Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices – The Big Point Missed

The wife and I just watched WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Prices, the much-acclaimed documentary about everybody”s favorite corporate bully.

What a supreme waste of an opportunity. Heavy on emotion, light on facts and completely devoid of analysis, the film surely painted Wal-Mart as a bad player – and it is. The company uses its size and power to strong-arm communities, squeeze its suppliers and screw its workers, all in the name of “Always Low Prices”.

But the heart of the Wal-Mart problem lies in a conspiracy – one between the company and its customers. Wal-Mart and the people who shop there benefit from this conspiracy at the expense of Wal-Mart workers, suppliers, local merchants and communities impacted by Wal-Mart”s operations. Simply put, if nobody shopped at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart wouldn”t be a problem. There are, for sure, a good number of people who shop at Wal-Mart out of necessity. Those people who line up on “Black Friday” for $29 DVD players typically don”t have a lot of other options. Likewise, people living out in the middle of nowhere may have few choices about where to shop.

It”s hard to blame those with few choices (whether based on economics or geography) for choosing Wal-Mart. But the middle-class and better suburbanites who participate in this conspiracy are just as culpable as Wal-Mart for the sins of the world”s biggest retailer.

If you have a choice, choosing anyplace other than Wal-Mart helps keep the monster in check. It doesn”t have to be some mom-and-pop store. Shopping at Target helps the balance, too. Every dollar diverted from Wal-Mart is one dollar less of influence the company has. And as Wal-Mart tries to go more upscale, the choice becomes more important.

For my part, I personally spent $32 at Wal-Mart last year – for two pairs of cheap rubber boots because Target and Lowe”s didn”t have them and I couldn”t think of anywhere else to buy them. I bought $80 in Wal-Mart gift cards for my niece and nephews at Christmas (after trying to talk my sister into some other kind of card) and the wife and I spent $200 on a Wal-Mart card to help out friends after Katrina (figuring “Always Low Prices” and a huge selection was a good choice for friends who suddenly had next to nothing).

Otherwise, I refuse to participate in the conspiracy.

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