A study of Yelp reviews by a Columbia University researcher concludes that Walmarts in whiter neighborhoods are favored and have better customer service, while minority-heavy neighborhood Walmarts are neglected.
The correlation holds true even when controlling for socioeconomic status, according to the May 2016 study.
Researcher Adam Reich found Yelp reviews of Walmarts in majority-white neighborhoods tended to favor words like "typical" and "friendly," while minority neighborhoods saw words like "nasty" and "worst" more often.
Poor customer service is unevenly distributed across Walmart stores in ways that reproduce racial and socioeconomic disadvantage.
Reich said in the study that race had more of an effect on Yelp scores of Walmarts than the neighborhood's average income.
A Walmart spokesman told Business Insider the study was "flawed and without merit."
"Our customer traffic and overall customer satisfaction scores have been improving and we're focused on continuing to do better," Walmart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez said.
Reich said in his study a key reason for poor customer service was understaffing. But his reliance on Yelp reviews may mean the low scores in minority neighborhoods were a result of self-fulfilling prophecies where a store is inherently seen as worse than it is.
Walmart holds the lowest score of all retailers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.