I have been a devout bargain shopper for most of my life. With a few classic exceptions such as Vera Bradley bags (I have a seemingly endless need for quilted paisley), I generally prefer to buy cheap, in bulk or preferably both. From a young age I have known exactly where to go: that Mecca of low prices, Wal-Mart. I have even purchased outfits for sorority recruitment there, and have been quite happy with the results.
Sadly, starting about five years ago my seemingly innocent habit became a topic of concern from many friends. I was informed in no uncertain terms that I was undermining the capitalist system, supporting slave labor and killing the Amazon, all while endorsing sexism and racism. I was horrified, but being the relatively lame and overly argumentative person that I am, I chose to take the hard route.
Rather than simply modify my behavior and join the roaring hoards demanding the destruction of one of America’s most successful businesses, I did research. I continued to shop at Wal-Mart and simply looked up statistics to defend my behavior. Now, after years of vainly pointing out the benefits of the big, yellow smiley faces to my more ardently opposed friends, I have finally gotten my revenge.
Hopefully, I will never have to make my passionate argument about the net benefit of Wal-Mart in rural communities or for the urban lower class again. Hopefully, I will never again have to explain to my more liberal and academically-minded friends that the overall product availability, GDP and tax revenue of a county almost always goes up when a Wal-Mart is introduced. And hopefully, I will no longer have to explain that yes, Wal-Mart’s part-time employment policy was racist and sexist but it does not negate the overall brilliance of the part-time employment idea, nor does it nullify the benefits of shopping there.
Hopefully, the vehement attacks on my shopping habits will cease altogether, as recent statistics indicate that many of those customers who had the liberty of avoiding Wal-Mart’s “everyday low prices” are spending their shrinking incomes on the discounted products that much of America once judged. In the last quarter of 2008 (that time when the global economy was spiraling down the drain), Wal-Mart recorded an 8.3 percent growth in sales, with heavy growth internationally and at established Wal-Mart centers. In other words, it wasn’t all thanks to returning customers.
Wal-Mart’s internal statistics suggest that much of this cash influx came straight from new customers, from that almost unimaginable portion of the population that had managed to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart before they realized that lettuce really should cost less than four dollars (what in the world does Whole Foods put in their lettuce that makes it worth that, by the way?).
Of course, Wal-Mart was not a perfect business, but it is a great business model. Wal-Mart does not expect you to have a line of credit—they sell products that are cheap enough that you can actually buy them in cash. Wal-Mart gives people the opportunity to live within their means while still enjoying the wide array of products and services that we as Americans have defined as crucial to our everyday lives. Wal-Mart lets all of us buy the things we feel we “need” at prices that reflect exactly how much we actually “need” them. For example, I really only “need” shimmery lip gloss at a going rate of about 15 cents an ounce, and Wal-Mart can provide me with that rate.
As individuals continue to tighten their belts, the culture of excess that has run rampant for the past few years is finally shrinking. Of course, the recession is a horrible turn for our economy and our country, but I think the growing profits of Wal-Mart might just show one benefit. As budgets shrink, so does self-righteous grandstanding about the moral responsibility of superstores. People are finally realizing what I have known all along. Wal-Mart products are just as good as any store’s—at half the price.