who does nothing for us. Walmart.com will ship your stuff to any store for P/U, easily transfers scrips nationwide, and really has everything we need. We need to support Walmart – not Amazon.

Shawn Hill
4 months ago

You have other new installation in the parking area of Walmart. In some of our stores in Southern California the electric car chargers are now in the parking spaces. They allow a Christmas tree lot and used Car sales at times.

donna gibson
4 months ago

My husband and I had stayed over night in our 32 ft motor home (never set up camp only to sleep) at several Walmart parking lots in the US and Canada. We would always asked the Manager for permission and if there was a specific area to park. We would always do our shopping at the Walmart. There had been several times we saw other vehicles that looked like they were fully set up and had been at the parking lots for quite a while.

Jules Rosen
4 months ago

My local Walmart is in Central Florida and I can tell you from experience at going there at all hours of the day and week that there is always 50% of the parking lot full which means that there is always 50% empty especially the farther away from the doors. Where I would say it’s 100% empty. As others have said Walmart is certainly missing an opportunity to create additional profits by charging and having one or two dozen long parking spots for trailers that they actually would rent by the day. Even if they didn’t have electric or sewer hookups it is well worth it to know that they have electric cameras in the parking lots watching and 24/7 people coming and going for my safety even if they don’t have any liabilities. It’s really a shame but they don’t have any special app for RV parking and understanding space availability. I hope some lucky entrepreneur reads this to start up an app showing all the parking available at Walmarts.

Mike Gast
4 months ago
Reply to  Jules Rosen

Walmart makes $40 million in profits each day. That breaks down to nearly $500 each second. It’s doubtful that charging a few bucks for a dozen or so long “sites” would be of any interest.

John T
4 months ago

Every Walmart store had online-order pickup years before the pandemic, and the online-order lockers (what you call kiosks) were in stores before the pandemic. Many also had the blue and orange parking stalls, which appeared when Walmart began grocery pickup. These are not pandemic-related changes.

The blue and orange stalls for pickup customers do not “take away chunks of the parking lot”. Those customers would be parking in the lot in order to shop for groceries or pick up their online orders regardless of whether there were designated spaces to which an employee would bring out their goods.

Mike Gast
4 months ago
Reply to  John T

John T, you’re correct in that the pickup stalls were in place at many stores prior to the pandemic. But the pandemic did greatly multiply the popularity of pickup service, and Walmart has stated they intend to expand the service to meet that demand by more and bigger slots in the lots. That expansion of pickup service is a result of the pandemic, and one Walmart expects to grow as time passes. It’s just one of the reasons for the decline in the number of stores offering overnight parking.

Seann Fox
4 months ago

All these years Walmart has been missing a profit center. A pay to play dump station it could be fully automated put your credit card in the kiosk and the hatch opens to let you dump your tanks, they could do the same for freshwater intake.

Mike Gast
4 months ago
Reply to  Seann Fox

Seann Fox, just a personal opinion here, but I suspect Walmart will turn its attentions to emerging technologies such as more space for e-vehicle charging stations in their parking lots before they would add dump stations to their properties. It’s likely just too far removed from their core retail business. Sam Walton’s original intent was to be a good neighbor and allow overnight RV parking because he felt he had the room, and RVers were overall good customers. Walmart never designed its lots – or its business model – to lure more and more RVs to park there. With the recent growth in so many more units in the Walmart lots (some of them not at all who Sam had in mind) it’s likely many store managers see overnight parking as more trouble than it’s worth.

Wayne
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Gast

After owning a KOA for many years I would just have to say that WalMart would be smart to stay away from dump stations. Either it being inexperience or not caring some RVers can be real slobs when it comes to dumping. I will leave it at that.

dcook
4 months ago

I planned a route from the Gulf Coast to Organ Pipe National Monument. I zoomed in on the Walmart store parking lots along the way on Google. I couldn’t believe the rigs that were setup with all slides out, BBQ pit exposed, carpet and lawn chairs, etc. Just like they own the place. This is really rubbing it in the face of local RV Parks. Some were parked in the middle of a row of spaces taking up as many as 16 parking spots. Yap, the day of overnighting at wally world is coming to an end. I cant blame them, to have to hire people to cleanup after these types of humans would get old, fast. To me, the only difference between the homeless people you have to step over on the downtown sidewalks and these types of humans is that they have wheels. Pitiful.

Donald N Wright
4 months ago

When visiting Walmart, I always park my rig at the distant edge of the parking lot. I have never stayed overnight. I regret I have seen a lot of rigs who plop anywhere, or set up like if they were in a camp ground. (or a trash dump) I am surprised Walmart doesn’t set up overnight campsites behind the store, and charge by the foot of the rig.

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