At a Wal-Mart in Chicago in 2012 - Source: © John Gress - Corbis

Over the years I have visited many Wal-Mart locales and have seen some very disorderly stores. But I found a store in total disarray during my visit earlier this month to the outlet in Pittsfield, Mass. (store No. 2228)

 It was disturbing.

Everywhere I looked -- whether it was the men's, women's or juniors departments -- merchandise was not well assorted by style, size or color. There was no fashion message. And the presentation was poor; goods hung loose on separate racks in a most unattractive way. In the women's intimate-apparel department there were many bras on the floor -- an unappealing, not to mention unsanitary, condition.

And it wasn't just apparel -- the rest of the store was also disorganized and out-of-stock.

For example, in the pharmacy area there were many empty spaces on the vitamin shelves, as well as in other product categories. In the vacuum cleaner department, there were some machines on display, but not back-up stock to purchase; some styles were in boxes but not on display. 

There were other departments in similar conditions. And -- no surprise in such a poorly kept store, the both bathrooms were filthy and in serious need of management's attention.

To me, this shows the disregard management has for customers and employees -- not a good message. (I have reached out to the company for comment).

What has happened to this standard-setting retailer?

Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) always prided itself on neatness, cleanliness and a full assortments of merchandise. It was Sam Walton's creed to offer his customers the best values available.

I have walked through Wal-Mart stores with "Mr. Sam" many times. He cared deeply about people; he knew associates' names and often recognized loyal customers.

Sam has been dead for more than 21 years and, unfortunately, as the company has grown beyond his wildest dreams it has become a bureaucracy.

The year Sam Walton died (1992), Wal-Mart recorded sales of $43.9 billion. In fiscal 2012, sales reached an astounding $444 billion. Wal-Mart stores achieved $264.2 billion in sales in the United States, where it operates more than4,000 stores, and $125.9 billion internationally, where it has some 6,100 locations.

It seems size is now working against Wal-Mart in many ways, especially where it comes to holding the organization accountable for the customer experience.

I believe that the company is dependent on strong supervisors throughout the company. They must spot weak stores -- to me, the Pittsfield, Mass. store is a weak operation. Too many times it appears there is no supervision in the store, and the sales associates seem to be afraid to step up and straighten visible flaws.

In an effort to be profitable, I believe management has cut into operating staff and eliminated vital levels of management. This is visible in many Wal-Mart stores, where there are fewer sales associates, less management and longer lines at the check-out registers. However, no store I've seen has been as much of a disaster as store No. 2228.

Over the long run, if Wal-Mart wants to remain a discount-store leader, with low prices and a reputation for serving customers with dignity and respect, it must pay attention to the appearance of the stores, the genuine value of the merchandise it sells and show appreciation for every customer.

My recent visit to the Pittsfield store was an insult to customers and a violation of the spirit of Sam Walton, suggesting bureaucracy is an issue. Customers do notice, and so do competitors in the dog-eat-dog world of discount retailing.

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Loeb covers the retail sector as a contributor.

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