Rivals shut out Wal-Mart

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Wal-Mart Stores' retail rivals, striking back against the chain's decision to withhold scanner data from research services, are refusing to let their data be shared with Wal-Mart. That's led VNU's ACNielsen Corp. to refuse to sell any U.S. scanner data to the world's largest retailer and warn its manufacturer clients not to give the data to Wal-Mart.

Information Resources Inc. also has seen retailers add "non-cooperator" clauses to contracts, barring data access to Wal-Mart or others who don't supply their own. But Ed Kuehnle, president-North America of IRI, said the company is still developing its policy on data sharing. As a practical matter, keeping suppliers from sharing scanner data with Wal-Mart will be hard, Mr. Kuehnle said. "It's hard to police."

Scott Keplinger, VP-retail measurement services for ACNielsen, said manufacturers have indicated Wal-Mart has asked for data. "Our response is, be careful, because if you share it, there are going to be a bunch of other retailers who aren't going to be happy." Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment.

After Wal-Mart stopped supplying data Aug. 4, ACNielsen and IRI last week both moved to enhance household panel offerings to better track Wal-Mart shoppers and sparred over who has the biggest, best panel. Both acknowledged panel data remain less accurate than scanner numbers, but they're adding households and services, including unprecedented glimpses into Wal-Mart's shoppers and house brands.

During ACNielsen's "Category Masters" conference in Boca Raton, Fla., last week, Nick Sorvillo, Senior VP of the company's HomeScan panel service, provided heretofore little-known detail about Wal-Mart's private-label program, including that it accounts for 16% of the chain's sales and eight of its 20 best-selling products.

In the past, research companies refused to publicly disclose chain-specific private-label data. Mr. Sorvino said ACNielsen may stop providing so much household panel detail if Wal-Mart resumes providing scanner data. "It seems like an awfully aggressive approach, especially when you're trying to persuade Wal-Mart to come back [to providing scanner data]," said a sales executive for one large package-goods marketer. He added that data-sharing restrictions are "putting us in the middle."

Mr. Sorvillo said that during talks with Wal-Mart, ACNielsen said clients would look to panels to fill the data gap "and that there would be substantially more [information] lurking there than they [at Wal-Mart] think." He added that Wal-Mart has indicated it wants to buy the household data itself.

Despite all the controversy, however, Kimberly-Clark Corp. Chairman-CEO Wayne Sanders said in an interview that ACNielsen and IRI numbers are more important to outsiders, such as analysts and investors, than insiders.

"This is not the source of data that we're using to draw marketing conclusions, design products or meet consumers' needs," he said.

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