The Sinking Value of the Wal-Mart Experience

I have been thinking about writing an editorial on Wal-Mart for several months. Rarely does a personal experience as a consumer get me to write so much as a complaint letter. This commentary is the exception. I just tried to exchange a defective pair of black leather tennis shoes to my local Wal-Mart and had the store manager (Mr. Patel at the Fayetteville, Tennessee store) try to blame the defect on me. He refused to make the exchange after telling me that they personally inspect every shoe. Somebody obviously missed the pair I bought. I got angry over his implication that I was conning Wal-Mart for a pair of shoes and the time I wasted. It was not the lost money.

I am only out about $30, tax and all, which is certainly no big deal. It was the first time I had ever tried to exchange anything I ever bought. Like most men, I have a garage full of purchases that should have been exchanged. However, for most men, admitting to a store clerk that we made a bad-purchasing decision is sort of like asking for directions when lost driving. It just almost never happens. If the shoes had not been blatantly defective, I would still own them. I bought 20 pairs of the same type of shoe from Wal-Mart over the past 6 or 7 years. Men are creatures of habit.

While wasting around an hour at the customer service counter, I started thinking about all those abused customers of Corporate chain stores all over America that are stuck with bad purchases of largely, imported, low quality merchandise in dollar amount to low to take to court. Most do not have talk radio shows or widely published newspaper columns to vent their frustrations. All they can do is boycott the store like I am doing to Wal-Mart from this day forward.

It takes the collective action of hundreds of thousands of consumers to really hurt Corporate giants like Wal-Mart. I never liked Wal-Mart’s antiunion attitudes clear back to the good ole days of Sam Walton. Sam was nice to his customers but really hated unions. I limited my purchases somewhat as a result but still bought some things because of convenience.

I, also, limited my purchases there because Wal-Mart hurts many local businesses when it moves into a community. You can almost see the slow death of small town commercial centers, as one family-owned store after another goes out of business, once Wal-Mart moves into town. The boarded up stores in small towns all over the South are testimony to the commercial power of Wal-Mart. This experience is spreading nationally as Wal-Mart expands geographically and into the grocery business.

In the Sam Walton days, the damage of this retailing giant’s expansion was lessened by some company policies. Wal-Mart hired many local people and that partially offset the loss of jobs by local family-owned retailers. The jobs did not pay well and did not have the best of benefits, but they were still jobs. Now, Wal-Mart has started installing self-checkout counters instead of hiring enough employees to provide quick service. They are not alone in taking this approach to cost cutting.

I urge everyone to stop by the customer service of any giant Corporate retailer from Wal-Mart to Home Depot to file complaints about them using self-checkout counters instead of hiring enough workers. Threaten to take your business elsewhere. Ask the employees for complaint forms.

We have lost far to many jobs to Corporate purchasing decisions to stock cheap, poor quality imported merchandise instead of buying American made goods! Just in the less than 4 years of the George W. Bush’s Administration, we have lost existing jobs and failed to create new jobs (in order to keep up with natural population growth) to the tune of a 7 million job shortfall! While the rich get richer, the rest of us struggle trying to get by. Millions of Americans have been forced out of the job market entirely (living on family or welfare). Millions of Americans are living at the very edges of our society and the number is growing. This is the result of Corporate decisions and government policy influenced or controlled by Corporate political and economic power.

The advertising hook that first made me become a Wal-Mart customer was their highly promoted “BUY AMERICAN” commitment. Finding American made merchandise in Wal-Mart and other Corporate retail chains has become a real challenge for customers.

I remember when Wal-Mart had a policy of opening more checkout counters when a certain specific number of customers were waiting in line. They do not seem to care how long the customer waits now if they can hire fewer workers based on my personal experience. Wal-Mart was once known for treating their customers well (if not exactly doing the same with their employees despite their advertising claims.)

In my opinion, the customers and employees both need to stage a little public revolt against the top Corporate management. The workers need to unionize. The customers need to complain loudly and vote with their wallets. There are other stores (especially locally owned, family businesses) where you can get quality goods and personal service. I intend on spending my money in those places.

If getting burnt on a $30 pair of shoes finally gets me to do the right thing as a customer and a writer, it was worth it. As I drop them in the trash, I am smiling. See ya later, Wal-Mart!!!!