Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Book Club

Our book club's discussion of The Wal-Mart Effect was good -- lively. How could it not be? The author himself has noted, "Ordinary Americans have strong feelings about Wal-Mart, that’s clear from all the reaction I’ve gotten." (source) I must have 3 dozen post-it flags in the book, and I went back to refer to maybe two of those highlighted items!

Some quick notes, before I check it back in:

The Wal-mart effect is

- that "Wal-Mart's low prices routinely reset out expectations about what all kinds of things should cost. . . ." (p. 5)
- the squeezing a company to sell to Wal-Mart as the lowest possible price (and then do better next year)
- goods so cheap you throw out the pickles that go bad because you bought the gallon jar
- goods so cheap, you consider a lawnmower a disposable product: if you can't start it in the spring, don't drag it to the shop, buy another -- it was only $99.96. (Wal-Mart effect: repair businesses close.)
- a gallon jar of uncut pickles on the shelf
- a miserable time had by customers (and employees) in the store
- extreme efficiency in warehousing, shipping, and displaying products
- many factories go overseas; conditions in them are poor
- at least on factory finds staying here the best way to satisfy Wal-Mart's need for a product, which is called the Makin Bacon (Family becomes successful off product. Effect of book: Lib. patron purchases Makin Bacon and loves it.)
- the ruination of ecosystems in the quest for farm-raised salmon: a former luxury selling for less than 5 bucks a pound
- can save "enough plastic to account for the lifetime consumption of hundreds of Americans." (p. 278)
- not included in many tabulations that are supposed to reflect the state of the economy
- "strangl[ing]" the market economy (p. 234)


His thesis statement: "Wal-Mart isn't just a store, or a huge company, or a phenomenon anymore. Wal-Mart shapes where we shop, the products we buy, and the prices we pay -- even for those of us who never shop there." (p. 5)

"Ninety percent of Americans live within fifteen miles of a Wal-Mart." (p. 5)

"Wal-Mart's price pressure can leave so little profit that there is little left for innovation." (p. 89) Little left, in other words, for research and development of new products.

"[D]uring the last seven years, a remarkable milestone has passed all but unnoticed: In 2003, for the first time in modern U.S. history, the number of Americans working in retail (14.9 million) was greater than the number of Americans working in factories (14.5 million). We have more people working in stores than we do making the merchandise to put in them." (p. 108)

A study found that "'..the presence of Wal-Mart unequivocally raised family poverty rates in U.S. counties during the 1990s.'" (p. 165)

"But Americans are clearly close to Wal-mart saturation, not culturally or politically or morally, but literally. The nation simply doesn't need to buy much more from Wal-Mart than it already does." (p. 213)

A study of shoppers in Oklahoma City labeled shoppers as champions, enthusiasts, conflicted, and rejectors. "Conflicted shoppers . . . are the second most frequent shoppers at the store. . . ." (p. 220)

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