I had planned to write this screed about Wal Marts in general, but instead I have come to the conclusion that I live within a few football fields length (as the crow flies) of the Worst Wal-Mart In The World.
I have long been fascinated by the Wal-Mart story and Sam Walton, and when Wal-Mart first showed up in Manassas fifteen years or so ago I was a regular customer. I also found over time that all the pricing practices AIAW recites are true. They sugar foot the competition, draw in traffic with lower prices, then jack it up bit by bit when they have cleared the field.
I, however, was not daunted by said tactics. I carry the hunter gatherer gene right down to my nanites. I know, for instance, that if I want a bottle of my favorite lime flavored water, I can get a 33.8 oz bottle cheaper at Wal Mart ($0.58) than at Safeway or at Giant ($.85, or on sale at 4/$3=$.75). BUT, if I want the little 20oz bottles, they are cheaper at Giant on sale (2×4 packs for $3.00) than at Wal Mart ($1.88 per 4 pack). So for some items, Wal-Mart does sell them for less…then they use the convenience of having a bazillion other things nearby to keep you there and shopping…and I bet in these days of high gas prices that convenience facet will work big things for them.
I have no doubt that their HR policies are not the most magnanimous in the world, but AIAW does a far better job pushing that button than I could ever do so I leave that in her capable hands.
I even learned to handle the lacking customer service. You see a Wal Mart myth that AIAW does not get into is the great customer service, that willingness to go the extra mile for you because we are all “just folks”, in this together. That is just malarkey. For every smiling retiree you see pushing a cart at you when you enter a Wal-Mart, there seem to be a mutltude of folks shuffing around, who don’t know where things are, and who “can’t find” a manager when you want to speak to one.
So, beyond all the economic ripple effects that AIAW recounts, there is the on site question about whether prices are really the lowest, and there is the bad service. But here in Burke, they have taken things to a new depth of annoying. The store here is dirty, and the parking is problematic.
I had this spelled out to me last weekend, when circumstance had me in four different Wal Marts on the same day (Fair Lakes, Manassas/I-66, Manassas/Liberia, and Burke). The Burke parking was bad, but part of that comes with the territory. Instead of building a facility to meet their design, Wal-Mart took over a building that had been a K-Mart, and the parking lot really isn’t equal to the traffic. However, while they saw it coming, I guess their need to build in new areas took over their planning sense.
Burke also carried the day on being dirty. Rather than put in some type of tiling that disguises the dirt tracked into a retail establishment, they have this white stuff that gets dirty, stays dirty, and does not seem to get cleaned that often. I had neither the parking nor sense of filth problem at the other stores.
Now at all stores I quickly found what I was looking for…my favorite bottled water, some things for my father, MRP bars, etc. At three stores I checked out quickly…let me tell you what happened in Burke when I tried to check out with a cart of seven items, just heavy enough to take us out of basket range.
I will spare you all the details, but the highlights included:
* Having to go to four different counters between registers suddenly not working or breaks occuring.
* Every checker had some terrible time putting sales items through, even though the customers in each case had circulars or coupons with them that were within the proper date range.
* I went to the self-serve checkout and had, among my seven items, a box of MET-RX meal bars (Apple Crisp). The box clearly says it has a dozen bars, and had not been opened. When I attempted to scan the box bar code, the check out machinery went into cardiac arrest. The staffer overseeing the four registers comes over and tells me that the box barcode is not in the sytem, I will have to separately ring each of the twelve bars. HOWEVER, since that would put me over the ten item limit, I had to go to another aisle.
This process took me twenty minutes for what should have been no more than five. Then, on the way out I ask to speak to a store manager…and no one can find him. I ask to speak to any manager, and they cannot find one. Finally I speak to a “customer service” rep named Dupuy, who seemed sympathetic but made no effort to find a manager and acted like what he really wanted was for me to leave.
What I found amazing was that none of this happened at the other stores. What I also found amazing was that none of the folks at Wal-Mart had any sense or concern that they could lose a customer. I mean, how can one walk away from our low, low prices?
Well, there comes a time when low, low prices don’t but the mustard, especially when the discerning eye can tell when they aren’t as low as they want us to think.
I don’t know if the Burke Wal-Mart is worth it. Maybe they can change. But if they are going to survive the heightened surveillance of their pricing and HR systems, not to mention the effect they have on their communities, they best begin by at least cleaning up their stores and hiring staff that at least acts like they want to help you.
I don’t think I am going to hold my breath on that one.