Wal-Mart or Target?
June 3, 2010 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Assuming I have no other choices - and have serious ethical concerns about issues like fair pay and equitable treatment of workers (primary), environmentalism (secondary) and commitment to localism (tertiary) - should I shop at Wal-Mart or Target?

A couple of years ago, I thought this question had a fairly straightforward answer. Since then, I've been progressively reading more and more about Wal-Mart unionizing more of its workers, buying more local fruits and vegetables and (today) offering its employees a path to college. In the same time, I've also heard nasty stories about Target employees getting locked in the store all night to clean and what not. I will always try to affirm my ethical principles by shopping local whenever I can, shopping with more ethical retail chains like CostCo, etc, but - on the fairly regular occasion that I need the stuff that these generic big boxers sell - which should I choose and why? Bonus for links to resources which are as unbiased as possible.
posted by l33tpolicywonk to Shopping (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
speaking ONLY about your tertiary issue, if you have no other choices then you're not failing to support local business.
posted by radiosilents at 2:42 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's some reading with references that may help.

For me, I choose the one that is closer and therefore uses less gas (I can ride my bike). That makes it Walmart.
posted by bolognius maximus at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2010

I don't think there is going to be much difference, because how is anyone supposed to know what's really going on in Walmart or Target's every million locations across the world?
Just shop at where you're linclined to.
I personally prefer Target for clothing, and everything else at Walmart.
posted by dustoff at 2:54 PM on June 3, 2010

On the primary issue - Wal-Mart is by no means allowing it's workers to unionize. In fact they continue to actively discourage it. Target does as well. Have a look at this and this.

Under the circumstances, the only way to measure treatment of employees, or happiness, is to look at the turnover rate between the two companies. I have no idea where to find that information, though.
posted by doublesix at 2:55 PM on June 3, 2010

Target. Wal-Mart is the one that locked its employees in at night. (I do not have unassailable proof that Target doesn't do similarly, though.) My main impetus in choosing between the two is just the fact that when it comes to the store branded stuff, Target's quality is much higher.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:56 PM on June 3, 2010

I agree with radiosilents, I hate to be the person who questions the question, but I have managed to avoid both stores for about 3 years now. Neither store carries something you can't buy somewhere else - the benefit is that everything is under one roof.
posted by ErikaB at 2:59 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a discussion contrasting the two here, and this article does the same. I haven't read either all the way through, but they look promising.

Also, this is from 2005, but interesting. Unfortunately BuyBlue.org is under construction.
posted by soelo at 3:07 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find that Target is a much more pleasant shopping experience, and that the employees are in much better moods. That leads me to the conclusion that they care more about their employees and customers.
posted by radioamy at 3:14 PM on June 3, 2010

I prefer Target, as a certain amount of their proceeds from each store goes back into the local community.

Also, the bathrooms are always cleaner. That is always a tell, to how they respect both employees and customers, at least to me.
posted by annsunny at 3:32 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think sometimes the larger idea of corporation vs. corporation can get lost in the shuffle when comparing local outposts of these two retail giants. IMO, whichever of your local stores seem to provide a more pleasant shopping experience, which is usually signified by a helpful, positive workforce than the other, you should patronize. I know that a lot of us believe that WalMart is the devil, and I'm not saying it/they isn't/aren't. It's just that Target is not come comprised of angels, so you might as well enjoy your experience.
posted by wonderwonder at 3:32 PM on June 3, 2010

A 15% discount on tuition for some long-term employees at a single for-profit online institution is not what I'd call much of a "path to college".
posted by shiny blue object at 4:00 PM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Target employees getting locked in the store all night to clean

If you're working the overnight shift at a Target, it's probably your job to clean, and you probably want the doors locked.
posted by sageleaf at 4:31 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

This article from The Atlantic a couple months ago comparing the organic food at Wal-Mart to Whole Foods was pretty interesting.

I'm Canadian so Target isn't an option for me. But I have absolutely no problem going to Wal-Mart. The shopping experience is far from relaxing, but I don't particularly enjoy shopping in any form (even farmer's markets). Personally, I'd say go for price and location. As someone mentioned above, whichever is closer will cause you to use less gas. Aside from that, it's probably all the same.
posted by fso at 4:47 PM on June 3, 2010

Anecdotal, but IMHO Target is significantly less bad.
posted by carlh at 5:47 PM on June 3, 2010

For the longest time I was pro-Lowe's, and very much anti-Home Depot. Eventually I realized that the choice is one between one big-box national chain and a bigger big-box national chain, who have together killed a lot of local hardware stores and smaller chains. So if shopping at one is "bad" then shopping at the other is bad, too.
posted by 6550 at 5:51 PM on June 3, 2010

I worked at a Target for two years. I can't speak for *all* Targets, but mine was run very well. Employees were treated fairly, overtime was never expected, time off was given with appropriate notice, emergencies were handled sensibly.

I was not management.

However, the part about the anti-union propaganda is entirely true. It's really a little scary. Feels like being brainwashed.
posted by Precision at 6:33 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My friend worked at Target for a couple of years in high school and really liked it. She felt well-treated and was given opportunities for advancement. My cousin worked at Walmart in high school, albeit only for a couple of months, and hated it. Anecdotal, of course, but all the horror stories I hear about treatment of employees is from Walmart. I go to Walmart maybe once every three years, but the employees are generally far less competent there, probably because they aren't as well-trained or as well-paid.
posted by ishotjr at 7:21 PM on June 3, 2010

"reading more and more about Wal-Mart unionizing more of its workers".

I don't know much about the US situation (I assume you're in the US) but here in Canada, Wal-Mart fights workers trying to exercise their right to organize every step of the way. And they play hardball.

Last summer they filed an injunction trying to keep a union website from using the circle, yellow and blue, or the phrase ""Get Respect. Live Better." (The offending site, circles and all, hasn't been taken down yet.)

More seriously, Wal-Mart fought and won a four year legal battle over their right to shut down stores where employees voted for a union.

I suspect that none of the big box retailers treat their employees very well, but I can say for sure that here in Canada, Wal-Mart is really hostile to them bargaining for a contract.
posted by Joad at 9:25 PM on June 3, 2010

I dated an undercover store security guard for Target years ago. Sageleaf is right...the overnight shift was locked in (obviously this was not a 24hr store) for safety. They set the stores alarm system which
meant you couldn't just randomly walk outside without getting the manager with the code to disarm the system. Which was doable. At the time it wasn't malicious...it was safety. Incidentally my then boyfriend worked some overnights to monitor the store and employees when they had a theft issue going on. He was stuck in his office watching cameras all night...much worse than being able to roam the store. But he said everyone did their job and wasn't mistreated. This was 10 years ago though...I don't know if anything has changed.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:29 PM on June 3, 2010

The overnight thing is common at all retail establishments I have heard of. How else can they keep people from entering the store?

Target sells nicer stuff than Wal Mart, so I shop there.
posted by twblalock at 10:28 PM on June 3, 2010

The over night thing is very commonin the retail world (Wal-Mart, Staples, Best Buy, many grocery stores, Home Depot). The employees are not "locked in" such that they could not leave in an emergency but the alarm would be set off with out a manager present (as mentioned above). This was for cleaning staff, stock and even copy centre/photo shop employees. Usually it is because there is no manager on duty over night so the closing manager secures the store between 10 pm and mignight and the opening manager unlocks the store usually between 5 and 6 am. IMHO this is not mistreatment. It keeps the night staff safe and secure as well as the inventory.
posted by saradarlin at 10:38 PM on June 3, 2010

Whoever told you that Wal-Mart is unionizing employees is lying or oblivious. Wal-Mart fires people just on the suspicion that they might be interested in unionizing, and they have shut stores down rather than deal with unions.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:10 AM on June 4, 2010

Target. I worked at Walmart about 10 years ago, and it was hellish. Since then, I've kind of kept up with documentaries and articles that have come out about it to see if it is still just as bad, and it appears to continue being just as bad.
posted by wending my way at 4:49 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: If you go to Responsible Shopper, you can compare national chains on those metrics and more, with links to further information. I like it because it doesn't just given an overall grade but lets you compare things that are important to YOU, like workers' rights or sweatshop labor or environmentalism.

I'm getting a loading error just now but I wanted to provide the link for later. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:36 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Links to the respective pages from the resource Eyebrows McGee suggested: Wal-Mart, Target.

Responsible Shopper seems to ratify the consensus in thread: while Wal-Mart's unethical practices implicate the entire company, Target's unethical practices while real, tend to be situational and tied to individual stores.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:41 AM on June 4, 2010

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