It baffles me how Wal Mart has actually managed to even gain a finger hold in ONE TOWN, let alone grab the world by the balls like it has. Each and every time I walk in there I have the least pleasurable shopping experience EVER! I can't understand why anyone would CHOOSE to go there, but they do. A woman I know will drive to the OTHER SIDE OF TOWN in her V8 full-size pickup when gas is hovering around $4.50 a gallon, past 6 grocery stores to buy a SINGLE gallon of milk.
To save 15 cents she will drive 3 km past the furthest grocery store from her house to get to Wal Mart. Once inside, she will be greeted warmly by the UGLIEST person the store currently has in their employ. Now I have nothing against ugly people in general, but isn't the idea of a greeter to make you WANT to come in? I'm sorry when I walk into a place and the person saying "Hi" to me has all of 3 teeth in their mouth, and puss oozing boils running all the way up their arms (I'm not making this up) the thought that comes to my mind ISN'T "Gosh I love it here." Granted, I suppose it's better that they're there than handling food or clothing *shudder*.
After passing the welcoming committee, this shopper will weave her way through the isles, inevitably grabbing a cart even though she only intends to pick up a gallon of milk. And then turn right to get to the refrigerated grocery isle. It's 3 isles over from the entrance, but will inevitably take several minutes to get there because there are always a dozen women (always women, sometimes their husbands/boyfriends/kids are in tow, but it's only women that shop this way) with similarly empty carts clogging the overly narrow isles in front of all the useless knickknacks that are so reasonably priced that it would be INSANE not to buy them, even though you already have 3 at home that have never been used picking up dust in the corner. So even before she's gotten to the milk she's picked up 3 things she didn't need and put them in her cart.
This is Wal Mart's marketing genius, every aspect their store layout is designed for maximum purchase. They put all the stuff that you would actually go there to get at the back of the store, then they put all the enticing things that you certainly don't need, but could perhaps see a place for between the entrance and the thing you came there to get. It's genius and it's blatantly manipulative. I despise it.
So finally our nameless woman manages to politely scootch past all the other carts to get the one thing she came there to get. The milk. Sometimes there is no milk left, but they're usually pretty good about keeping it stocked. Bottled water on the other hand, that pure essence of life, is sold out 50% of the time. She takes the milk to the checkout where each and every line is 5 carts deep, even the self-checkouts. So she waits. Finally getting into one of the self-checkouts she quickly runs her items through hoping her milk hasn't curdled into a solid chunk by this point. She heads for the door and the shoplifter alarm goes off.
The ugly person they had seated before the door manages to rise from the chair provided and politely usher the woman over to the customer service counter. You see, one of the pointless items she purchased on her way to the milk had a magnetic alarm tag cleverly attached. Now the self checkouts don't have the ability to disable those tags, so the alarms sound. She has a proof of purchase for every item in her bag, and even though 3 entrance monitors saw her check all the items though the self checkout she is forced to wait through the security paperwork, because unless the proper steps are followed and the proper documents filled out, shoplifters get away. So finally, after being held at the security counter for 20 minutes, she is finally allowed to leave.
The thing that baffles me the most about this entire scenario, is that this is NOT a harrowing experience! People go through all this every time they go to Wal Mart over and over again. If it were any other store in town, that store would be closed in a WEEK. Each and every person in town would have spread the word about how much it sucks and they'd never get any business at all ever. But for some reason Wal Mart needs not abide by these basic rules and tenants of customer service.
I am not an ogre, and I am not hard to please. Sometimes I have extremely pleasurable experiences shopping. One such pleasurable experience occurred yesterday, when on a whim my girlfriend and I decided to stop in at a small musical instrument store less than a block from my apartment. It's been open for 2 years since they opened and I hadn't been there yet, even though I'd played piano most of my childhood, and have several friends in a band. The store was lonely except for one woman behind the front counter. She had a combed back mullet, which led me to believe that she might have a healthy knowledge of the 80's metal scene not necessarily a bad thing in a store called “Guitars and Stuff.”
The store had far more in it than I'd expected, it was small but packed with enough equipment to outfit any band, guitars, cases, piano's mixing equipment, strings, pic's, and more. It was a gem, most of this stuff I figured you'd have to go out of town to get. A back room with banjo's, acoustic guitars, and violins was even there. The violins caught my eye for I've been interested in learning to play one for a while now. I perused the prices, while my girlfriend spoke with the lady at the front counter about guitar cases for her younger sister. The prices for the fiddles varied between $200 and $600 and not really expecting any real information I asked the lady about them. Specifically I asked what a reasonable entry level violin would be. She didn't know but called the store owner who was in the back.
He was a jolly looking fellow, one who looked more at home under a tractor than in a music store, but he knew about fiddles. He not only explained the difference between a $200 and a $500 dollar fiddle, but SHOWED me. He could actually play, which was really nice because instantly you could tell the difference in the sound. He even showed me the "old farmer's trick" of spitting a bit on the strings as you tuned them to get them to stick better and stay in tune. Seeing a shop owner spit on his own merchandise amused me greatly.
My tiny little town has only started getting a stronger commercial presence, but it is happening. Last year was in fact the first Christmas I can remember where I was able to forgo the horrible driving in our neighboring city and buy most of the gifts right here. Even the Wal Mart is a relatively new addition here. I’m happy that I now have some choice as a consumer, and am able to support the merchants in my community. But even with the oil money in the area, success for a small business is not guaranteed, it’s still a long hard road to travel, one that I might venture down in the future. There are still obstacles that need to be overcome, we’re remote, so shipping in product is an issue, the downtown core is small so getting a viable location isn’t easy, and by and large we’re still a community of farmers who are resistant to change and new ideas, so offering a new product is often met with a “why would we need that?” mentality. (My good friend who runs a very nice sex-shop here sees this every day.) One thing I don’t see as being a threat to the growth of the small business core is Wal Mart. All it should take to get an edge on that monstrosity is to simply offer a superior product and not crap all over your customers when they walk through the door. But that’s only logic that makes me come to this conclusion, the billions of Wal Mart shoppers that continue to go there seem to be proving me wrong.