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May 6, 2012 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Is Walmart "bad"?

As in bad for people, bad for communities, bad for local economies, bad for quality of life?

Recently, news that a Walmart may come to the (lower) Florida Keys has got Key West all abuzz. Many are enthusiastically for it. Many are adamantly against it. Both sides are passionate.

People from here looking for modern convenience as well as new residents who are used to modern convenience want a Walmart.

People who want Key West and the Florida Keys to maintain some of its off-the-beaten-path, out of the way charm and demeanor (as well as those opposed to Walmart's business practices for sociological or economic reasons) do not want a Walmart.

I looked and there hasn't been this question posed in at least a number of years on AskMetafilter. So what of it, fellow Mefites:

Is Walmart bad?
posted by Mike Mongo to Shopping (53 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this should get interesting...

I think the "effect on local business" angle gets overblown sometimes. As a recovering small business owner (and no, I didn't have to compete with them), I think it's healthy for local small businesses to be kept on their toes. I don't have a problem with big boxes in general on those philosophical grounds, anyway.

I dislike WalMart, let's put it that way, for, in no particular order:
- not participating in their community. Other chains do a much better job (and few do worse) at giving back, participating in their local chamber, helping local civic clubs when asked, etc.
- treating their labor like crap. Most retail chains are not great at this, but I have an employee whose husband works there, and she won't shop there, which should tell you something. She always has to ask me for last minute vacation requests because he puts in SIX MONTHS in advance to take a few days off, and they won't let him know until 1-2 weeks before the requested date.
- treating their vendors like crap. They're known for calling on small manufacturers, pumping them full of promises, inducing them to expand to keep up with their demand, then dropping in and telling them they're going to have to reduce their prices. They've destroyed some manufacturing businesses in this way.
- as a place to go shop, it's not the cleanest, the best at getting you checked out, or even always the cheapest. I hesitate to call them out on this because no big box stores exactly shine in this arena that I know of.

I have weird philosophical views that inhibit my blaming corporations for the fact that there's evil in this world, but but there's the reasons I am not fond of them.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:09 PM on May 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Well, for starters, think about what a 40-acre parking lot will mean for stormwater runoff in that particular ecosystem, and then think of the impact of the likely stormwater runoff mitigation requirements. Also, will WM be converting an existing retail space (astronomically unlikely) or making a new development? Florida's No Net Loss (google that, or search here - there must have been an FPP of the St Pete Times story) says that if you fill an existing wetland, you have to "create" a compensatory wetland. No surprise that this pretty much never works, and the Keys are pretty vulnerable to wetlands loss. Finally, Walmart stores radically increase vehicle traffic but generally to contribute to infrastructure improvements unless forced to by savvy city and county commissions. In my experience in covering local governments in coastal north Florida, even highly educated, highly ethical and well-intentioned commissioners tend to get their lunch eaten by the legal team of one of the planet's baddest multinationals. YMMV
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:15 PM on May 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

*generally don't contribute
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:16 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really have a strong personal opinion of Walmart, though I find articles about Walmart very interesting - here are some of my favorites pro-articles (because I imagine you will get a lot more cons in this thread).

The Ultimate pro-WalMart Article (2006)

Hatin’ that Store: What Democrats think Wal-Mart can do for them (2006)

An Insider's Account of Walmart's Local Foods Program (2010)

In defense of Wal-Mart (2011)

posted by cessair at 4:23 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mod note: You need to answer this question without calling other people who answer this question names. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:32 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think everything that is being said about Wal-Mart today, was said about the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company in the early part of the 20th Century.

The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America

Like Wal-Mart, A&P took advantage of technological changes that were in the air at the time (logistics and computerization for Wal-Mart, factory food production and refrigerated rail transport for A&P) and dominated retail completely. This was a great boon for consumers, as prices dropped and convenience increased. This was (perhaps necessarily) a disaster for the smaller retailers relying on outdated techniques and technology. As small retailers were more specifically affected than the diffuse benefits enjoyed by consumers, they organized to bring government pressure on Wal-Mart and A&P.

It should be noted that A&P is no longer a great force in retail. After the people who brought it to dominance (brothers, actually) died, the new leaders didn't take advantage of new technologies and techniques, and became retail industry road kill after WW2 (with Wal-Mart being one of A&P's killers).
posted by chengjih at 4:41 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might also be interested in the book "The Big Box Swindle" which is about the economic effects that big box stores generally (not just Wal-Mart) have on small towns. Much of this has already been mentioned upthread, but I thought the book did a good job of backing up the thesis. (If I'm remembering the right book, that is.)
posted by gauche at 4:42 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had Widespread corruption and bribery by Wal-Mart in Mexico on the blue recently. Plenty of other links inside.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:42 PM on May 6, 2012

For a couple of months, I had a job at my local Target. I worked with several people who had worked at Walmart before the Target opened. They were universally of the opinion that Target was *way* better to work for than Walmart. And Target was not that great of a place to work! Anyway, that really colored the way I think of Walmart.
posted by mskyle at 4:58 PM on May 6, 2012

A personal anecdote: I live on Maui. We got a Wal-mart about 8 or so years ago. A lot of small stores went out of business and it really hit Kmart hard. BUT the small businesses were not that great. $3 for a single roll of Scott toilet paper?! Not carrying high demand items because they were hard to keep in stock?! So, in some ways it can hurt a community by restricting choice, but in others it can be helpful by providing goods at a reasonable cost to the consumer. Wal-mart did not affect Maui's Costco, but Costco tends to attract a higher-end customer. Personally, I hate Wal-mart and do not shop there. For low-income people, Wal-mart is helpful in the short run. I think in the long-run, it is harmful.
posted by fifilaru at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2012

My biggest beef with Wal-Mart is how they treat their employees. From locking employees in warehouses overnight, acknowledging (some say encouraging) workers don't make enough and should get on public assistance, to being ferociously anti-union. Actually, it's safe to say I hate Wal-Mart (despite being completely fascinated by their inventory system infrastructure.)
posted by sfkiddo at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

On the upside, Walmart is doing interesting things in pursuit of energy efficiency, and is a big enough operation that the choices it makes actually do make a significant global difference.
posted by flabdablet at 5:15 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Came in here to recommend The Wal-Mart Effect, but you might also be interested in To Serve God and Wal-Mart by Bethany Moreton, which is on the work culture at Wal-Mart.

But really The Wal-Mart Effect is very good.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:14 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Social Capital, Religion, Wal-Mart, and Hate Groups in America" by Stephan J. Goetz, Anil Rupasingha, Scott Loveridge

"Both social capital stocks and religious affiliation exert an independent and statistically significant influence on the number of hate groups, as does the presence of Wal-Mart stores, holding other factors constant."
posted by andoatnp at 6:24 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another reason not to shop there is the way they treat truckers. What you have to understand is that truckers aren't paid by the hour, but by the kilometre/mile. Most warehouses and stores, knowing this, make every effort to turn those trucks around and get them loaded or unloaded as quickly as possible. Wal-Mart won't. They don't give a shit if truckers have to hang around a whole day waiting for their truck to be unloaded, even though it means it's an unpaid day for the trucker and that he or she may not get home that weekend because there won't be the time to spare between runs.

My dad is a retired trucker who used to drive for Schneiders International, and he said whenever a trucker got assigned to take a load to Wal-Mart he'd start cursing right away. He won't shop at Wal-Mart. I don't either. I have other reasons as well (i.e., the way they treat their workers, it's an unpleasant place to shop, and they sell such poor quality stuff that it's false economy to shop there, etc.), but that one reason is enough.
posted by orange swan at 6:26 PM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think it is rather telling that anti-Wal-Mart people tend to be affluent. Part of this is because being affluent affords you the relative luxury of taking a longer view about things. In Wal-Mart's case, this means noticing, for instance, the environmental impacts of their retail model, as toodleydoodley points out. It is undoubtedly true that part of Wal-Mart's success depends on their ability to externalize costs like this, which is trivially easy to do in the present American political climate. However, a good chunk of the antipathy toward Wal-Mart seems to me grounded in objections that are ultimately aesthetic. Personally, while I think it's distasteful that ours is becoming such a strip-mall economy, I find it pretty hard to get angry about it with a straight face when the economies of scale involved genuinely enable people of lesser means to afford essential things they wouldn't be able to otherwise.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:32 PM on May 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

There is lots of evidence out there that Walmart, as a corporation, has often used its power to the disadvantage of suppliers and employees. And as someone who is generally opposed to Cheap Plastic Stuff and aggressive consumerism, I am not a fan of shopping there.

But for all of the criticisms, it is also hard to ignore that for a huge number of people Walmart provides an opportunity to buy inexpensive goods in a convenient way. When Walmart comes to a community, groceries become cheaper, fresh produce is often more available, and there is a greater variety and choice of goods than before. So in that sense the millions of people who choose to shop there are saving money and time and that is a good thing for communities.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:37 PM on May 6, 2012

Personally, while I think it's distasteful that ours is becoming such a strip-mall economy, I find it pretty hard to get angry about it with a straight face when the economies of scale involved genuinely enable people of lesser means to afford essential things they wouldn't be able to otherwise.

I don't judge people who shop at Wal-Mart out of genuine economic need. I did myself when I was very poor, and I would again. But I think those of us who can afford not to shop there have a moral obligation not to, and even those who are struggling to get by would do well to realize they can often get better value by shopping at thrift shops and on Craig's List.
posted by orange swan at 7:02 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Our neighbourhood was one where a vocal majority did not want a Walmart, though the pro-Walmart side was often argued, and formed a group that fought it and won. This article "Resisting bad arguments for a Leslieville Wal-Mart" pretty well encapsulates what type of articles were written, and what came up at community meetings. The argument was more against a Smart Centre-type spread of big-box stores, whether or not Walmart was going to be a part of it, in favour of a district that would encourage non-retail jobs or "higher" employment.

Now it seems we are indeed getting a Walmart, in a place that may or may not be more appropriate in terms of its footprint. It's not any more welcome, it seems, but there's no reason really to fight it there, and as far as I know, no real opposition has formed. Walmart was bad for our neighbourhood in the area it sought first mainly for reasons to do with the traffic, streetscape, the environment, and the quality of neighbourhood we wanted to build. As much as our neighbourhood gets a lot of attention for its charms, like this recent article in the NY Daily News mentions, our area has a roguish past and it's still a mixed-income place despite the gentrification. I have no doubt that many many people will shop there for whatever financial reasons, and just as many won't for moral reasons.

Are they bad? Yes for some and no for others. I rarely, rarely shop there. Maybe once a year, and only because they're open 24 hours and there was some need for something urgent. Like, for example, for Christmas last year my dad wanted a Snuggie. No other store I'd normally shop in would have one, and I'd been to several, so there I went and there it was. There is a point in your life where it is ridiculous to try to "shop local" for such a thing as a Snuggie.
posted by peagood at 7:02 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Grist also covers Walmart pretty often, and in this article, puts their "green" initiatives in context.
posted by peagood at 7:11 PM on May 6, 2012

There's this from a few years ago on boingboing.

There are many arguments bandied about against Walmart, but I generally find them to be not all that convincing. Labor issues are possibly the most likely to actually be addressed and resolved, given the high profile. It's true that labor issues at Walmart are a regular feature in the press, but it may be another example of their high profile and the fact that they employ large numbers of people.

Walmart's ability to lean on suppliers is touted as a negative, but is also a positive, as it allows the company to reach the lowest price points, which is good not only for Walmart, but also for the end consumer.

The shopping experience complaint seems to vary from place to place, and sometimes sounds more than a little snobbish.

Walmart is sometimes criticized for seeking government subsidies in some form, such as infrastructure upgrades, tax breaks, etc. When this happens, I think it's fair to criticize, but then again, it takes compliant governments to share the blame.

The effect on local small businesses is usually brought up. I find this argument relies on the insistence that small retailers are objectively better for a local economy than a big box retailer. The Maui example usually breaks in favor of the big box. It's not a modern argument, either. The Sears Roebuck catalog was the Walmart of a hundred years ago. A related argument involves aesthetics, such as preserving older shopping districts/neighborhoods. I find this a bit like the previous subsidy argument, reversed to benefit smaller retailers and property owners.

The criticism about Walmart not "giving back" to the community seems to me a fall-back criticism to clinch the deal about their evilness. Unfortunately, I find this the weakest argument, because neither Walmart nor any other business is required to "give back", and because there is no objective standard for "giving back", other than "I'll plug this argument when I really hate the company involved".

I am an occasional, reasonably satisfied Walmart shopper, but owe no particular allegiance to the company. It seems that Walmart is a uniquely fashionable company to hate, even if the reasons cited are not unique to Walmart. As a whole, I find Walmart not bad.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:17 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I used to work at Wal-Mart, and they are fucks to their employees. They keep you in a constant state of impossible overwork, seemingly so they can fire you before you get a raise. There is formal training but you are not taught to do your job. Part-time hours are terrible (sometimes very early and sometimes very late so you can't get on any kind of regular schedule), there have been class action law suits about forcing employees to skip breaks (which was my experience), and the pay is awful. My mom has been working there for 5-ish years now, she's head of her department, and she still makes slightly less than I will as an entry-level bank teller this summer. She gets two non-consecutive days off per week. The above poster was right about their terrible vacation policies, also. Basically the entire time I worked there was chaos, not enough employees to do their jobs, sometimes not getting any schedule for an upcoming week and having to track down/hound someone about it, keeping a line waiting for 5-15 minutes because there was no one to refill the till... yeah.

On the other hand, they've been in our town since I was born, and became a SuperCenter within the last 10 years. There's nowhere else to buy basic amenities (makeup, shampoo, and particularly things like an affordable sweatshirt or replacement coffee pot) within a 20 mile radius, so it makes sense to shop there. I shopped there when I worked there too because it saved gas and I was broke all the time (a lot of employees joked about the cycle of getting your paycheck and blowing it all before you even left work). I don't know! They pay is terrible but to be honest it's the one place I'm guaranteed a job whenever I want one, for any period of time. I could work one month and quit a thousand times and they would still hire me back. When I was a student moving back and forth all the time that was a huge safety net when it came to paying my school bills. So in that sense I'm glad they're there, as an employment safety net, but in no way as a livable wage.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:22 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is excellent and the section on working at Wal*mart (Walmart? Wal-Mart? Us pedants wish they'd clear that one up) is...unsettling

The effect of Walmart in the rural area I live has been to make it impossible to buy non-disposable clothing and footwear without driving to the city. The local shoe repair shop closed down, mentioning the Walmarting of area footwear; not worth repairing, people throw them out instead of having them fixed. A bit depressing.

I do a lot of thrift-store shopping not out of economic necessity but because it nets better-quality goods in an area with extremely limited selection. No matter what it is you want at Walmart, it is pretty much guaranteed to be disposable. I would be amazed if one could find a single item there that could be handed down to the next generation -- eh, I'm being unfair, they do sell Lego -- but the merchandise is pretty uniform. Brand name known for meh and mark-ups, made in China, lots of "was $88, now $38" that keeps rubes buying/tips one off to the actual value...

The prices of the stuff I buy there -- some drugstore and grocery basics -- have a really irritating habit of jumping, a lot, unannounced. For all the "PRICE ROLLBACK!" signs there's a lot of "price rollup," and one ends up there expecting to buy another case of one's preferred flavoured starch only to find that this week it is abruptly 72c more than it ever was before.

You've heard about Walmart and the Vlasic pickles?

In re.

I find it pretty hard to get angry about it with a straight face when the economies of scale involved genuinely enable people of lesser means to afford essential things they wouldn't be able to otherwise

...I think there is something to this, especially for stuff like cheap digital cameras, but it also absolutely enrages me in the same way "furniture rental" companies that prey on the poor do. Last time I looked at the Walmart "furniture," a lot of it was falling apart on the shelf. On the elevated shelf; it couldn't have had kids jumping on it. Just sitting there coming to bits. It's Ikea's $10 side tables and $29 desks but at $30 and $80, and even more disposable than Ikea.

I think the longer-term effect will be to screw the poor by selling so much merchandise destined for landfills instead of Sally Anns.
posted by kmennie at 7:44 PM on May 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding Big Box Swindle - read it for the information, even if you are pro-WalMart-inclined.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on May 6, 2012

The movie Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price Poster linked to by previous posters is a one sided but essential watch for anyone questioning this company. It's available on Netflix streaming right now and if you see it let us all know what you think.

One of my major concerns is it seems Wallmart has set the standard for determining the value of human labor in this country and others as being as low as their prices and the effect this has on other similar sectors enabling zero accountability and ethical obligation to the majority of employees. If the government is not going to stop this wreck then communities must.

You are asking the right questions and need to analyze for your area what this store moving in could mean, use your research as a tool no matter which side you take.
posted by emypocu at 9:33 PM on May 6, 2012

My main objection is based upon the tax breaks that are often required to bring a Walmart to a municipality, and the way it offloads the burden of properly supporting its staff to Medicaid and other parts of the welfare state. That's doubly parasitical.

I don't think it's snobbery to point out that the mega-Walmarts are basically the American equivalent of a Soviet retail experience: instead of empty shelves, you have acres of frozen crap, processed crap or plastic crap. (And nobody I know who does most of their shopping there spends much time in the produce department; it's a garnish.)

Put simply, I don't come out of a Dollar General feeling miserable.
posted by holgate at 9:34 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't shop at Wal-Mart for many reasons, but probably the most important is that their merchandise is crap and is not really a very good deal at all. Yes, they have all the same brands of things, but the made for Wal-Mart models are just a little poorer in quality. Clothes are thin and poorly constructed. Even things like pencils and paper are noticeably worse. The few pennies I could potentially save here on one or two things just doesn't justify all the garbage I have to wade through for it.
posted by Gilbert at 10:12 PM on May 6, 2012

I don't shop at Walmart because they have a history of being terrible to both their employees and the suppliers and distributors. I've heard about this first hand: Walmart was a very bad customer to a distributor my aunt worked for. They would return merchandise boxes without the items, and then refuse to pay for the items.

I refuse to spend my money at a company which has such terrible business ethics.
posted by jb at 10:45 PM on May 6, 2012

My dad always tells me about the "good old days" before stores like WalMart came to small towns (or any towns, actually). The ma-and-pa stores were only good for Ma and Pa, who made a tremendous living off highly marked-up goods that people must have. Like some complaints about WalMart today, Ma and Pa were not in business to help the people or improve the town -- they were in business to make money, and lots of it. His antidote is backed up by some of the people who answered here with links to books, etc.

You are in a unique situation, because you can see this first-hand. It's been about 10 years since I've been to Key West, but I remember it as being expensive in part because it is fairly isolated, and in part because hey -- the stores can jack up the prices and what are you going to do about it, really? Why not save a few receipts of your normal expenditures and compare your costs at the same stores (and WalMart) in a few years?

Remember a few years ago, when prescriptions cost quite a bit more? Then WalMart introduced their $5 prescription list, and suddenly... hey, Target has a $6 list, and CVS lowered their prices, and so on. That tells you something -- the difference in price was extra gravy that they sopped off us for years, until the competition forced a lower price.

Also pay attention to how many people WalMart employs. Yes, maybe at minimum wage but my guess is that lots of people working in retail in Key West are making minimum wage right now.

If you find that overall, prices are reduced and WalMart employs a good number of people, then there's more money floating around in the local economy instead of into Ma and Pa's bank account. Maybe you use some of that money to go to a restaurant for dinner -- and a little bit goes to the dishwasher, the waitress. The dishwasher buys a couple cans of paint to spiffy up his living quarters; the waitress buys a shirt she's been eyeing. Spreading that money around to more than a handful of people is a good thing.
posted by Houstonian at 1:15 AM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I like Houstonian's answer best. Wal Mart is the lowest common denominator. The cheapest prices, the cheapest goods, the lowest wages, and the cheapest management. There are some not great results of that, but I think they have been a net good to America. People are able to get a little more out of their lives because they can get a better value for their paycheck. There is always room for improvement, of course.

I live in a near suburb to Chicago. The nearest Wal Mart was absolutely terrible. Garbage in the parking lot, unstocked shelves, no employees around, beat-up and gross looking retail furniture (seriously, it looked like the stuff K-Mart threw away), etc. But, they had the lowest price on computer ink cartridges by like 25%, so I went in there. Didn't go back for 10 years. They had opened up a new location nearer to me, and it was very nice. They upgraded the store a couple years later to expand their grocery selection, and I have to say, the stuff they had there was either identical, or better, than the stuff at the regular grocery stores near me. Same prices as Aldi, without the indignities.

Another thing that I was pleasantly surprised to see (given all the Wal-Mart hate) was they had stuff like sewing fabrics, model airplane kinds of stuff, puzzles, games. Stuff I hadn't seen in any store in a long ass time.

I still go in there for things that aren't knock-offs. Especially motor oil. Again, something like 25% cheaper than it can be had for anywhere else.

My biggest problem is that the clientele seems to be split among two categories. Poor people, which is fine, and assholes, which is not. The kind of people who fart on you while waiting in the checkout line, who are rude to the employees, who open up packages of cookies and eat them while shopping, who dig through the merchandise and leave it all messed up, and who treat the parking lot like it is a demolition derby. It is very unsettling to see that many assholes concentrated in one place.
posted by gjc at 5:37 AM on May 7, 2012

For what it's worth, I despise Walmart on esthetic grounds: They're ugly to look at, ugly to be inside of, and just generally offer an ugly, solely-bottom-line experience. They've added endless ugly to an increasingly ugly world. Just driving past one makes me cringe at the ugliness. Life's too effing short.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:44 AM on May 7, 2012

Forgot to mention, I used to live in Key West and saw plenty of uglification along with the gentrification. Walmart in the Keys? Ugly!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:46 AM on May 7, 2012

Ask yourself: What does Wal-Mart do? It doesn't make anything, it simply exists to sell other people's wares as efficiently as possible.

I say this without judgment: A lot of the core criticism of Wal-Mart, in that its relentless pursuit of optimizing the supply chain devalues the human labor that supports it, can also be levied against Amazon.com, which is almost universally loved.
posted by mkultra at 7:45 AM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

You can go either way on this.

I shopped in the first Wal-Mart in Rogers, AK in the '70s. It was just a small town store back then (and really, really cheesy and crappy.) The capitalist in me says, "hey, other small stores in small towns could have done the same thing, and they didn't. So why hate Wal-Mart?"

The socialist in me says, "Boy, they treat their workers crapily, and they don't respect their vendors very much.

So I'm conflicted.

I know that as a vendor, Wal-Mart will grind you to hit a price point, so you know that the quality of whatever you're buying will suffer. This is why I won't buy food at Wal-Mart.

Now to address Key West. IIRC, Key West doesn't really have any good stores. Sure, there's all that crap on Duval Street where tourists can buy candles, and T-shirts and crap like that. I remember being down there and needing something and having to go to the worst K-Mart in the country to get it. So I can't help but feel that Conchs may enjoy having a place to buy their household items without having to pay a fortune, or shop in a place that's falling apart. (CVS, I'm talking to you).

Also, the Wal-Mart by my house is clean and filled with people who really seem to enjoy working there, and who are grateful for their jobs. So what about that?

That Off the Beaten Path aspect of Key West, is also the, "what do you mean you don't carry French's mustard?" aspect of Key West.

It's one of those things. Shop there, if you like it, keep shopping there, if you don't, don't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:04 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also consider where their manufactured products come from (sweatshops)

Children found children sewing clothes for walmart in Bangladesh. - pay attention to the ugly details of those children's lives, like being beathen up for taking too long to use the filthy restoroom.

In Chinese factory, lost fingers and low pay - NYT article

Wall-Mart Christmas ornaments made under illegal labor conditions in China

Young Bangladeshi Woman Raped at Wal-Mart and Hanes Supplier in Jordan

Since I found out about this (you can find many, many more articles by googling), I just could not bring myself to enjoy the low prices Wal Mart offer. Now I know why things are so cheap, and can't help wonder what kind of lives I endorse for the poor by buying Wal Mart's crap.
posted by Tarumba at 8:07 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who works for a consumer goods company, I have to say that Walmart is actually easier to deal with than other major retailers (don't get me started on Bed, Bath and Beyond - they are HORRIBLE).

Many of the issues that suppliers face with Walmart are related to the fact that the volume is so large that it makes up a disproportionate share of your sales. If you lose that business, you are screwed.
posted by nolnacs at 8:14 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The price of Wal-Mart coming to town
When the retail giant moves in, it promises cheaper goods, more jobs and more tax revenue. And in the short term, it delivers. But the initial boost hides later losses.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2012

A few years ago, I met a small farmer who now does ok selling a variety of fruits and vegetables as a U-pick farm. He told me he calculated that he and his wife had been making $2 an hour growing tomatoes to sell for our local small chain of grocery stores - and this chain is on the list of 100 best companies to work for in the USA.
posted by aniola at 8:26 AM on May 7, 2012

I feel like Wal-Mart has tapped the "niche market" of stagnant wages. As more family units have become double-income earners, wages have flattened. That allowed us to keep up our buying power while reducing overhead and increasing profits for (some) companies. However, for those middle class and lower, buying power has not necessarily stayed strong and the allure of making paychecks stretch with cheaper goods enabled us to spend money elsewhere (on luxuries, on our homes, on vacations, etc.).

Putting your daily dollars into a company like Wal-Mart who has managed to "out compete" many other similar businesses by leveraging size and influence has put many small businesses out of business. Those businesses employ local people and provide variety to the economy. Where are those previously employed people going to shop once their income has been slashed? Maybe Wal-mart.

So, is Wal-mart "bad." Only if you feel there are inviolable rules to the "free market" system. Most capitalists (Americans) don't see that there are rules. Is it competitive to offer a product for less than it is worth? If you say yes, then Wal-mart is just competing and if another business cannot offer that product for less than it is worth then it will go out of business, thus losing the competition. Is that kind of competition fair? Is that what a free market is about?

I think Wal-mart is a symptom of where we have allowed our economy and markets to push us. And I think the divided politics in America are part of that. Divided we are more powerless and I think for a certain stratum of people, that has had enormous advantages.

I don't shop at Wal-mart.
posted by amanda at 9:19 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'll have to be one of the few (only?) persons here that doesn't think lowly of Walmart. I shop there a couple of times a month, buying stuff like motor oil, dog food (made in the USA for those who really care), garden supplies (again made in the USA), and yes things like underwear - I don't really know of another place in town to buy underwear that is not $40 for a pair..sorry I'm not going to do this. I shop at other stores in town, a local drug store, a Kroger, and a local farmer's market. Not everything in Walmart is plastic, made in China junk. Do your research. Some other notes:

- I know several people that have worked at our Walmart for years, some a decade or more, and really like their job. I've asked them directly. No, they are not in management. A few are older folks, and the other 2 are middle aged and another is in their 30's.

- Walmart went well out of their way in our community to pay for 5 laning a stretch of road that was going to be 5 laned anyway, with the caveat that their section be done first. This was in the millions of dollars for construction costs.

- If you buy something that is defective, not what you wanted, they take it back..always. Ok well if you drive over it with a truck they probably won't but I've taken a lot of stuff back and can't ever remember being declined. That's a pretty good thing if you suddenly discover you shouldn't have bought that item for whatever reason. Yeah you can take it back to a different store too if you're out of town.

These are just off the top of my head. I'm curious to know if the people bitching about some of Walmart's "evil" practices are typing them up at a Mac. Or if they bought their Toshiba HDTV from Amazon...?

As far as Key West's "off-the-beaten-path, out of the way charm and demeanor" (your words) goes, when you have:

Jimmy Buffet's Key West Margaritaville
Dollar Tree

Banana Republic
Pizza Hut
(this last link is how I remember my trip to Key West,..crowded, lots of cars, neither charming nor off the beaten path)

etc. are you really worried about a Walmart? It's a store. Stop worrying and enjoy the ocean breeze.


posted by dukes909 at 11:51 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes. Because you have a dollar tree, you shouldn't care if the retail situation gets worse. Never mind that you could probably put all those stores in the footprint of your average Wal*Mart and have space left over.

...And the fact that WalMart is willing to pay for a road for you to get to them will totally make up for the money they hoover out of the local economy through seeking incentives and gaming the tax system - One of the places I visited in Illinois had an empty walmart across the street from a new(ish) one - They built a new building and reorganized so they could get the new business tax abatement again - With their own trucked in materials and labor, according to the locals.

Off hand, I've been in maybe a dozen different Wal*Marts. In areas that still have some competition they tend to be almost tolerable. The Wal*Marts that I've been to in rural Illinois and Iowa, where the nearby town has all but died? Well, they tend to run to squalor and some very shady pricing.

..."Do your research", indeed.
posted by Orb2069 at 2:07 PM on May 7, 2012

Wow. Since I posted that "Wal-Mart comes to town" link less than six hours ago, it's been taken down. No cache, either. I know it was there, because I copy & pasted the blockquote from it. Weird...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:17 PM on May 7, 2012

Anyway, here is a collection of links I found relating to Wal-Mart and posted in one of the earlier threads. They aren't all still active, obviously.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:20 PM on May 7, 2012

Intellectually, I get that Wal*Mart is "bad." It is a place where I shouldn't shop. I get that.

But realistically, when I've been in horrific financial situations and my kids needed clothes and we needed food, I very reluctantly shopped there because it was all I could afford.
posted by kinetic at 2:21 PM on May 7, 2012

There is one area where I will vehemently defend my local Walmart, and that is surprisingly the pharmacy. I was a CVS customer my entire life until they started shorting us on pills, pestering us about refilling meds we didn't need, etc. And I needed cheaper prescriptions as I lost my insurance.

At first I didn't care for Walmart's pharmacy. It was crowded and took forever. But they redesigned it after a year or two and now it's a lot bigger and nicer, more benches for waiting, and more staff. The pharmacy manager, much to my surprise, greeted me by name one day. I had no idea she even knew who I was. Now that my family has switched there too, I know all 3 pharmacists and all of the techs well enough to have them all as Facebook friends, and have started hanging out with one or two of them outside Walmart. Many of them have gone to bat for me. For example, when they couldn't find the resident doctor who signed my mom's prescription in their system (he was from a distant hospital where she got cancer treatment), one tech spent an hour on the phone tracking down my mom's surgeon for me. When my mom was diagnosed with diabetes and I needed to pick up her insulin for the first time, one pharmacist spent about 20 minutes with me looking at the syringes and medicine, and explained it all far better than the nurses had. Maybe that's what a pharmacist is supposed to do, but I was never treated that well at CVS.

Now if I'm sitting there waiting for an Rx and someone starts complaning about something, I tend to get a little defensive, because I know they're working their butts off. I realize this could be unique to my Walmart but the pharmacy staff is fantastic and I wouldn't trade them for any other pharmacy.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:40 PM on May 7, 2012

@orb2069: "Hoover out of the local economy"? No. Walmart collects local & state sales tax, employs locals, and buys & sells things made from in our state. Not every piece of produce they sell is from around here, but that's because you can't grow it here anyway, not because they choose not to buy & sell it. The previous building the original, smaller Walmart was in was used in 2005 to help relocate disaster evacuees. It's since been used and purchased by a state university for additional classrooms, offices.

Now Walmart has started a service to provide online shopping to those without credit cards (paying by cash) . I think it's a great idea as I know many people who refuse to have a credit card.

Again, if Walmart is evil, so is JB's Margaritaville, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, CocaCola, Gap/OldNavy/Banana Republic, OfficeMax, Home Depot, Apple, Amazon, Trader Joes, Target,...ad nauseum and there is already a great many of those in the Keys.

BTW, The road they paid to have 5 laned in our community was "not made to get to them" but part of an existing road that was going to be widened anyway; they simply paid to have that part done first (as I said).
posted by dukes909 at 7:45 AM on May 8, 2012

Again, if Walmart is evil, so is JB's Margaritaville, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, CocaCola, Gap/OldNavy/Banana Republic, OfficeMax, Home Depot, Apple, Amazon, Trader Joes, Target,...ad nauseum and there is already a great many of those in the Keys.

Do all of these businesses treat their employees and their suppliers/vendors as badly as Walmart? If so, then yes, they are as bad as Walmart.

I have relatives who have worked in distributing merchandise. They distributed merchandise to most major retailers in Canada. Walmart was the only one that they complained about having bad business ethics, refusing to pay for returned merchandise which was either not returned or returned in unsaleable condition.
posted by jb at 8:54 AM on May 8, 2012

Orb2069: "...And the fact that WalMart is willing to pay for a road for you to get to them will totally make up for the money they hoover out of the local economy "

Actually, a common criticism of Wal Mart is that the large size and distant locations of their stores heavily stresses local transportation infrastructure, and often requires a large local investment to support. Also, putting major destinations outside of urban centers is horrible from an urban planning perspective (forces people into cars, doesn't work with transit, sucks for cyclists and people with mobility impairments, etc).

I don't know of any examples of Wal Mart contributing substantial funding toward building public infrastructure to support their stores, beyond what's you'd see from any brownfield development. Feel free to provide citations if you've got any.

I think that there are plenty of things to fault Wal Mart on, but I get annoyed when people begin making arguments with no factual basis.

As far as extracting concessions and tax breaks from local governments goes, Wal Mart's actually been working really hard to appease the DC government (and people) in its bid to open 6 stores here. They've promised to be a little nicer to their employees than usual, and three of the six proposed stores are actually fantastic examples of good urban design. The Gonzaga location is almost certainly going to become the chain's flagship, and be widely used as an example of 21st-century retail being successfully integrated into an urban environment.

For once, DC government's curmudgeonly anti-business politics have paradoxically convinced a business to bend over backward from its usual stance, in order to open up shop here...even though its approval wasn't even necessarily required.

Now, on the other hand, their proposed Big-Box location on New York Avenue is going to be awful. However, it's also being built as a matter-of-right, meaning that it's going to happen whether the city wants it to or not. However, that's the problem with a lot of the nasty things that Wal Mart does. Local, state, and national governments create the labor laws and write the zoning codes that allow Wal Mart to do the terrible things that they do. The nasty labor practices that the chain uses are pretty widespread in many industries, and I find it difficult to explicitly single out Wal Mart, when labor abuse is rampant in the US. Small businesses are just as, if not even more guilty of this (and small retail is especially notorious for tax evasion and crappy labor practices).

I worked in the (independent/local) restaurant supply chain a few years ago, and it was pretty shocking to see what I did. Even Wal Mart would have never gotten away with half of the shit that I saw, and it's probably a good thing that the chain has a thousand eyes on it, all of whom are desperately wishing for it to fail. They know they need to tread lightly and clean up their image, and I'm honestly very impressed by the extent to which they've done so over the past 5 years.

I still don't shop there, but it's not the bogeyman it once was.
posted by schmod at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2012

Much is made over the cheap prices which are said to allow people to have a better "quality of life" on a low income. However, the policies this company aggressively promotes, from their anti-unionism to their race to the bottom with product pricing to their terrible employment compensation, are part of the system that prevents people from having access to the things that can truly be said to produce a good "quality of life" -- health care, dentistry, a good education, access to higher education and skilled work training, good nutrition, and a safety net for old age, sudden disability, etc.

I'm always happy to talk about quality of life, but let's define our terms, because I'd much rather have all those truly valuable things, which make a pretty big difference in the experience of living, than have the ability to buy an $11 pair of jeans.
posted by Miko at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

@Dukes909: "Hoover out of the local economy"? No. Walmart collects local & state sales tax, employs locals, and buys & sells things made from in our state.

Wal*mart handed out 11.3 billion dollars of stock revenue from 2011 - Unless you think they took it all from somebody else, a chunk of that money left your town and - unless you live in Bentonville, AR - is probably never coming back. Yes, 1.13 million dollars per store(4400 US and 5600 non-US stores), last year, in the middle of one of the worst recessions in history.

According to the state of Florida that's enough to "Mill + Resurface 4 Lane Divided Rural Arterial with 5' Outside Shoulders and 2' Inside" for one mile. What are they going to do for your town next year? Or the ten years after that?

And, unless Walmart brings more money into the community than it takes out (Seems highly unlikely unless you live in China), they actually reduce the total state and local sales tax collected in the area - 1.13 million dollars that get taxes collected once and goes away forever as opposed to recirculating in the local economy.

@shmod: I think that there are plenty of things to fault Wal Mart on, but I get annoyed when people begin making arguments with no factual basis.

Funny, I thought I was actually giving them the benefit of the doubt (That they were freely trying to offset their impact on the community, as opposed to just improving the road for their trucks or bleating loudly about a concession made as part of a bargain with the local zoning board or government.) If Dukes909 wants to provide some specifics on his charity road, I'd be glad to discuss it in particular. He seems to think it proves what a good Corporate Citizen Wal*Mart is. It's groundless speculation, but about a vague and unproven assertion.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:17 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

@Orb2069: I won't turn this into a flame war, but you wanted specifics on the road here Walmart paid to 5 lane (that was already planned to be 5 laned,..as I mentioned twice before, and now a third time). I have no idea why you are asking what Walmart will do for our town in 10 years..do you ask & receive such commitments from every other business and landowner in your community?

Unfortunately the newspaper archives are no longer available without a paid subscription, so I hope the official meeting minutes from the town board of aldermen will suffice - they do include the actual agreement so it's a tad better than a newspaper article. :)


Book 51, pages 38, 44, 47, 49
Book 52, pages 51-64 (page 52 in particular)

How Walmart builds, acts, and manages it's goodness or badness in the Keys is not up to Walmart. It's up to the people in that area, just like in any other place Walmart exists.

Happy reading
I'll only mention as a final note that it seems ironic to be worried about a Walmart in the Keys when no one is asking whether the massive number of people in south Florida is good or bad.
posted by dukes909 at 8:49 AM on May 9, 2012

I have no idea why you are asking what Walmart will do for our town in 10 years.

Here's the TL;DR summary:
Me: "...All the money they're going to hoover out of the local economy"
You: No.
Me: They're getting all this money from somewhere.
You: But they built this road!
Me: (Checks costs) That road covers the money they'll take this year. Which just means they start hoovering NEXT year.
Turns out, now that we've got actual numbers that, for 1.5mil, they won't start being a net sink on your local economy until the second year.

I don't get this whole 'It's The Government/Communities fault if Wal*Mart is bad' thing you and Schmod have hit on. Do you apply this sort of reasoning to individual people as well? "It's the community's fault if they don't stop me from robbing liquor stores and running ponzi schemes!"

Thanks for the files - It's nice to have concrete examples. Apparently, WalMart was originally going to put $1.26 mil toward the "West jackson ave, street improvements", but the city balked and they upped it to 1.5 mil. (Book 51 p 47), with the understanding that "We must obtain the full cooperation from the various departments within the City of Oxford... To assists us in the timely completion of our zoning efforts and the road improvements specified herein." - Matter of fact, "Our offer is predicated specifically upon obtaining satisfactory zoning"(p 49).

TL;DR: They paid 1.5Mil to buy off the zoning board.

- Which is pretty good bargaining on your town's Aldermen's part, considering how far in the hole Oxford is: (11.8Mil is their 20% loan cap, and they've already issued two mil, with something like 8mil more they're floating in this document alone that I noticed on a scan through.)

"The scope of these improvements will be at a minimum from Wal-Mart's East Property Line (Dixie Creek) west to include all improvements to the east side of Highway 6 east including the ingress/egress points." (Book 51 p 49)

TL;DR: They needed the road improved for their delivery trucks.

I'm discussing whether or not having a Wal*Mart is a net benefit to a community - You know, what the OP asked? If you're wondering why we aren't talking about the population density, maybe you didn't notice the Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. below the preview box?
posted by Orb2069 at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, at this point this back and forth needs to go to MeMail or not in this thread anymore, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:14 PM on May 9, 2012

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