When it comes to shopping I'm a mercenary. I am a woman and I love to shop – I am a connoisseur of stuff. Make all the gender based assumptions you want. I approach shopping as an art form.
My Wal-mart runs are usually ever six weeks. That's about as much as I can stomach of my least favorite 'I have to buy toilet paper somewhere' store (located three blocks away from where I live). The thing about Wal-mart isn't that I think it's the personification of evil…I know it's the personification of evil and yet I still shop there. I don't know if it's more because I'm a realist or a pessimist but I just assume that any store proclaiming itself a corporation is stocked with goods made by the sad hands of the exploited. I'm liberal enough, i.e. moral enough, to wish differently. I wish there was some sort of mega store open 24/7 stocked with items made by people getting a fair wage for their efforts. I wish Bush wasn't president. I wish ponies could fly. I could wish until the end of time, but wishing it doesn't make it so.
I look at things pragmatically. While US corporations and their dummy corporations try to divorce themselves from sweat shops, it leaves a vacuum open for the Chinese Commie/Capitalists who take over factories based in 'third-world nations' and then institute even harsher work standards. So, the end result is it still turns to crap even when corporations develop a social conscious (sort of).
I would love one of the major US retailers to take up the cause of the exploited. Do a huge ad campaign on how at least 50% of their wares are not made by the ten and under crowd. Oh, I'm sure people will complain and want 100% but that isn't realistic and I would prefer starting with a lower percentage and then build up. It's better than what we have now. Probably 90% of what is on the average shelf of American retailers is made by children or women trying to support children.
Here's another idea I've kicked around for years. Some sort of council that determines politically correct department stores and offers them a seal of approval; such as the one given to stores where the British royal family privately buy their knickers and bulk Earl Grey. Using the Windsor model, a sign could be used to distinguish a store as one that supports human rights here and abroad.
A few years ago Wal-mart did the whole 'American made' campaign but much of their deceptions were revealed thus they turned to an ad gimmick of a smiley face running (?) for its smiley life least it be crushed by non-smiling falling prices. Someday I hope that yellow ball trips and then is splattered for all to see. I don't like smiley faces.
Besides Wal-mart's cynical attempts to make its goods appear 'American made' via the Maldives; it is an unpleasant place to shop. They may still be doing commercials about how senior citizens just love to work there, but let's face it - they don't. It seems the most jaded and health-challenged employees are often assigned the role of 'greeter.' They are the first people you see when entering the store and give the impression that assisted suicide might be a blessing. They don't want to say, "Hi, Welcome to Wal-mart" because they don't like you and I don't blame them.
I'm convinced that Wal-mart cares as much for their customers as they do about the four year olds sewing the front buttons on their Wal-mart brand Bermuda shorts. Hey, I admit that I think they are exploitive a-holes but I'm still shopping there - must they remind me that they are a-holes (ergo, reminding me I'm an a-hole for shopping there). They do this by hanging TV monitors ever other aisle blasting commercials for themselves on a loop.
Here's a kicker, if you shop there ask them to turn down the TVs because they are making your ears bleed. The response you are likely to get is a tilt of the head from a high school dropout (who at seventeen is already regretting how his life turned out). The kid will look down at the floor as he tells you that they (the people who actually work and manage the store you are standing in) can't turn down the TVs because they are controlled by the head office – the final decision on volume is made by someone tucked away in a bunker in Arkansas. No wonder I've been told by several mothers of ADHD children they prefer shopping at Target!
The one thing I think Wal-mart does better than its competitors is their selection of hair products. I like the fact that they have a wall of shampoo, cream rinses, and hair sprays. I care about my hair, as vain and petty as that is to write, it is in the grand tradition of 'Little Women's' Jo March – my one beauty. On the other hand, their wall of feminine products makes me dizzy. I truly feel for the lone husband willing to do his wife's bidding. Pads or tampons? If he goes with pads; wings or no wings? I know my preferences, but damn if I can easily find them. Sometimes, even if I'm not pre-menstrual, the over abundance of it all prompts tears.
Checking out at Wal-mart is as often as depressing as shopping there. They have an automative system that screams checkout clerks are an unnecessary luxury. I don't know how much money they save by laying off two minimum wage workers and hiring a full time security officer to monitor said system, but I never use them because they creep me out. So this leaves me face to face with a Wal-mart cashier who generally fall into two categories: 1) biding their time until life shows them some mercy – i.e. Wal-mart is a means to an end 2) repressed and likely to stay that way – i.e. Sam Walton was God. The true test to discover which category the checkout clerk falls under is to ask them to double sack. I've actually had one woman, wearing way too much flair than was flattering for her age, grunt at me and ask why. Why?
Because Wal-mart is so bloody cheap that their 'sacks' tear like tissue paper and I have to haul my purchases up stairs. Because I have a cat and Wal-mart sacks are a great place to put her poop. Because I'm the customer!
Most affluent communities don't want a Wal-mart store in their towns because they are a drain on the local economies. They don't provide health care for most of their employees because most of their employees are barely eking out a living because Wal-mart is famously non-union. But oh, I wish they were. I want the employees to unionize themselves and often tell them to do so while shopping there. I whisper to them that Wal-mart provides health insurance to their employees in Germany. I'm sure Wal-mart incorporated just loves me as a customer!
If a store doesn't produce it closes and all of those Ma and Pa stores that Wal-mart replaced in smaller communities aren't coming back. There are few things more depressing than driving along a highway in need of repair and seeing the remains of a mega store that went bust. Wal-mart is lately having its share of bad publicity but still the head honchos act like they are Michael Jackson in his prime, not Michael Jackson of today with clown makeup and optional nose. In the end, shopping at Wal-mart is a Faust worthy dilemma. I prefer Target, I even prefer K-mart, but my local Wal-mart is so close I can walk to it (environment, environment) and their shampoo selection is perfection, and I need to buy my toilet paper somewhere.