Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Wonders of Wally World

My inner liberal shrivels a little as I write this, but...I love Wal-Mart. I'd like to tell you that my love is hiply ironic, like someone who claims to "love" Robot Monster, but the truth is that I really love the store. Admittedly, part of this--a small part--is the freak-show thrill of checking out my fellow patrons. There is something to be said for sightseeing in the shallow end of the gene pool, but that's merely the frosting on the cake, the free entertainment that I enjoy while I fill my cart.

Why do I love Wal-Mart? The answer is simple: I love it for the same reasons that you do. I love the wide selection, the convenience, the cheap prices, the friendly staff, the effortless returns system, and the impressive customer service ethic. In fact, when it comes right down to it, there are only two things about Wal-Mart that I truly hate:

1. I hate the fact that they provide electric scooters to their patrons. Let's face it, if the customers can make it from the parking lot to the store, then they can waddle their fat asses up and down the aisles. One day, watching a lady ride her scooter around while stuffing a custard donut into her mouth, I realized that shopping at Wal-Mart was probably her only source of exercise. By providing a scooter, Wally had robbed her of one of the few things keeping her from an early grave. It was like the store had loaded her in the car, pointed it at the cliff of oblivion, and hit the gas.

2. A few years ago, Wally briefly stocked an iced coffee, I forget the brand, that came in little blue glass amphora jugs. It was really good iced coffee, and I was quickly hooked. When I came back a few days later, they were out of stock. They've never restocked it. Let me repeat--THEY'VE NEVER RESTOCKED IT!!! It has gained legendary significance in my mind. They later did the same thing with Dulce de Leche milk. Wal-Mart's occasional tendency to get me hooked on a substance then withdraw it borders on the sadistic and, frankly, sours the relationship a little.

3. Okay, this doesn't really fall under the "hate" banner, but the little flying smily faces in the commercials unnerve me a little. Basically, I think my real problem has to do with the soccer mom who's smarmily watching the smily face knock the prices down. I keep hoping that the smily face will hit her, and her clothes will turn into a pair of fishnet stockings, hot pants, and a leather bustier. Maybe it could hit her square-jawed, All-American husband, and he could turn into John Waters. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that it's never happened.

AAAAnyway, before you judge my Wal-Mart love too harshly, ask yourself one question: why, exactly, are we supposed to hate Wal-Mart? The answers generally fall into one of three categories:

Because they are mean to their employees.

Because they squeeze out "the little guy."

Because they sell a lot of stuff from China. And China is bad.

Let's start with the employees, Wal-Mart supposedly pays them too little, tries to make the weak ones quit, and doesn't give them sufficient health insurance. Well, as much as I'd like to live in a world where everyone has enough health insurance and enjoys a pleasant work environment, we aren't all lucky enough to live in Sweden. Or England. Besides, England and Sweden don't have Wal-Mart, so how good could they really be?

The unpleasant truth is that many jobs just plain suck. Wal-Mart, at least, offers considerable room for advancement and will hire almost anybody. Frankly, it's unfair to compare Wal-Mart with almost any other work. If the majority of Wal-Mart dwellers weren't working there, it's not like they'd be sitting behind a desk. A lot of them would be unemployed, working at Mickey D's, or trying their hand at jobs in the "open-air, agricultural sector." And, as much as the blue vest might suck, it still beats picking lettuce all day.

For that matter, the two friends of mine who worked at Wal-Mart actually had fairly pleasant experiences. One of them generally enjoyed his work, although he found it dull and repititious. The other one got a job at Wally in his final year of college. When he graduated, Wal-Mart coaxed him into joining its management training program. It was the best offer around, so he jumped. Straight out of college, he was making more money than most of his friends. Within six months, he was making more money than all of them. (Some of you are probably shouting that these are not the "average" Wal-Mart stories. Well, I've got a little question for you--how many Wal-Mart employees do you know?)

The second complaint is that Wal-Mart squeezes out "the little guy." Well, I hate to tell you this, but the little guy sucks. Seriously, who, exactly, is Wal-Mart squeezing out? Let's think about this:

Their sewing section takes some business from the small-chain and independent fabric stores. Well, having tried to get served in JoAnn Fabrics, I can tell you that it's refreshing to visit a fabric store that doesn't discriminate against the "uterally challenged." Seriously, almost every time I ask a clerk in a fabric or crafts store for help, you'd think I'd threatened to anally rape a muppet.

Their clothing section takes some business from K-Mart and Sears. Who probably deserve it.

Their drugstore section takes some business from CVS, another huge chain. It may also take some business from the occasional mom and pop drug store. However, in my experience, Mom and Pop drug stores are usually hideously overpriced, and place a pretty low priority on service. Besides, I don't like the idea of Mom and Pop selling drugs. Of course, I'm a member of the "just say no" generation.

Their grocery section takes some business from big chains like Kroger and Food Lion. To be honest, though, I'd still go to Kroger if their produce section was significantly better than Wal-Mart, or if their prices were competitive. Neither, however, is the case, at least in my town.

Finally, their hardware section takes some business from independent hardware stores. Well, most of the independent hardware stores that I've been to are staffed by self-righteous, self-important blowhards. It's like all the obnoxious bastards in the average record store just got too old, so they were given a pair of suspenders and shipped off to sell hammers.

I'm really not sure what the fuss is about. In my area, some stores have managed to compete with Wal-Mart by offering better service or selection. Those that couldn't offer either of these have disappeared. Frankly, though, if you can't compete with Wal-Mart, why should you be in business? Or, to put it another way, why should I subsidize your business? Are you going to pay for my meals if I can't hack it at my job?

It's also worth noting that Wally has given me access to a wide variety of products that other stores in the area never bothered to stock. In short, Wal-Mart has offered me a wider selection of products at better prices. Isn't that what a store is supposed to do?

Finally, Wal-Mart is supposedly guilty of singlehandedly propping up the entire Chinese economy by selling cheap electronic products that are made in China. I have two answers to this:

First off, I've found that Wal-Mart is generally sensitive to the needs of its consumers (except in the case of the whole iced coffee and Dulce de Leche milk thing. Bastards.). Wally tries out numerous products and continues to stock them if they sell well. For example, there has been a recent surge of latinos into my area. This spring, Wal-Mart responded by massively expanding its selection of dried peppers, dried beans, tortillas, queso blanco, and Latin American spices. As these items sold well, the store continued to stock them (By the way, I am neither making this up, nor am I engaging in stereotypes. Latinos eat a lot of chiles and beans. The stereotype exists for a reason; get over it.)

Now, stick with me here: if we, as consumers, really made a point of not buying inexpensive Chinese electronics, then Wal-Mart would stop selling them. Game over. Of course, we'd have to find a competent American manufacturer to produce them, which makes this whole thing an academic exercise.

This brings me to the second point: I don't know if you've noticed lately, but there aren't too many American companies that are actually manufacturing their components in America. In other words, when it comes to electronics, buying American really only means that your are paying the salaries of American CEOs. As far as the workers are concerned, it doesn't make much difference if you buy Sanyo or RCA. Bottom line, if you want to invest in American entertainment, you might try paying your neighbors to leave their blinds open.

I'm not saying that Wal-Mart is perfect; frankly, I'm pretty sure that the store would sell crack if they thought that they could get away with it. But, to be honest, their crack would be cheaper, cleaner, and have a better selection than any other dealer's.

Let's face it--we live in a world where Ben and Jerry sold out; their faces now adorn cartons of ice cream that contain high fructose corn syrup. As far as I'm concerned, my "faith in American industry" cherry has officially been popped. However, don't blame the guy at McDonalds for your huge gut. He's just selling the fries--you're the one buying them. I feel like a big chunk of the American public hates Wal-Mart for the simple fact that it's successful, as if the mere act of making money is enough reason to nail someone to a cross. If you think I'm overstating the case, then ask yourself this: why do you hear about every single one of Wal-Mart's mistakes, but don't see people raising a fuss about Ben and Jerry's decision to sell out their liberal ideals and their trusting patrons?


  • With all of the interesting points you raised, I'm stuck on the scooter comment.

    Because I recently traveled with a friend who is a larger woman, and who has severe crippling arthritis in her knee.

    She can only walk for short periods of time, and would be in extensive pain after just a few minutes. But she refused to get a scooter.

    I think because she didn't want people to see her as a custard-donut-guzzling fatso too lazy to walk.

    So rather than be misconstrued, she decided to walk, probably make her leg worse, and limited MY movements, because I wasn't going to strand her behind me as I dashed off on my healthy legs.

    I'm just saying.

    By Anonymous Jinja, At September 7, 2006 at 3:36 PM  

  • You've got a good point.

    A friend of mine is in a similar position. She uses a scooter that was provided by her insurance.

    After seeing her problem I started checking out the people in Wal-Mart. You see, Wally puts little stickers on the back of their scooters. In every case, the scooters these people were riding had the Wal-Mart sticker.

    This isn't to say that some of them aren't injured. I'm sure that some of them are. But I feel like a lot of them have become the unwitting victims of excessive convenience.

    By Blogger Crankster, At September 7, 2006 at 3:48 PM  

  • If I thought I could get away with it, I would totally ride the Wal-mart scooter.

    And their infirmity may be such that they only need to scooter when walking around gigantic megamarts that require custard donuts to sustain you during the trip from the hardware section to health & beauty.

    The walk from the car IS shorter!

    By Anonymous Jinja, At September 13, 2006 at 12:01 PM  

  • Fair deal. But be honest: if you thought you could get away with it (and they made them for adults), wouldn't you ride a big wheel or one of those bouncing balls with a handle (what was that thing called?).

    You make a good point, though.

    By Blogger Crankster, At September 13, 2006 at 4:30 PM  

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