The Decline and Fall of Walmart?
2/3/2003

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You heard it here first: Could Walmart be in trouble?
  Of course, I'd be happy to take on that kind of trouble myself. Lay it on me!
    I've noticed over the past few years that about one of every three devices I buy at Walmart doesn't work
. I can return them and exchange them, but that's a time-consuming nuisance, and time costs money. Sometimes, the sales slip is mislaid, or I don't get back in time to make the exchange, and then I have a piece of unworkable trash that ends up in the trash can. Today, my eyes landed upon a relatively expensive bug zapper that we bought from Walmart last spring. The first one was visibly broken, so I took it back and exchanged it. Its replacement wasn't obviously damaged, but one of the bulbs wouldn't work. This time, I didn't get around to taking it back.
    Yesterday, I asked the woman operating the checkout counter at the supermarket if she had had the same experience with Walmart? She said, yes, she had, and that she has switched to shopping at Target. She hasn't had these quality control problems with Target. (Unfortunately, Target sells a much smaller range of products.) I had also thought about K-Mart, although a friend with whom I talked there at the supermarket said that, like the dot.coms, K-Mart had a profligate management structure during the nineties, leading it into bankruptcy.
    He said he thought that Walmart had competed hard until they ran K-Mart off the road, but now the pressure on Walmart has eased.
    Walmart has been "rolling back prices" to the extent of helping to hold down inflation, but this might possibly have been pushed to the point of impacting quality control.
    I talked with someone else yesterday who commented that Walmart's prices have skyrocketed during the past few months. I went into Walmart to replenish an over-the-counter medication and found that its price had risen from $2.50 to $4.78 since the last time I bought it.
    Quality control problems aren't as obvious with consumable items, but you wonder if Walmart is cutting corners there, too.
    Sam Walton is no longer around, and the place is under new management.
    Walmart is such an American icon, it seems almost unpatriotic to criticize its quality control. And of course, that could possibly be the ideal vehicle for management problems.
    I wonder if we've produced a couple of generation of well-reared, accepting citizens (myself among them) who are in the process of being taught expensive lessons about the uncommon but destructive rogues and scoundrels who were only too well-known to their parents and grandparents. The dot-com bust was a first lesson in the "fleecing of America", but it may not have burned us  badly enough to provoke a public outcry. Our forbears emerged from an age of divine-right kings and wealthy state religions. Even after these institutions had been diluted, child labor, sweat-shops, and trust-wielding robber barons remained until public indignation led to laws forbidding such practices. But that was a long time ago, and perhaps, we might have forgotten what can happen when greed and/or lust for power override human kindness.
    Somebody has said that constant vigilance is the price of freedom..

    I'm going to try to find alternatives to Walmart. And evidently, I'm not the only one making that choice.