Jan 4, 2006

See the light, don't roll back.

Want to...
...support businesses in your local community?
...be a better person?
...save money?

Don't shop at Wal-Mart.

Whenever I stroll into Wal-Mart looking for one particular item, I never leave with just one item. If I venture into the store seeking a fuse for my car, I'll leave with a fuse, three candy bars, a DVD, a novelty keychain lighter, a new bathmat, and a decorative cover for my saucepan lid. I could have spent $1.99, and that is all I should have spent. I could have paid for it in cash. Instead I ended up whipping out my credit card to cover a $30 charge at the register. No wonder Wal-Mart is so successful. Their store is, and this should go without saying, a world of impulse buys. Its LOW, LOW prices entice consumers into buying WAY, WAY more than they should.

Realising this, then, are many consumers really saving any money at all by shopping at Wal-Mart rather than "more expensive" alternative retailers, be it for groceries, household items, or garden? Most may be convinced they are, but my hunch is great that many are not. They're taking more crap home for less than they could take the same amount of crap home from other separate retailers who charge more for the same items. Is this necessarily a good thing? No. If I had gone to Checker Auto Parts just across the street, I would have paid $3.25 for the same set of fuses, perhaps, but would not have been able to purchase three candy bars, a DVD, a novelty keychain lighter, a new bathmat, or even a decorative cover for my saucepan lid. All items I can live without, all items I would probably be better off without. And good golly, I saved myself over $25 by shopping at a store that smelled more like motor oil than fast food grease and didn't try to tempt my every sense with mountains of junk.

Wal-Mart does have its sneaky little tactics, too. Putting a $29.99 toaster in its own special display out in the middle of the aisle will have many consumers thinking its a spectacular deal. It probably is. You could get the same item at Macy's for $49.99. Yet, it is likely the customer will bypass this product, which appears to be the toaster oven of cheapest quality, and wander down the nearest adjacent aisle featuring a series of different toaster ovens which most likely all come with higher price tags. It's all about comparison, after all. There will always be the "highest end" model, that which sports the biggest price tag but also appears to be the best of the best. And whether the shopper recognises it or not, herein lies the trap.

Some shoppers, especially those on a budget, will choose to purchase that clumsy hunk of junk parked in the middle of the main aisle. It will probably break down after three months, necessitating another trip to Wal-Mart to buy another crappy toaster. Others, perhaps even an equal or greater percentage, will look at the higher end models and think, "well, that appears to be of much better quality than the $29.99 unit, and it's only $20 more!" One of these, however probably isn't such a "steal." It might even cost more there than it does at certain other stores in the same town. But Wal-Mart wouldn't have you believe that. After all, they sell toaster ovens for $29.99.

Though, it sure knows how to give lazy Americans convenience in a one-stop shopping experience. Heck, you don't even have to drive to a separate McDonald's since there is already one built in to the store! But it all comes around to basic shopper tendencies. One-stop shopping isn't necessarily a good thing for those who are easily grabbed by the merciless hand of impulse buying, also known as those who return home with more junk they never planned to purchase before heading out than "necessities." That store symbolises America oh so well. Efficiency, excess, uniformity, convenience, unculture. When I gaze upon so much of the obese scum that waddles down the aisles of Wal-Mart, I see the entirety of America within four brightly lit walls. I get terribly disgusted. Stepping into Wal-Mart from a Hawaiian parking lot is like being ejected into another universe, a hellish realm portraying the threatening familiarity of sinister American values and heavily watered-down, mechanised mediocrity. It makes me queasy.

I don't wish to be so tempted to buy so much useless junk. I already have enough as it is. If anything, I should be getting rid of stuff, but as an American, that's what life is all about for me. Stuff. But seriously, that's one of the reasons I enjoy camping so immensely: getting away from stuff. If I had no stuff, I would be just as happy living in a tent rent-free. Recollections of my brother insisting we take the portable colour TV when my father took us camping as kids makes me shake my head and sigh. The signals I want to catch while basking in the great outdoors can only be received by my internal spiritual antenna.

Kudos to those Wal-Mart shoppers who can walk in the store, get exactly what they need and nothing else, and run back out before being tempted to impulse purchase. I'm not claiming they don't exist. Unfortunately, they still shop at Wal-Mart, and support child labour in sweatshops in China. I honestly feel like a better person going down to the farmer's market to purchase produce and local crafts straight from the farmers/craftspeople, as opposed to going to Wal-Mart and buying a few health-devastating bags of candy and mass manufactured wooden boxes made in Taiwan.

Thus, I am challenging myself to not be seduced by Wal-Mart's unfathomable allure. They are open until midnight, and I can wait until 11:30 to do my shopping. So what? I can do the same at KTA superstores. Wal-Mart's food prices are cheaper. So what? Food prices at KTA can be competitive when on sale, and KTA sells much higher quality foodstuff in much greater varieties. Where else am I to buy miscellaneous products like curtain rods, though? I'm sure there's a place. Once upon a time, as in just a few years ago, all of Hawaii's residents had to subsist without Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or even Costco. Sadly, I am willing to bet few could stand that, now. Amazing how one corporation can make such a tremendous impact in everyone's lives. Stop Kilroying, Mr. Gates, before I have to smack your nose with my awesome new electronic flyswatter. Trust me, it's made in America, and won't even require the use of a muscle to operate.

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