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Wal-Mart and the Compressed Culture

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We are very concerned about the concentration of the media into fewer and fewer hands, but what about retail? Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest company, it is the biggest private employer in the US, it sells 36% of all dog food, 32% of disposable diapers, 30% of photographic film, 26% of toothpaste, 21% of pain remedies, 15% of single copy magazine sales. Its $240 billion-plus in annual sales represents 2.3% of the ENTIRE U.S. ECONOMY.

Its music and magazine policies continue the Disney-fication of America: if it offends “family values,” it doesn’t exist for Wal-Mart. The latest victims, three men’s magazines:

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has pulled the men’s magazines Maxim, Stuff and FHM from its shelves, deeming them too racy for its customers.

    The retail giant made the decision after hearing opinions from customers and associates, Melissa Berryhill, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told The New York Times in Tuesday’s editions.

    The halt in sales is part of a series of moves by Wal-Mart to pull back on items that it considers too risque. Maxim, Stuff and FHM often feature starlets posing on the cover and in layouts with little clothing.

    ….”I don’t think that these decisions are often rational; they are subjective. For any men’s magazine to put a woman on the cover seems a bit troubling to them,” he said. [AP]

The NY Times has more:

    Magazine industry executives said Wal-Mart occasionally declines to sell particular issues of some magazines, including the September 2001 issue of InStyle that featured an artfully arranged nude photo of the actress Kate Hudson. Last year, Wal-Mart also took exception to a single photo in a compilation of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues and decided not to sell the one-time publication.

    ….Many publishing executives are concerned that Wal-Mart’s strong position in magazine sales might put the chain in the role of taste maker for the industry as a whole. But few want to offend the biggest retailer of magazines in America.

    “They are extremely important,” said Dan Capell, editor of Capell’s Circulation Report, a newsletter about magazine circulation. “They are the largest retailers of magazines and probably the fastest growing.”

This corporate censorship is legal – Wal-Mart can sell what it wants to – but when so much sales power is consolidated in a single pair of hands, those “subjective” decisions affect not just what gets sold, but even what gets MADE, and that is very troubling.

In an article calling Wal-Mart “the most admired company in America,” Fortune still provides some frightening perspective:

    What this means for Wal-Mart’s low-profile CEO, Lee Scott, is that he runs what is arguably the world’s most powerful company. What it means for corporate America is a bit more bracing. It means, for one, that Wal-Mart is not just Disney’s biggest customer but also Procter & Gamble’s and Kraft’s and Revlon’s and Gillette’s and Campbell Soup’s and RJR’s and on down the list of America’s famous branded manufacturers. It means, further, that the nation’s biggest seller of DVDs is also its biggest seller of groceries, toys, guns, diamonds, CDs, apparel, dog food, detergent, jewelry, sporting goods, videogames, socks, bedding, and toothpaste–not to mention its biggest film developer, optician, private truck-fleet operator, energy consumer, and real estate developer. It means, finally, that the real market clout in many industries no longer resides in Hollywood or Cincinnati or New York City, but in the hills of northwestern Arkansas.

And how does this power direct our culture? Most obviously through its censorship policies as in magazines, above, and music:

    With its roots in the Southern Christian heartland, Wal-Mart believes that being a “family” store is the key to their mass appeal. They refuse to carry CDs with cover art or lyrics deemed overtly sexual or dealing with topics such as abortion, homosexuality or Satanism. While Wal-Mart is the world’s largest CD retailer, and in some regions the only place in town to purchase music entertainment products represent only a fraction of their business. However, it is a different story for recording artists. Because Wal-Mart reaps about 10 percent of the total domestic music CD sales, most musicians and record companies will agree to create a “sanitized” version specifically for the megastores. Sometimes this entails altering the cover art, as John Cougar Mellencamp did when asked to airbrush out an angel and devil on one of his album covers. Other times, musicians change their lyrics and song titles. Nirvana, for example, changed its song title from “Rape Me” to “Waif Me” for the Wal-Mart version. They also changed the back-cover artwork for the album In Utero, which Wal-Mart objected to because it portrayed fetuses. And when Sheryl Crow released her self-titled album, Wal-Mart objected to the lyric, “Watch our children as they kill each other with a gun they bought at Wal-Mart discount stores.” When Crow would not change the verse, the retailer refused to carry the album. This type of censorship has become so common that it is often regarded as simply another stage of editing. Record labels are now acting preemptively, issuing two versions of the same album for their big name artists. Less well-known bands, however, are forced to offer “sanitized” albums out of the gate. [PBS]

And what of the future? It only gets bigger and the issues more acute as a result:

    If Wal-Mart maintains its annual growth rate of 15%, it will be twice as big in five years. “Could we be two times larger?” asks CEO Lee Scott. “Sure. Could we be three times larger? I think so.”

    Crazy talk? Maybe not. Roughly half of Wal-Mart’s Supercenters (groceries plus general merchandise) are in the 11 states of the Old South, leaving plenty of room for expansion in California and the Northeast. And Bentonville is getting creative about overcoming the political and real estate hurdles there. In January it opened its first inner-city Supercenter in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, a three-story affair with special escalators for shopping carts. All told, Wal-Mart will open roughly a store a day this year.

Does America see its culture defined by Wal-Mart? Maybe not, but Wal-Mart does, and what Wal-Mart wants, Wal-Mart gets, including a compressed, sanitized, “family-friendly” culture.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Jack

    The Left wing NY times, which censors and criticizes anything with which it disagrees is “warning” us of the WalMart nazis???? HA HA HA HA HO HO HO HEE HEE HEE

  • melanie

    I feel like a hostage to Wal-Mart. Thanks to them there is no where to shop except Wal-Mart. Now we are being “blessed” with a supercenter.
    I rue the day we ever let them come to town.

  • Eric Olsen

    Jack, I didn’t rely much on the NY Times for this story – most of it comes from Fortune, which picked Wal-Mart as its “most admired company.” I’d say the facts pretty well create their own concern based upon sheer size, and the fact that they DO have a social agenda, at least in terms of what they will and will not sell.

  • Vic D

    WalMart strikes again, Or should I really Say a bunch of Bible Belters strikes again. Why dont we just turn over the department of commerce to Wal Mart so they can teach us whats moral and right. This is the 3rd time i’ve heard about Wal Mart sensoring the products it carries. First was the Cd from some of your favorite artists, Second was Video Games now we have Magazines. As for as im concerned Wal Mart is a tool for the religious right. LONG LIVE TARGET & KMART !!!!!!

  • NC

    Eric–Interesting post. Don’t forget, though, that while Wal-Mart might expand within the next five years, so will the public’s access to the Internet and its opportunities to engage in e-commerce. If WM takes Sheryl Crow off the shelf, it’ll simply be a matter of booting up one’s computer and ordering the CD on Amazon. Or downloading it right then and there from iTunes.

    Of course, this prompts the question of what to do if a Wal-Mart-esque retail colossus should emerge in the online realm, and then it too decides not to offer certain merchandise on political grounds. I remember discussing this very question in law school in the context of AOL’s Terms of Service. The idea was, if AOL became the only means of online communication and then imposed some sort of content-based ban, is there anything legally one could do to get the ban lifted or would the only alternative be simply to not communicate online? The professor floated the idea of extending this Supreme Court case from the 1940s to find that AOL had become a de facto “state actor” by “opening its property for use by the public in general,” and therefore was bound by the First Amendment. At the very least, it’s an interesting question.

  • http://ulmann.blogspot.com Cal Ulmann

    I bet Wal-Mart CD sales are at a relatively low number because they only sell the edited versions of CDs. I can’t believe there are people out there who will buy an edited version of a JAYZ or Wu Tang CD.

  • Eric Olsen

    Cal, how are you? Wal-Mart is the #1 CD retailer, but I’m sure sales are lower than they would be sans censorship policy.

    NC, excellent point, and the physical de facto censorship that occurs when Wal-Mart is the ONLY retailer around is the strongest argument against their policy. Since the online world is becoming LESS centralized, it seems more an interesting but academic question there. It is much easier to vote with a click than to vote with your feet when the next nearest retailer is 50 miles away.

  • chanye

    Once again, Wal Mart has struck back against those who go against its creed. We are all at fault here by standing by as Wal Mart denies access to anything it believes offensive towards its agenda. It is bad enough that Wal Mart targets small businesses and ruins livelihoods(i.e.pharmacies), it is bad enough that they harass their employees to deter them from joining unions, it is bad enough that they are systematically sexist in their promotion history, but it is too much when they decide what sanitized information is fit for the public. I don’t shop at Wal Mart for many reasons, but your article just added another one. Thanks!!!

  • LA

    Eric…One thing you probably don’t realize about Wal MArt is that they are slowly but surely forcing their various vendors to make Wal Mart’s private labels. Roughly 90% of what Wal Mart carries is imported and if their current vendors choose not to make Wal Mart’s private label at an absurd low cost the business goes right out the door straight to Asia. Our country’s trade deficit is around $40 billion. What part of that is because of Wal Mart?

  • Jeff Williams

    This is America. Take your business elsewhere if Wal-Mart refuses to carry the items you want. No one has to be “small town” if they don’t want to be. I can see why small towns are dying out. “If I stay here, I’ll only see what they want me to see.” If Wal-Mart comes to the ‘Big Bad City’ it will find that it is just another store in the mall.

  • Gordon

    What I don’t understand is if everybody hates Sprawl-Mart, why shop there. My family refuses to shop there. That’s 5 adult shoppers and children. We get along just fine without going there. Why does every one else feel compelled to go? There are alternatives to shopping at Wal-Mart. Use them!

  • vvh

    As a resident of Bentonville, AR and a former Wal-Mart general office employee, I can tell you that I see everyday how Wal-Mart intends to turn the morals and values of the USA to their side. In this town, if you are not a “WalMartian” you might as well be a Nazi. If you shoose to drive twenty miles to shop somewhere that allows you to purchase things you actually want, you are told that you are harming the local economy.
    For those who say that WalMart doesn’t drive small business out of the towns it inhabits- I invite you to visit Bentonville. Look for Roy’s office supply. It’s a small town store that used to occupy a large building on the town square. It no longer exists. If WalMart will drive businesses out of town here, it will certainly do it anywhere else it lands.

  • LA

    Gorgon and Jeff…I don’t shop at Wal Mart, but you have to realize that there are people who don’t have a choice, either because of financial reasons or because there isn’t an alternative to Wal Mart in their city. And with our economy the way it is, it’s virtually impossible for a small retailer to compete with Wal Mart

  • Don

    Don’t panic, it wasen’t that long ago thet K-Mart was on top of the heap.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Wal-Mart is packed full morning, noon and night every time I drive by. This at a location that is only a few miles from another Wal-Mart location. And in Dallas, hardly a “small town.”

    Why do people shop there? Because it’s cheap. You could spend a lot of time analyzing the situation and assigning a numerical value to cost versus various philosophical practices related to Wal-Mart’s real estate policies and anti-competitive practices, but in the end everybody knows that if Wal-Mart has what you want – and it usually does – you’ll spend less there than anywhere else, and you get one-stop-shopping to boot.

    The question isn’t “Why do people shop at Wal-Mart,” it is “Why don’t they?” So list the reasons, Chanye, Gordon, LA, why don’t you shop at Wal-Mart? Are you not interested in saving money?

    Or do they not carry what you’re looking for (uncensored CDs included)?

  • MK

    wal-mart’s business tactics remind me of carnegie and the steel industry – systematically taking out the smaller guy to corner a local market. i find that deplorable. wal-mart does nothing to small towns but install their own method of censorship amongst those with little recourse. i never shop at wal-mart. i’ll make any effort to avoid giving them my money. i only hope others follow my lead. unfortunately there are lots of ignorant people in this world that just want to save 20 cents off their disposable razors, and they’ll go to wal-mart because it’s a “family store.” ignorance is bliss, until it destroys local economies. and that, my wal-mart shopping friends, could be a small part of our recent economic woes.

    how does it make you feel to see your downtown area boarded up and abandoned? sure, the wal-mart’s on the edge of town, you can shop there, but all the places you knew are gone. it affects everyone in the area. and empty storefronts are really depressing. it’s contagious. good luck, people.

  • LA

    I am in the textile business and I see what Wal Mart is specifically doing to the manufacturing industry. Wal Mart isn’t carrying brands anymore, they have various companies make a certain product exclusively for Wal Mart, called a private label, then after a few months demand for an unobtainably low price and when the manufacturer can do it, Wal Mart takes their business to an off shore manufacturer, usually Asia, and the American company is left with tons of useless inventory and massive debt. That company either closes their doors or lays off thousands of American jobs to have production done in Asia, Africa, or the Carribean. Yes, I want to save money. But not at the cost of my fellow American’s jobs. I am trying to do my part to save jobs in this country.

  • dta

    Its amazing that one side of the political spectrum screams about censorship and the first amendment when wal-mart endorses what is labeled as “family values’ (as if this is a bad thing) but are the first ones to demand that wal-mart not sell guns or ammo. Its weird. How can you have it both ways?

  • Scott

    Growing up in the South Wal-Mart was part of the fabric of society, and I never really thought much about it, people go to Church and then Wal-Mart it is just what people do in those areas. When I saw other stores struggling, I stood by Wal-Mart, with a survival of the fittest stance, they were the best out there and that is why they are the biggest and the strongest. Now getting out of that area and growing up a bit my view has changed, I really see them more as the bully in the neighborhood, using their size to push everyone around. I have friends in sales that have told horror stories of Wal-Mart returning products they couldn’t sell after they over ordered, forcing other companies to take the loss. Is this what is “admired” in this country, I guess it is according to Fortune, the win at any cost no matter who gets hurt mentality so many Americans have. I sometimes wonder if Wal-Mart really cares about family values, if so it isn’t reflected in all of their business practices, but they didn’t get to be the biggest being stupid. When mothers in the conservative areas where Wal-Mart thrives hear about this they will applaud Wal-Mart’s management for taking a moral stand, and may sway their friends to shop there. These mothers are most likely making the decisions of where day to day shopping is done, and I venture to say they spend far more than a kid who wants a full version of a cd or a guy who would run in to pickup a few things and a men’s magazine and really how many guys are going to go to Wal-Mart just cause they have Maxim. I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart in a long time, not necessarily because how I feel about them, but more because they are not convenient to they type of shopping I do, I don’t buy a bunch of crap at stores like that, so I can see why they don’t care if I would be upset over their decision to not sell Maxim, etc. So this makes me wonder honestly is this a moral decision or is it tailoring their product to their target market? And getting all this free press in the process.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    LA – I’ve heard the same behavior ascribed to Home Depot, as well. When Lowe’s started expanding throughout my area, I was delighted to see someone competing on Home Depot’s terms. Strangely, after a year or more has gone by, I find myself shopping at Home Depot, even driving past a Lowe’s to do it. In the end, Home Depot sells what I need at a price I want to pay and Lowe’s doesn’t. I guess that puts me in the category of MK’s “ignorant people,” though I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time researching Wal-Mart’s effect on economics.

    It’s amusing to me sometimes that the very same people (not necessarily you, LA, but “people”) that shout down the RIAA and tell them that they have to find a new business model and quit complaining that their old one is drying up fail to see the comparison between record stores and mom-n-pop shops.

    In the case of Wal-Mart, however, I’ll address the specific issues. For all of those concerned about Wal-Mart carrying only edited albums, where are you right now? I’ll tell you – you’re on Blogcritics.org, which has handy links to Amazon wherever you look. Buy the darn CDs here! Problem solved for the few albums they actually censor, and you can still buy the majority of albums at Wal-Mart just the same as anywhere else, only cheaper.

    For an interesting defense of Wal-Mart from a free market perspective, read mises.org which provides some information people don’t usually think about, begging questions not often asked.

    For example, what is the harm if Wal-Mart really does drive smaller or older businesses into the ground? Obviously the business owners are harmed, but they could just as easily have been done in by any competitor that provided just the right combination of goods and services and prices. For that matter, terrorist attacks or flash floods or any one of a number of other things could have done them in. So outside of that limited demographic, what is the harm?

    Of course, you can argue that is enough harm already, and perhaps it is. But if so, you have to be prepared to answer the question of what those people Wal-Mart would employ are going to do instead. 8^)

    On preview, Scott, I agree that this is less a moral decision on the part of Wal-Mart and more a matter of simple economics and marketing. I never noticed that they pulled those magazines or that they had them to begin with. I’ve bought a couple of muscle mags there, but those tend to feature guys on the cover.

  • Stephanie

    Really enjoying the article and its resultant feedback.
    I live in Athens, Ohio, a small college town in the southwestern part of the state. Until just two years ago, we had a K-mart, Ames, and several local retail stores (Little Professor Books, Kroger, Big Bear, Radio Shack, JC Penney). Not a very wide selection. Then we got a Walmart Supercenter. The Ames closed shortly after the supercenter opened, and the K-mart was closed because of the mothership’s bankruptcy filing as of about two months ago. Wal-Mart is now the ONLY major “big-box” retailer for at least 50 miles. If you want to buy stuff like camera film, milk, an office chair, Newsweek, toothpaste, and a pair of jeans without visiting 6 different far-flung stores, you have to go to Walmart.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Stephanie – and the problem with this is ??? If Athens, OH, is like every other place Wal-Mart does business, you’re paying less for that film, milk, toothpaste and so on than you were before.

    And you could still visit the six different stores, of course. 8^)

  • Jay Lison

    Last time I checked, we lived in a free society in America. Misguided people like Madonna, Sean Penn, and the Dixie Chicks have a right to speak their mind…anywhere in the world. What most people don’t realize is that businesses also have the right not to support those people, play their music or movies, hire them for further jobs, or distribute their music.

    That said, Wal-Mart has the right to pick and choose the products it sells. If they’re getting lots of complaints from their core audience (old people, middle class people, and poor people) then they have a right to pull magazines that they feel are hurting their business or our society. Next thing you know, the extreme left is going to be complaining that they don’t sell Penthouse, and have an XXX rated section for our kids to peruse.

    We all have rights. We all have the right not to buy the products of individuals or organizations that come into complete and total contradiction with our moral values. I’m all for freedom of speech…but it goes both ways. Sorry Sean Penn, but I feel your opposition to human rights in Iraq, and your passive support of a dictator that killed almost 1/6 of the people in that country have put me at such odds with your morality that I won’t be seeing your next movie, or any other movie you put out. And if the local theater decides not to play your movies because they feel you are not a moral person…that’s their right. You have a right not to go to that theater anymore if you disagree.

    Freedom isn’t just for the exreme left you know.

  • Doug

    Wal-Mart is catering to the consumers, not the other way around. If the decision to omit offensive products was not profitable, does anyone seriously think a for-profit business would do it anyway?

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks for all of the fascinating comments! I am ambivalent about Wal-Mart: like Phillip says, for purely economic reasons of money and time we shop at Wal-Mart, although when it first came to our area we were hesitant. But the proof is in the sales slip, and we save a lot of time getting all of these essentials in one place.

    On the other hand, I am not unconcerned about low wages, unfair labor practices and the political-economic power that comes with their outrageous clout.

  • Bill Feagin

    Seems to me we have several apologists here for Wal-Mart. Questions of free enterprise notwithstanding, what makes it OK for one business to drive others into bankruptcy? To Phillip Winn and others, I’d like to offer a word: Monopoly–and I’m not talking about the board game, either. Consider the monopoly-busting trial of Microsoft and the breakup of AT&T in 1984. If Wal-Mart gets too big for its breeches, it’ll be next, and you can take that to the bank.
    I am also a former employee of Wal-Mart (front end cashier at the Oneonta, NY, supercentre). I have never felt so insignificant in one company as I did there. Sure, they’ve got choice–but if you’re looking for high-quality products, you’ll find them in rather short supply at Walley World. I would rather get my groceries from Hannaford, my electronics from Best Buy or Circuit City, my clothes almost anywhere *but* Wal-Mart, my CDs from Amazon.com…I could go on, but you get the picture. I can, and do, take my business elsewhere. It may not do any damage to Wal-Mart’s billions, but it does make me feel better about myself and my shopping habits.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    It’s a free country, and of course people are perfectly welcome to spend more shopping elsewhere. It is worth nothing that Wal-Mart would probably say that they aren’t driving companies out of business. Any company that choose to sell Wal-mart the product they want at the price they want is able to do so. Many don’t.

    Like I said, I’ve seen this scam work before with Home Depot, and here’s how it works: BigCo approaches SmallCo and says, “This is your lucky day.” They offer them more business than SmallCo has ever done before. SmallCo foolishly leaps at the chance. To satisfy BigCo’s needs, SmallCo hires more and more people, never thinking about the ill will they will generate if they ever have to let any of them go. A year or so goes by, and BigCo says, “We need the product for less money.” It’s in the contract that BigCo has the right to examine every single detail of SmallCo’s books. How did that get in there? So BigCo goes over the books and suggests a variety of ways to cut costs. Usually cutting margins down to the bone, cutting “over-staffing” (from BigCo’s perspective anyway) and suggesting that higher volume will results in lower costs for raw materials. Let’s assume SmallCo plays along the first time this happens. A few months go by and BigCo demands lower prices yet again. Remember, they have full access to SmallCo’s books, so SmallCo can’t just claim it can’t be done. Eventually, though, there is simply no more to be wrung from SmallCo, so BigCo finds a new supplier that can provide the product more cheaply. Often that supplier is overseas. Believe me, the overseas supplier is going to have the same issue that the American SmallCo did, but since it’s overseas, we care less. In the meantime, SmallCo has built up a larger operating capacity to satisfy BigCo’s needs, and let all of their non-BigCo business go long ago. So now they’re left with many employees, huge capital costs still owed, and no contracts whatsoever. So they fold.

    This is a well-known cycle, and yet how many SmallCo’s say No? When they do, there are rumors (at least in the case of Home Depot – this might be harder for Wal-mart to do) that BigCo will sometimes work to ensure that SmallCo’s customers quite doing business with them. On the one hand, the customers are free to buy from whomever they want (within contractual limitations, of course), but if BigCo is actively trying to woo customers of SmallCo, it might be prosecutable as anti-competitive. If it can be proved.

    There you have it from a so-called “apologist for Wal-Mart” – how Wal-Mart drives companies out of business. Anything else is just competition, but what I just descibes is immoral. If one cares about such things, one is perfectly welcome to pay more elsewhere. If one ever bothers to compare receipts and realize that this is a lot more than 20 cents on razors I’m saving, it’s more like hundreds of dollars a month on everything from food to tires to $5.44 DVDs, one’s decision might be more difficult. 8^)

    Clothes from Wal-mart, though, might not be the best idea. There are quality issues, and you do generally get what you pay for in life.

  • C Harrington

    I firmly agree with this decision by Walmart. They have the right to do it just like you have the right to buy someplace else.

    This is all about business. Walmart’s CEO feels that this is a good business decision based on the profile of the average Walmart customer.

    Walmart is not a tool for the Christian Right nor are they the Moral Compass of America. If they were, I could think of 30 products they carry right now that would have to come off the shelves.

    You have to make your own moral decisions. If you want to read Maxim, I’m sure you can find a copy of it somewhere in your city – if not, order it online.

  • joe

    I’m not a Wal-Mart shopper, nor a lover of the retail giant, but since when are businesses “required” to carry diverse merchandise. It may be politically correct for them to do so but there’s nothing that demands that a business cater to each and every person’s taste and ideological beliefs. This is an absurd line of logic and I’m amazed that so many people find it odd that a business doesn’t want to offer products that include pictures of women in sexually suggestive poses. In fact, I’m amazed that the liberal feminist movement and the conservative religious right haven’t come together on this issue yet. Come on people, access to what is essentially soft core porn isn’t some kind of constitutional right that Wal-Mart has decided to take away.

  • Eric Olsen

    C and Joe, the point isn’t whether or not you can find these three magazines at Wal-Mart, the point is that the company has a certain agenda, and because of their size, that agenda has a direct impact on the culture and weshould be aware of it. That’s all.

  • http://www.PainReliefApparel.com Farley

    I am not going to sit here and tell you I do not shop at Wal-Mart. I do — about once a month for a few specific items I cannot get anywhere else at anywhere near the price Wally World offers. And if I happen to find another store that carries those items at a competitive price, I change to that store. So while I cannot say I do not shop at Wal-Mart, I can honestly say I shop there as little as possible and here are some of the reasons why:

    1. They advertise themselves as “Made in America” when virtually everything in the store is made overseas. Is lying one of those moral values they promote?

    2. Low Quality. Manufacturers cannot possibly keep quality up and keep prices as low as Wal-Mart demands. This shows particularly in their clothing. If I buy an outfit at Wal-Mart, I am going to need to replace it in a few months. Their fabrics pill and the seams come apart. Soles tear up on shoes in a matter of weeks if worn regularly. In the long run, it is cheaper for me to buy quality items elsewhere than to run back to Wal-Mart to replace their low-quality merchandise every few months.

    3. The place is a mad house. No matter what time of day or night you go there, you cannot get through the aisles without bumping into other shoppers.

    4. Narrow aisles. In recent years, they have become even more narrow and the carts have gotten wider. There are many places in the local super center where you can’t turn the corner without picking up the back of your buggy to scoot it around. Ridiculous!

    5. Youngens running wild. People take their kids to Wal-Mart and turn them loose. When a child darts straight across my path and my buggy grazes them, who does the parent blame? Themselves? The child? or Me? (Take C and win.)

    6. Poor selection. Yes Wal-Mart has about everything if you want to buy the brands they deem best.

    7. Junk in the middle of the aisles. In some sections the mid-aisle displays are so huge you can barely get around them and all that is in them is junk. That’s why they have to put it in the middle of the aisle to sell it. If they put it on a regular shelf no one would ever buy it.

    8. The strongly mis-leading concept that people save money by shopping at Wal-Mart. Yes, their prices are lower on most things. And if people only bought what they went after, they would save money. In reality, that rarely happens. A person goes in for $50 worth of groceries and comes out $100 lighter because they’ve got $75 in groceries and $25 in other junk they did not need. That is not saving money. It is getting more junk for your money, junk that will end up sold at a loss in next year’s yard sale — if it doesn’t fall apart before then.

    9. Have I mentioned low quality???

    10. Censorship. I am the only person who censors me. Period.

  • Chuck Cole

    WalMart may be the #1 CD retailer now, but this will change as more people become aware that what they’re purchasing isn’t necessarily what the artist initially intended.

    Sort of stumbled into this article, as a result I’d never purchase a CD from WalMart — wouldn’t know if I was getting the ‘real’ version.

  • Scott

    The reason I don’t shop at WalMart:

    My freedom and personal values are more valuable to me than all the money in the world. I won’t sell them to save $0.15 on a gallon of milk.

  • sam

    Don’t buy an of the items that Wal-Mart is banning, but I do object to them being the self-appointed moral policemen of the U.S. Wal-Mart also fails miserably against the competition where I live, there stores and parking lots are dirty, dingy and depressing. Sorry that some don’t have any other options where they live, I find Wal-mart to be grossly overrated.

  • MK

    i’m not sure why people think CD’s are cheaper at wal-mart. i really don’t understand why they’re the #1 retailer of them. in fact, they’re $2 more expensive than best buy (from what i’ve seen). i went last night just to compare. their cd’s are a ripoff, AND they’re censored sometimes. why bother? I thought music was an art form? what’s next, only selling a poster of michelangelo’s david only if he has pants on?

    also, Farley’s point of walking out of there is a good one. i rarely see someone coming out of that store with just a little bag of the “cheap” things they went for. they always say “oh, (insert product here) was sooo cheap at wal-mart! AND, i picked up (insert random product here) because it was cheap, too!”

    and the narrow aisles and kids running amok and poor quality just make me turn and run.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    As I remember it, “censored” CDs (I note that they are self-censored by the labels, Wal-Mart themselves either do or do not carry an album, no editing) are clearly marked as such. Moreover, Wal-Mart is by no means the only chain carrying the “censored” versions, they’re just almost the only one large enough to convince labels that wouldn’t otherwise released an edited version to do so. I could be wrong on the labeling thing, by the way. It’s been a while since that whole story first came up and I generally buy my CDs at used CD stores nowadays.

    For the rest, I lament at the lack of logic being displayed. That Wal-Mart encourages impulse shopping is no surprise, nor is it the “fault” of the store. Most groceries stores similarly try to prompt impulse purchases.

    Besides, there are two options when considering impulse purchases: The customer either bought something they would have eventually bought anyway, or they didn’t. If the first is true, then they saved money at Wal-Mart, good for them. If the second is true, then we have another branch to face: Either the customer is happy with the purchase, or not. If the first is true, great. If the second, why did the customer buy it? I’ve been in Wal-Mart hundreds of times, and I’ve never had them force anything into my hands. On the other hand, I’ve been known to scan the $5.88 DVD rack looking for old martial arts films I don’t yet own. And I’ve never been unhappy with a single “impulse” DVD purchase.

    I could spend all day highlighting logic errors and various other foolish statements in this thread, but I’ll instead just remind people of that mises.org article I mentioned earlier.

    On the other hand, crowded aisles, general business, and obnoxious customers are perfectly understandable and excellent reasons not to shop somewhere. It’s why I would never shop at K-Mart, and why I still won’t shop at certain Wal-Marts – you know the ones I mean. I also don’t buy clothes at Wal-Mart – the cheapest I’ll go with is JC Penney.

    Everybody is free to make the choices they wish to make, but I’d be a happier person if people made choices based on consistent logical decisions, not just generalized bad feelings that are based on factual reality.

    MK: On CD pricing (#35): I just loaded the main music pages for Best Buy and Wal-Mart. 3 CDs appear on both pages, all three of which are cheaper (barely) at Wal-Mart. In case the pages have changed by the time you follow the links, they are: Madonna’s American Life ($13.99 vs $13.86), Cher’s Very Best ($13.99 vs $13.84) and Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful (She ought to be! $13.99 vs $13.38). I also note that all three are cheaper at $13.49 on Amazon, with no sales tax. Shop Blogcritics!

    , Amazon=$13.49

  • Emily

    I am not a Wal-Mart shopper. Mainly because it is like parking at the mall and come-on… Couldn’t they mop those floors? That place is filthy.
    I wonder, is anyone really upset about this ban? You can buy soft-core porn at ANY grocery store. What is the big deal?
    Personally, I applaud this stance. I hate seeing naked women in degrading poses. This ban doesn’t force morality on anyone because in this free country you can still walk across the street to buy sexist magazines… if you choose.

  • Mike

    The matter of the buying power and influence in the market is a simple point of economics. Wal-Mart has the customers. Few businesses would open a store a day if it did not have the customers to support it. If you don’t like Wal Mart for either the quality of the products or the agenda then it is up to you to find and support alternatives.

    I applaud Wal Mart for making a stand. I do not like Wal Mart for many reasons but at least they are willing to stand for something. Right or wrong that is up to the individual consumer to decide.

    As far as the clout goes…it’s a free market and there are many companies that have a similar model.
    Eric I am willing to bet that you typed your article in “Word” from Microsoft. You probably profess to hate them but you still use them. ExxonMobil has a lot to say about the market for oil and they also make a stand on environmental issues. Amazon has a huge amount of mind share in the e business realm. No one is complaining there. AOL decides what stories or articles of interest it will post. FOX and CNN seem to make the decisions for 24 hour news. UPS and Fed EX are putting the postal service out of business, and the only thing we here is I can’t believe the price of a stamp is going up again. The media as a whole (and a handful of editors) make the decision on who I get to hear about early on in a presidential campaign. Those they like get the PR. Clear Channel communications has an ever increasing influence on what I hear on the radio. That wil in the end make a larger impact on available music than Wal Mart and their decision to carry music with a warning label or not.
    If you would, do an article on the opposing trends, and then see if there is a story or not. Map out the comparison of Wal Mart’s growth and say the growth of the porn industry. If you look at it that way I would suggest that the Wal Mart agenda is not making as big an impact as you think it is. How about Wal Mart growth and the national average of people that attend church. I bet there is again an inverse relationship. Maybe Wal Mart growth and who is president (conservative or Liberal). I again would suggest that there is no correlation.
    As far as the products and quality goes…it will eventually right itself. As far as the agenda goes…I need to quote Shakespere (and this is not the fishing equipment sold at Wal Mart) and say “much ado about nothing”.

  • Cholena

    Kids running amok is not excusive to Wally World; this is a phenomenon you’ll encounter at ANY low-end retailer.
    It’s a low-income trait; trailer trash and ghetto people alike have a tendency to let their sprogs run wild.

  • Karen

    I agree – you don’t save money at Walmart because you buy more crap. You have to be pretty disciplined to walk in, get what you need, and get out. I find it easier to buy something at K-Mart or a grocery store rather than face the circus at Walmart.
    As far as Walmart censoring their items, it isn’t because of any organized religious complaint. It is because Walmart wants to BE a “religion”. I’m telling you they will be the one-world religion.

  • Karen

    In response to Cholena’s comment; my family is low-income and we live in a trailer. My husband and I are also college-educated. We just placed a higher priority on work that would give us personal satisfaction over work that would provide more material gain. I suppose that still makes us “trash” in her eyes, but I’m happy to say our two little “sprogs” are very well behaved whether they are in public or in the trailer she turns her nose up at.

    At least we “trailer-trash” and “ghetto people” spend time with our “sprogs” rather than leaving them with the nanny while we trot off to shop for Jimmy Choos on Rodeo Drive.

    Forgive me for being off topic, but the whiff of “classism” and racism was just too powerful to ignore.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    It’s amusing to me how this thread has demonstrated a wide range of experiences with Wal-Mart, and obviously some disagreement, and yet I still think we as Americans, diverse as we think we are, are remarkably uniform in our culture. Anyway, in my neighborhood, almost everything is shiny and new. I wouldn’t and don’t shop at stores with dirty floors or things piled in the aisles. Of course, with most grocery stores and Wal-Marts at 24 hours, obviously the aisles are blocked at certain times of day (during restocking), but that’s what I get for shopping really late sometimes.

    Anyway, in addition to not having the same negative picture of dirty crowded stores that some of you apparently have, I also cannot recall seeing “soft porn” mags like this at local grocery stores, either. It’s the Bible belt, I guess, or maybe I’ve just missed noticing them, but the local Albertson’s stores put little shields in from of mags like Cosmo, at least at the checkout stands. My wife applauds, while I’m disappointed that I can’t catch just a little tiny peek… Oh, never mind.

    Also, despite being labeled as an “apologist” for Wal-Mart, I can assure those that think Wal-Mart has done a great thing here that they didn’t do it for any reason other than a profit motive. They judged that the PR benefit from not selling those magazines would outweigh the lost revenue. It’s that simple. They’re not pushing a religious worldview or moral values or anything other than worship of the almighty dollar. Period.

    And once accusations of “isms” start showing up in a thread, it’s already dead, so peace out all, I’m leaving before people start throwing things. :)

  • mike

    I have a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, six law degrees from Harvard, a Doctorate of Discourse from the University of Chicago and a paralegal certificate from the Morehead Secretarial Institute.

    I choose to live in a trailer park without electricity, running water or telephone service because I value doing work I enjoy, which right now, unfortunately, is no work at all.

    Also, I want to know what it feels like to be a liberated Iraqi since most Iraqis are living in this exact same situation. All I need is for someone to throw a cluster bomb in my trailer, blowing all my fucking limbs off, so I can imbibe fully the intoxicating aroma of freedom. God bless America.

  • Greg

    From my point of view north of the border these are all interesting postings.

    Here in Canada WalMart anounced that they have no intention of removing the magazines. Apparently nobody has cared to complain.

    Of course WalMart doesn’t carry guns here..now if they did then THAT would generate some criticism!

    Guns vs. some skin mags…different values….hmmmmmm????

  • notirish

    I am lucky enough to live in an area where there are a lot of choices to Walmart and I use them. Every time I go to Walmart I have a bad experience. Whether with other customers or the employees I always say I will never go back. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is Sam’s Club. I do frequent Sam’s Club on occasion and I find the atmosphere/customers/employees completely different. They also carry quite a few items that you would never find at a Walmart. Maybe it is because of the pressure from Costco that it seems so different. If Walmart had a worthy competitor (which it does in the case of Target in many places) we might see some changes.

  • LS

    I am an employee at Wal-Mart and would like to comment on only a few things I saw that weren’t quite true. Wal-Mart doesn’t want unions and neither do its employees. We want to be promoted based on our work ethic, not by how long we’ve been there. Another statement was made on sexism in promoting. This is not true of our northeastern store, where about 6 out of 25 department managers are male. It is all about who is best for the position. On to the quality of clothing- I used to run a clothing department, therefore knowing my merchandise very well. I often would see the same exact items from our junior section at the mall- for at least ten dollars more. One of the ladies brands is made by the Liz Claiborne label. I have two pairs of shoes from Wal-Mart that have lasted excessive wear for the past three years. I’m not saying there aren’t things wrong with the store. I have always wondered why smaller stores didn’t try to compete a little more with Wal-Mart. Maybe I’m being naive, but why not run a great sale on one item to draw in the public? Have competitive pricing? That is how Wal-Mart got its start. I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart, but I go to the mall too! If they don’t have what I want, I buy it elsewhere! Our store has had such a huge impact on my life. The people there are my family. They have raised over a thousand dollars for me when I was sick. I like Wal-Mart, but I love having a decision on where to shop. If retailers like K-Mart had smarter management, maybe they would be standing tall too. I worked briefly for another retailer and their management was awful! It was like the blind leading the blind. I’m not pretending to know everyting Wal-Mart does, because I don’t. But- the things I’ve stated above I know to be true.

  • Joon

    Wal-Mart has one, and just one, responsibility.

    That is to their shareholders.

    It is their job to maximize revenue and profit to the utmost that their market position, brand, size, and influence allow them.

    If consumers have a problem with something they sell, they must take that into account.

    It is what they, as a corporation, MUST do.

    I don’t shop there more than once every few months, but their competitors cannot match Wal-mart’s prices on average. That is the nature of competition.

    Now, if the Federal government has a problem with that, it can go after Wal-Mart like it has gone after many a company – accuse it of monopoly power.

  • Adam

    Wal-Mart, while obviously having the freedom to do what it likes, turns me off for many reasons.

    Other than the obvious censorship reasons that this article alludes to, does anyone else not worry about a monopolistic giant emerging when Wal-Mart finally wipes all of its’ competitors off the map? K-Mart just exited bankruptcy this week, so it’s do or die time for them.

    I was in my local K-Mart recently and witnessed K-Mart’s employees having to chase WAL-MART employees in the store with scanning devices capturing information on K-Mart’s shelves. Sad.

    In my opinion, Wal-Mart is way too powerful and I agree with the poster who likened Wal-Mart to Microsoft and AT&T. If K-Mart’s troubles are an indicator, Target could be next, and then what’s left to stand in the way of Wal-Mart’s domination? Those “low prices everyday” ads might turn into “whatever the he** price we would like to charge anyday” mentalities.

    For me? It’s not worth saving 15 to 30 cents on everyday goods (especially health and beauty or pantry type products) to fuel the Wal-Mart machine. I offer its two main competitors virtually all of my discount chain shopping dollars. Because I realize that a chain with no competition (which is what Wal-Mart is on its way to becoming) wields entirely too much influence.

  • http://can_you_dig_it.blogspot.com lola

    This is an interesting post and the range of comments is very thought-provoking. As I read through many of them, I had to wonder what kind of morals companies like these live by? While they are promoting “good christian family values”, they are also perpetuating the sale of goods that are disposable in nature and promoting materialistic values. Which is more valid? Protecting these values or contributing to the wasteful practices of using less expensive items that end up in landfills because they are built to be thrown away when they break down? I find that instead of carrying items that can be repaired, they often stock products that are inferior in this way. And let’s face it…WM is not the only guilty party. There are plenty others of these types of companies. As well, there are those who settle for this kind of thing.

    I, for one, choose not to frequent these types of companies. And, yes, we all have choices. However, when what we do to the planet affects all of its inhabitants, it becomes everyone’s problem.

  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    I shop at the WalMart at the Dufferin Mall (the mall, the mall, it’s got it all, gigantic, your big, big glove). I don’t really like it, but compared to the Woolco it took over or the defunct Zellers (shop smart, shop SMart) in the same mall, it is better than the competition.

    The problem with low price retailers is how much evil do you want to consume.

    Because it come right down down to sucking Satan’s pecker, just how much do you want?

    Sigh, I guess, about _this_ much.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Scrappleface has perhaps the best take on this, pointing out that Wal-Mart sells what people buy, and vice-versa. Hilarious stuff.

  • Stephanie

    About my earlier post and Philip’s response.: I would clarify by saying that because so many different retail items are now available “only” at Wal-Mart, it more or less becomes the only place that you can shop. For example, Wal-mart is the only store in the area that carries my kind or printer cartridge. I’m thankful that they do, otherwise I’d really be SOL. But If they run out, I have to wait for another shipment to come in. I can’t check over at K-mart or Ames because they’re out of business. Also, their closures have wiped out about 100 entry-level but still badly needed jobs in a county where about a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Though Wal-Mart has introduced lots of new jobs, it’s not enough to make up the difference. And now there are two HUGE retail spaces that are empty, and in the current economy who knows when they’ll be rented out. That results in a loss of tax revenue to the county and city, as well. I don’t have anything against Wal-Mart’s existence – I shop there quite frequently because of the slightly lower prices you mentioned – but I just wish that it could co-exist with a few other options. I can understand that some of the things happening are just part of living in a capitalistic system. But right now it feels like the balance is being tipped toward what is in effect a retail monopoly .

  • Delysid

    I think Philip Winn’s comments about Wal-Mart being able to drive down prices through ethically dubious means is my biggest problem with the store. Not just as he describes, but I have also read about other things they do to get those low low prices — like union busting, and using and pressuring companies to in turn cut corners and do unethical things like bust unions, use sweatshop labour, abuse the environment, super-exploit their workers, etc. And all of it done even much more viciously in 3rd world countries where people and governments are poor, desperate and (in the case of governments) often corrupt.

    So it’s not just that they are approaching monopoly status in many sectors because they are “well managed” but because they (the company’s top management) are amoral greedy heartless thugs, to put it briefly. I have a major problem with companies “succeeding” and dominating the marketplace through such means. That to me is a gross corruption and debasement of capitalism and free enterprise.

    But I don’t blame Wal-Mart in particular but rather the pro-corporate neoconservative government policies that allow a big corporation to get away with this kind of stuff. I don’t believe corporations should have to get all ethical on us — that would be a distortion of what their primary purpose is, which is to maximize shareholder profit.

    I think what they, and we, need is strong social, i.e. government, constraints and guidelines so that corporations are forced to make an “honest buck” not just any buck at any (social & environmental) cost. I say make strong and sensible rules for corporations, and all businesses, to operate under to protect people and the environment, and enforce those rules. Then the corporations could just concentrate on doing *their* job, which is to make as much money as possible while abiding by the rules of the land. The problem is that since the early 80’s we’ve let the corporations make too many of those rules themselves, through the “elected” representatives they control (e.g George Bush & the rest of his millionaire cabinet), to our collective detriment.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Stephanie (#52) I would be cautious about assigning blame to Wal-Mart for K-Mart going out of business. There were many other factors involved, including a failure to respond to the changing market, misplaced priorities (multi-million dollar satellite communication links while crap is piled in the aisles) and general incompetence on the part of nearly every K-Mart employee I’ve ever encountered. It might be more accurate to say that towns without a Wal-Mart are still being forced to endure the indignity of shopping at K-Mart because K-Mart is able to get away with nonsense there.

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