Walmart’s Santa Sweater Scandal (And The Challenges Of Marketplace Operation)

Generally speaking, if a retailer is issuing an apology during the holiday season that features the words “Santa Claus,” “cocaine” and “pants-free” it is safe to assume things have gone pretty badly off the rails somewhere.

And Walmart finds itself issuing just such an apology this week, though the actual circumstances are somewhat less dramatic than the various headlines on the topic.

According to reporting in the New York Post over the weekend, Walmart is officially apologizing to consumers for an adults-only Christmas sweater that by all appearances features Santa about to snort what looks to be cocaine, with the phrase “Let It Snow” plastered across the top. The item’s description on the page clarified that the image on the sweater was exactly what it looks like.

“We all know how snow works. It’s white, powdery and the best snow comes straight from South America,” the description read. “That’s bad news for jolly old St. Nick, who lives far away in the North Pole. That’s why Santa really likes to savor the moment when he gets his hands on some quality, grade A, Colombian snow.”

On the upside, the item only seems to have appeared on Walmart Canada’s site and seems to have come care of a marketplace seller, not the main brand. Nonetheless, Walmart is very, very sorry.

“These sweaters, sold by a third-party seller on Walmart.ca, do not represent Walmart’s values and have no place on our website,” a spokesperson told the outlet.” We have removed these products from our marketplace. We apologize for any unintended offense this may have caused.”

Walmart, for good measure, also removed some other Santa-themed sweaters of questionable appropriateness including one that featured a pants-less Santa roasting his “chestnuts” in front of a fireplace.

The lesson Walmart has learned? Marketplaces are a great way to create the endless aisles effect consumer have come to love. But endless aisles come with a price — if one doesn’t keep a close eye on those marketplace sellers and what exactly they are putting out there, it might mean apologizing to the world for the items that end up on the shelf.