Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I Don't Shop At Wal-Mart

There are a number of reasons why I have not set foot in a Wal-Mart or Sam's Club in well over a year. Even before that, I was never a true-red Wal-Mart shopper. The last time I actively chose Wal-Mart over Target or another discount superstore was probably college. Why? The Wal-Mart in my college town was a brand-new SuperCenter, with a grocery store and a McDonald's inside. It had a car repair shop and was open 24 hours. It worked perfectly for my college student lifestyle, and yes, my budget.

When I did my student teaching, Wal-Mart was out of the way. Instead, I shopped at Albertson's -- originators of fresh warm bread at 4pm, and home to a few of the gourmet items I loved to indulge in on occasion. It helped that my roommate was East Indian and preferred the ethnic food aisle at Albertson's for her basmati rice.

Around this time, Target opened a store in my hometown. It too was new, exciting and had lots of cool stuff at roughly the same prices as Wal-Mart. And it was closer to my house. Stamp a red target on my forehead, I had found my store.

Then I got pregnant. And the boy lost his job.

Even the slight price differences in diapers and formula added up, and I reverted to Wal-Mart out of necessity of feeding and diapering the Girl. When our financial situation rectified itself, I once again turned to Target for my discount store needs, only going to Wal-Mart when I needed things like craft supplies (Target does not have a fabric department, and our town did not have a Hobby Lobby or Michael's at the time.)

Now, it's simply easier to go to Target. I live in the land of Target. Target HQ is down the Interstate a country piece from my house. We have two Targets in spitting distance from me. Everywhere you look, Target. SuperTarget. Target Greatland.

There is one Wal-Mart that I know of. It's about 1/3 mile from the SuperTarget I frequent the most. It's a sad, sad little store - old, no grocery, barely a lawn & garden section (though what would you expect in an urban environment like the Twin Cities?) and really run down. The lighting is bad and they have security in the parking lot 24/7. It creeps me out.

The reasons run deeper though, and primarily this: I am in a position in life where I can choose where to source my food and goods. If I can afford 50 cents more for 1 oz less of shampoo, knowing that the deal was fairly struck and not coerced, I'll do it. If I know that the company doesn't abhor unions to the point of closing stores to avoid them, I'll support it. If the company pays a decent wage, does not engage in unfair tactics, or encourage its "part-time staff" to work 35 hours (no more, no less) and gives them lessons on how to apply for public Medicaid, then I'll give them my money.

Bottom line: Wal-Mart treats its employees poorly in pay and perqs, runs roughshod over manufacturers who can't afford NOT to have a distribution contract with Wal-Mart, sets its own prices, labeling and sizes (oh yeah. "Comparison shopping" is impossible: Wal-Mart won't lower a price because the sizes aren't exact. Check it out sometime: go find a bottle of Johnson's baby shampoo at Wal-Mart. Then find the same SIZE bottle at Target. Can't be done.), and kills off Mom and Pop shops. (They are dying anyway -- Wal-Mart is basically euthanasia for ailing businesses.)

It's easy for me not to shop there. I have a plethora of other options, most of which I take full advantage. But even if I didn't, I'd source them out and attempt to avoid Wal-Mart as best I could. I'm very proud to say that the Boy and I will not be having a Wal-Mart Christmas -- nothing under our tree or that we give to others will come from Wal-Mart. I don't care if I'm just another customer to Wal-Mart. My $300 per month household budget doesn't matter to them, but it matters to me, and until I spend it, I control it.

Truth is, they don't care much about any of the people who shop or work there. And that's what bothers me the most.

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