The Wal-Mart Effect

No secret that Wal-Mart affects almost all of us. Here’s a link to an entry on Brand Autopsy that points to an excellent podcast discussing Wal-Mart’s business practices.

Excellent for listening while you do other things on the computer.

I heard WalMart is planning another 1500 stores in the next five years…Hard to imagine…

I went to school in Columbia, Missouri, home to not only the “busiest Walmart in the world,” but also the hometown of the Walmart heirs, the Laurie’s and Kroenke’s. I can’t say much about their specific business practices, but in a community of 90,000, there were two Walmart’s to go along with a 24 hr Superwalmart. This corporation made their stores a way of life in this town, as people went there for essentially all of their shopping needs. There was even a summer when the city had major issues with them because sewage from the McDonalds at the Superwalmart had leaked into the city’s water. In my opinion, Walmart is one of the closest things to a global conglomerate that we know today, and if Mark’s post is any indication, it’s only getting worse.

Just to play Devil’s Advocate…

What would you all say if IKEA started to pull off Wal-Mart type business strategies?

They are building a new one not far from me in Round Rock, TX… but I was surprised to see how many IKEAs are going up worldwide-- especially in countries where there is less competition than here in the US.

I have seen firsthand the effect that Wal Mart has had on today’s marketplace and how it trickles down to pretty much everyone, whether you deal with Wal Mart directly or not. Sooner or later, you are going to get squeezed.

This link is to one of the best articles I have ever read regarding Wal Mart and how they have changed the way business is done.

In some ways, they are good for business, in other ways, they are very bad.

Personally, I wonder if we as a consumer society will eventually consume ourselves into complete economic ruin. Can we really sustain this level of rampant, unmitigated consumption?

The consumption wouldn’t be so high if people also had to pay for the true cost of disposal. Walmart wouldn’t exist in such a world because everybody would be buying things with heirloom durability.


I have seen firsthand the effect that Wal Mart has had on today’s marketplace and how it trickles down to pretty much everyone, whether you deal with Wal Mart directly or not. Sooner or later, you are going to get squeezed.

This link is to one of the best articles I have ever read regarding Wal Mart and how they have changed the way business is done.

The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know >

That is a GREAT article.
Unfortunately most people who shop at wall-mart cannot read more than a paragraph without getting bored.

I agree that instead of collecting hordes of cheap plastic garbage, we might do better to pay more, buy less, and get higher quality goods that will last longer.

But then again, what would that do to our very profession as product designers?

The problem with Wal Mart, is that so many people are so busy looking at the price, they aren’t looking at the cost. Two very different things.

I tell everyone about this, but no matter how much they might agree with me, they always go back to Wal Mart for the “low low prices”. It’s almost like an addiction…or a disease. Affluenza perhaps?

Overall, I think higher quality would be good for the field. Just as most designers would like to have an Eames or a Panton in the home office, regular consumers would be more likely to have a Tom, Dick or Jane in their house instead of a generic. We might not all become famous, but neither will we have to admit to having designed something generic.


when eveything cost the same and works just as well, design is the deciding factor. Wallmart is not immune to this idea it’s almost like physics, a truth that can be mitigated, but only for a while.

like the Ikea comment, would designers have as much to say if Target were opening 20,000 more stores and still carrying the same design sense?
I ask one reason: My relatives. They are normal people…haven’t travelled more than a hundred miles…simple jobs, etc. They think WalMart is swanky!

I seem to get designers upset when I say this but did anyone see all the red during the last two elections? Were people voting for republicanism? No! They voted for the same in Bill Clinton as Bush…simple, country, charm. We have at least 4 terms of that mentality winning democratically and at least 10years of Walmart rocking balls in business. That is a lot of people diggin’ what they offer.

Are designers disconnected from America, sitting in disconnected haute couture cities? I wonder because I have driven passed a lot of Walmarts from California to Maine, and Chicago to Dallas. They are always full of people with full shopping carts and not one of them has an Eames chair inside.


Wal-mart, IKEA, and Target all offer the same thing with different sales pitches.

Target : nicer store environment with less selection- than wal mart .
IKEA : Properly displayed product in a theatre type home environment
Walmart; low prices.

Basically, the consumer is the lemming. If you are brainwashed to believe that walmart has low prices, then you will go to wal-mart.

If you are Brainwashed that IKEA has designed items than you will buy things there.

People will buy a soap dish at the store that they see themselves a customer of. The identical soapdish is stocked at all three stores!

That’s a good point that you bring up.

I was going to buy some cheap clothing tubs at target and my fiance was complaining about why I was going to spend so much money there instead of going to walmart where she got her other ones. The local walmart is a complete zoo, I can’t stand walking into it and only go there because she shops there. Anyway, I tell her that target has cheap stuff too and she brushes me off. So I went and got the tubs, a newer updated design than the ones she had and I got 2 of them for the price of the 1 she brought from Walmart.

That changed her preconceptions a bit so I got her to go into one with me and know when she’s looking for something target is on her list of places to look for something cheap instead of instantly saying walmart is always cheaper so go there first.

Walmart, left un-checked will lead to the demise of western world as we know it. There is only one reason why people go to walmart: they get more junk for less of their hard earned $$. But look at the big picture: The only way I’m getting that much junk for less of my cash, is because of an imbalance. The imbalance being that the people making the junk are making less than me. (china) So all my hard earned cash is now going to china to buy more junk than I would have been able to buy had I paid a westerner to make the same stuff (since they demand more $$). I make money here, I spend money on Walmart, and the cash flow keeps going to China. So it’s all fine and dandy as long as the net balance is that we have more cash than china.

Roll into the future several years and what do we have? All our net positive cash is now in China, and now we can’t buy as much crap as in the past. We are all making less $$, becuase of the trickle down Walmart effect. China now has all the $$, (economy thriving) and we are left barely scraping buy, unable to reverse the cycle, because all we can afford is the crap at walmart. :wink:

But I do have a plan:

As soon as earn my MBA, I’m starting a company. My company will only make high quality products, and only innovate products that need innovating! There will be no metoo products, and once a design is perfected (in a timeless style of course) It won’t be redesigned ever again. How will I stay in business against walmart? Simple. I’ll spend every last dime of my marketing on a social/political campaign pointing out the shortsightedness of the walmart model, and brainwash people into believing that buying a high quality product once every ten years, is better than buying crap every 1 year. Brainwashing sounds brutal, but in this case necessary, as no one seems to be catching on (except for designers, of course).

What’s the net net of my business?

  1. Less junk in the landfills
  2. Less harm to the environment
  3. More $$ in everyones pocket

The GDP will tank, yet everyone will be living a higher quality of life. The economy, on paper will look horrible (because people will stop the wasteful consuming of crap). But lifestyles will improve, the environment will improve, and we will be living in peace and harmony. :smiley: