Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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During my recent visit to the U.S. I couldn't resist going to a WalMart store we passed. We needed to get some things and I wanted to have seen one, while I had the opportunity. From across the big pond, WalMart is a kind of icon. You hear about giant stores, cheap prices and 'greeters'.

My brother warned me that the store we visited wasn't one of the 'supercentres' or something but just an ordinary one. And I was disappointed. Basically I thought the place was a dump, rather than the cutting edge of retail – and who knows about retail if not the Americans, a report in Die Zeit this week even hints that they are keeping the world economy afloat by increasing private debt - thanks guys!

The WalMart we were in was ugly, the people shopping there were too, the guy at the checkout was new and completely inexperienced (as was I who didn't know you have to swipe your credit card yourself) but tried to be very (==overly) friendly and the prices may be cheap for the U.S. but weren't particularly good compared to what I am used from over here.

Kind of an expensive and much larger equivalent of the German kings of cheapo retail, Aldi, whose owers also are among the richest people in the country.

April 4, 2004, 22:15


Comment by Daniel J. Wilson: User icon

In addition to being the epitome of the mediocratization and homogenization of America, Wal-Mart is notorious for unethical business practices like time shaving (oops, your overtime disappeared) and providing such ridiculously overpriced health insurance that many of their employees and their children use state-funded programs paid for by taxes.

Then there is their editing of music recordings…

I will never shop at one of those shitholes.

April 4, 2004, 22:57

Comment by d.w.: User icon

An Aldi’s just opened about a mile from my house. They’re not a whole lot of them in the U.S., but they do exist.

And WalMart is evil.

April 5, 2004, 4:24

Comment by ssp: User icon

All right. I had assumed that WalMart isn’t exactly guilty of good business practices but wasn’t aware things are bad enough to cause people to react like this. From what makes it across the big pond, WalMart sounds more like the current big thing in consumer bliss.

Re Aldi: It’s strange to see those open abroad (except in Majorca, perhaps, which has so many Germans in the holiday season). From what I’ve seen in England, Aldi may be quite different from ‘the original’, though. In Germany it’s a pretty bland super-efficient no frills no service affair. In many parts of the store they don’t even have proper shelves and put the stuff there on palettes as it comes in.

However, they are said to train and pay they people way for ‘unskilled’ work. This may be due to the fact that until very recently Aldi only carried a very limited range of products and at the checkout people actually memorised a number for each one, keying it in at an incredible speed - much faster than any scanner could. Add to that that they don’t provide any space behind the cashier where your shopping can wait for you to pack it - forcing you to put it back into the cart right away and the fact that you can only pay cash - and you’re in for an amazingly quick checkout experience.

Things are changing, though, now that the electronics seem to be good enough. Also, Aldi has been said to actually check on their checkout people’s speed from within the computer and fire them if they’re not incredibly fast. Not nice for employees but nice for customers.

The products they sell are mostly very cheap and of no-name type. It’s mostly food. They also have some normal chocolates in between, say. Personally, I wouldn’t buy most of it. Lately, they have been notorious and quite successful in selling non-food items in addition to their standard stock. These will only be available for a fortnight or so. When they started it, people literally queued up to get that €999 computer or €50 DVD player. Now it’s quite normal and the deals they make aren’t too impressive anyway.

Sometimes you’re lucky and they sell reasonably drinkable wine for €2 per bottle or so. It’s not great but not sickening either and can come handy if you have to buy in bulk for a party or so.

A very strange phenomenon, those stores. I think it wouldn’t work as well in Germany if the shops looked nicer (as they did in England). People will only believe it’s cheap if it feels cheap as well. I am sure some psychologists / sociologists have written dissertations on this topic. (Have to ask new flatmate…)

April 6, 2004, 10:55

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