Monday, June 22, 2009

A Conspiracy Theory about Walmart....

So, it's a weird Monday morning today. I don't have to go to the office because it's the start of our conference this evening. We have to be in Indianapolis by the afternoon which means I have just about an hour before I start picking up my two coworkers and we take a road trip.

I have to admit, I'm still rather nervous about the conference. I ran through my presentation last night to make sure I would, at least, be able to say something to that room full of people. However, there are a couple of things that I talk about that scare me. You see, I have no idea what they mean. It'd be ok if I could just read the slides but I have to talk about them as though I know exactly what they mean. Since I inherited part of my presentation from a programmer who just quit to move to the Middle East, it's a very technical sort of thing. Methinks I should probably find out more about logging on startup and form configuration before I stand in front of 60+ people and talk about it.

Still, once the conference is over, I'll be able to move into my house which is rather exciting. I had a fantastically good time this weekend at garage sales with my sister and brother in law. I managed to get a full-sized bed (minus mattress) for $10, a lovely painting for $3 and all other kinds of good stuff none of which cost more than $1. I love garage sales.

I also spent some time at Walmart this weekend with my mother. I used to quite like going to Walmart because it was cheap and you could find excellent deals. Nowadays, I'm beginning to grow a wee bit suspicious of the giant chain and I now have a conspiracy theory to share with you.

You see, I think Walmart has lulled us in complacency with their low-low prices and super mass of goods for sale. For the past few years, they've taken over the U.S., spreading their tentacles into even the smallest towns, killing business that can't compete with their prices and selection. I confess, though I hated that Walmart was taking over, I appreciated that there was a place to go where I could find groceries and other goods at such a good price. Walmart got me through some hard financial times.

The problem is with the lulling. We all now instinctively believe that Walmart is the cheapest place to go for things. It's been the case for the past few years. For me, it was a question of 'do I want to drive all the way to Walmart and get things for cheaper or do I go to Kroger where it'll be more expensive but it's closer.'

Except, here's the thing: Walmart isn't so cheap anymore. Nope. I don't know if you Walmart shoppers out there have noticed but those low-low prices aren't quite so low-low anymore. In fact, compared to Kroger they're at least the same, if not higher.

I'm talking prices on produce, cleaning products, toothpaste, kitchenware, frozen foods...everything Walmart sells. Granted, it's not like the prices have skyrocketed but they've been creeping up so slowly that unless you pay attention, you might not notice. Take, for example, something I noticed. They carry a line of dog-treats called "Canine Carry-Outs." These are a more generic brand of expensive items like Begging Strips or the Purina treats. When I first discovered these treats for Sausage, I was excited. They cost $1.09 for a bag. That was six months ago. Then they went up to $1.15. Then they went up to $1.25. Now, they're around $1.49 a bag. That's a big increase over six months. It might not seem like it but did you notice how the price kept creeping up slowly instead of jumping?

I know the economy is a mess. I know everything costs more to make. The interesting thing is that other stores are lowering their prices to help us consumers out. The same brand of dog treats at Meijer, a Midwestern grocery chain, is $1.25 and has been for a while. It hasn't risen in price, nor has their price on produce or frozen foods. Perhaps Walmart's suppliers are charging more but, here's the thing, they're Walmart, I think they can afford to cushion us from the increasing prices a little, don't you?

Obviously, it's not just dog treats that are more expensive. I used to love that Walmart carried name brands but always a generic form that was comparable in quality but a fraction of the price. It's getting harder and harder to find the generic brands there. Even their kitchen section, or 'the spatula aisle' as I call it, has changed. It used to be a whole aisle of small kitchen things like lemon juices, whisks, strainers, spatulas, corn-cob holders, all those things you tend to find lying in your kitchen 'junk' drawer. That aisle used to be reliable because they had everything and it was cheap; it wasn't a name brand but it did the job. Yesterday, at Walmart, I went to that aisle and saw that it had dwindled. It's now a tiny little section and has been replaced by similar items but they're all Farberware or Oneida branded things.

Not that I have anything against Farberware or Oneida. That's good stuff. Yet it's also at least double the price of the old aisle. Yes, it's good quality but if you're at Walmart and you need to find a melon baller, wouldn't you rather get the one for $2.99 than the stainless steel one for $7.99? Sure, the quality would be better but it's a melon baller. How many melons are you really going to ball with it, seriously?

So, that's my theory. Walmart is rising their prices now because everyone just assumes they're cheapest. They're not. If you have one of those Kroger plus cards, it's cheaper to shop at Kroger (or Ralphs if you're on the West Coast). Even Meijer can be cheaper than Walmart. However, the company has everyone fooled into thinking they're the cheapest option; they're exploiting our trust. I'm not happy about that.

I'm also not happy that Walmart doesn't sell the new Green Day album because Green Day refused to allow them to censor it. I'm impressed that Green Day were able to put their principals above the potential money that would come in from Walmart's sales. I think they were right. I also think they were right when they pointed out that Walmart doesn't sell a CD that uses the F-word but they sell guns and maybe if they put Green Day's CD in the gun section, it would be alright.

Still, it's another sign that Walmart is a monster that has taken over the country. In many cases, there's nowhere to shop but Walmart. People protested when a store was going to open because they knew Walmart would kill local businesses and yet still Walmart came. Now we have no alternative but to shop there if we need things. It doesn't mean that Walmart should be taking advantage of that. I'm keeping my eye on them. I'll keep you posted.

Happy Monday.

1 comment:

JamesNelson said...

Not all of us have been lulled by Walmart. Don't even get me started... see WalMart Watch...