Tuesday, March 27, 2007

CC questions Wal-Mart

Several months ago, I started getting the occaisional emails from a Wal-Mart PR guy. He seemed to be under the impression that I wrote what I have defending Wal-Mart out of a deep love for his company. No, I just think that if Wal-Mart wants to move into the inner city and sell cheap groceries to poor people, we should let them.

(If you've ever actually spent significant time in a neighborhood with section 8 housing, you know that they almost never have grocery stores. They have crappy convenience stores where buying anything fresh is incredibly expensive. Frequently, various health-food advocates will put out studies saying that if poor people would just shop in suburban grocery stores where they would be charged suburban prices, they could EASILY feed their familes fresh vegetables for less than the cost of fast food. Those advocates are idiots.)

Anyway, I exchanged a few friendly emails with Walmart PR guy, until he wrote and asked "Are you in NOVA? Or the good part of the state?"

As from my perspective, where I live is the good part of the state as Northern VA's willingness to pay taxes means we have decent roads, top public schools and emergency services that will reach you before you die.

CC is a Northern Virginian for several generations back, so pride demanded she stop responding to PR guy's emails. He would still send me the occaisional press release, which I would read and then ignore because my interest in Wal-Mart really stops at poor neighborhoods and those usually aren't what his stuff trumpets. Yes, it's nice that millions of dollars in bonuses went to hourly employees this year, but whatever. Bring Anacostia some mangoes and we will talk.

But something I've seen in the news a couple of times has really pissed me off.

A Wal-Mart in Beaufort, SC was still selling the recalled pet food a week after the recall. So a lady came in and bought a thousand dollars worth just to get it off the shelves.

I learned about this woman in News of the Weird, where she was being made fun of. Yes, at first blush, she sounds like a crank. But if Walmart wasn't obeying the recall, hell, she was just doing what she had to do to keep people from buying the food and sickening their pets.

Anyway, I wrote the following letter to my PR guy and sent it off:


Curiosity question--

I read "TheConsumerist.com" and read about how last year your company
found out that it was selling a T-shirt with some sort of Nazi
Insignia. Walmart corporate said they were recalling the shirts, but
for something like four months consumerist readers were sending in
pictures of themselves holding the shirts as they continued to find
them for sale.

A representative example

Given that, how do you handle recalls of actually dangerous products?

Has the pet food recall worked better than the Nazi t-shirt recall?
What have you done differently?

A news story about stores still selling the food

Are you going to pay back Margaret Trask of Beaufort, SC, who bought a
thousand dollars worth of the food because your store was still
selling it a week after the recall?




I'll be interested to see the response.



Comrade Kevin said...

In situations like you've cited, I can see WalMart as a necessary evil.

Although my primary criticism of WalMart is that refuse to unionize, pay their workers decent benefits, and don't pay them at all according to what they are worth.

I think the criticism of Wal-Mart thus far has been directed to its invasion of small town America and its forcing to close to the small mom and pop stores that made up the backbone of local economies.

So I see what you're saying.

That's a whole different angle I would have never considered, though I do boycott Wal-Mart partially out of principle and partially because the place looks like an army base and has always given me the willies ever since I was a kid.

PeaceBang said...


Lilylou said...

Wow, great post, CC. I agree with you about getting decent affordable food to people, even if it's Walmart doing it. I'm appalled about the pet food situation and their response to that.

PG said...

If Wal-Mart is only going into areas where there are no real grocery stores, only convenience stores, then certainly it's great for them to be doing that. Is that actually what happens, though? Or does Wal-Mart go into areas where there are grocery stores already?

Anyway, agreed with peacebang and Ms Kitty.

PG said...

To follow up on my own question, this story about Wal-Mart's retreating from NYC notes, "Surveys have repeatedly shown that Wal-Mart’s grocery prices are typically 10 to 30 percent lower than those of its competitors," but also says that the locations Wal-Mart had sought were Rego Park (in Queens) and in Staten Island. Rego Park may be even less "inner city" than the areas where I've lived in Manhattan, given that it has some of the highest real estate prices in Queens. Incidentally, "The King of Queens" is set there.

I don't know where specifically on Staten Island they'd planned to have a Wal-Mart, but it's not at all inner-city -- it's a middle income suburb mostly of Italian- and Irish-Americans.

Putting Wal-Marts in middle class areas is a perfectly sensible business strategy -- why spend the money on NYC real estate without being able to count on customers who can afford some of the higher volume items? -- but it doesn't comport well with the theory that Wal-Mart's poor treatment of workers is balanced out by the good its prices do for the poor.

PG said...

Oops, I meant "why spend the money on NYC real estate without being able to count on customers who can afford some of the higher MARGIN items?"