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The Wal-mart epidemic

Monday, February 28, 2005

Don’t blame Wal-mart – blame the people who shop at Wal-mart….or so this article says:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/28/opinion/28reich.html?ex=
1267333200&en=8f6d513748f7ca98&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt

Ok – I hate to admit that I occassionally shop at Wal-mart but let’s look at why. There are the reasons mentioned in the article (low prices). Now granted that for most I will admit that it’s the low prices that draw them in but I would also like to point out a few other reasons:

1) one stop shopping. Where else can you buy your groceries, the latest cds, new windshield wipers and shoes all in one stop.

2) selection. I hate to admit this but when I want fresh fruit and vegetables, wal-mart is usually better than the local groceries. My guess this is due in part to the speed of turn-over but I would also blame the groceries for pushing how long they leave fruits and veggies out. I will probably never go to one grocery chain again looking for fresh herbs after I went and was greeted by a line of REALLY moldy dill, basil and others – nothing was in edible shape. I do occasionally shop the co-op here but since their focus is on organic (which is not something I’m obsessed about) the fruits and vegetables are often around 3 times as expensive as the grocery (and probably 4 times as expensive as Wal-mart) which is just a bit too much of a price difference to simply say it’s because Wal-mart is the cheapest.

3) availability. This one is two-part. One is that when I go looking for something specific more often than not Wal-mart has it in, whereas there are times I walk away from other stores without the item I came in for because they didn’t have it. Also there are some items that I don’t think any of the local shops carry (lets face it, outside of Wal-mart there are only other large National chains that I know I could find a plain clear shower curtain at.) The second part to this is the fact that they are open 24 hours a day. To some people this isn’t a big deal, they sleep at night but for me sometimes 1am is the only time I can find to go shopping.

4) Customer service or ease of use. Wal-mart is laid out in isles. Everything is easy to find. A tangent that I think ties in (it’s less about Wal-mart and more about shopping at National chains): I had a discussion with someone recently about why we tend to aim for chain restaurants instead of local restaurants. We started thinking about our experience at local restaurants in comparison to the chains. Even though we weren’t “wowed” at the chains, we typically didn’t get bad service whereas we’ve had a higher percentage of bad waiters or service at some local restaurants (everything from waiters taking drink and appetizer orders and not showing up again for 20 minutes after just the drinks arrived to a manager yelling to the staff right in front of us that it was clean up time and he wanted to close and lock-up in 10 minutes when several tables weren’t done eating.) Another reason we sometimes chose the chains was because we knew they would be open (let’s face it, some local shops just plain have strange hours).

5) And another thing was perception of cost – we thought that one restaurant here that we like was actually much more expensive than it really was. We compared our cost to eating out at a chain and it was actually the same AND we took home left-overs from the local restaurant. I think in some cases that the cost of something might be VERY close at Wal-mart as to somewhere else but in our minds we think that the price difference is more drastic.

This may not be everything, this is just a bit of what I think because I don’t think price is the whole picture. It may be a good chunk of the picture but it’s only one of many aspects. Feel free to comment if you have something to add to this. 🙂

Another article on Wal-mart and what it does the other direction (to the vendors and ultimately the innovativeness in this country.)
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/
2005/02/the_walmart_par.html

And then another article on our change in shopping habits:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0301/p01s02-usec.html
It also notes another reason people shop at Wal-mart – close location.

What I’m Reading Today – Monday, February 28, 2005

What’s your optimism ratio?:
http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2005/02/whats-your-optimism-ratio/

Customized candy:
http://www.sticky.com.au/

It takes a village to build a brand:
http://www.commpiled.com/more.php?id=101_0_1_0_M

TCO – True Cost of Ownership
http://frugalgirl.blogspot.com/2005/02/tco-planes-trains-and-automobiles.html