Thursday, April 14, 2005

Should you shop at Wal Mart?

It's an interesting made more interesting after reading this story about Wal-Mart's attempts to refurbish its ailing public image.

Now, this is a company that has never been particularly concerned about what people thought about it -- as long as they kept shopping there. And they have. The statistics cited by Kelly Hearn of Alternet are truly astounding:

A report co-authored by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and citing statistics by Deutsche Bank Securities, shows superstores' chunk of the general merchandise market went from 16 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2004. From 1991 to 2004, retail ad growth at newspapers shrunk from 4 percent to 1 percent.

So there's a certain irony in Wal-Mart wanting to get local newspaper support to help it restore it's image.

But what I find interesting about this story is that it challenges me (at least) to wonder about whether I let issues like this influence my buying decisions. Does it matter to me what kind of labour record a company has, or whether they are driving small, locally-owned companies out of business? Apparently not, if I can buy a discounted DVD for a few bucks less. Or pick up a pair of pefectly good jeans for less than I can anywhere else. Certainly, the rate of growth for Wal-Mart, and similar "big-box superstores" shows no signs of abating. Perhaps it won't.

But there's this part of me that keeps wondering whether I should be more concerned. Should I consider larger issues when I spend my hard-earned dollars? Does the fact that I might save a few justify the hardships that, by extension, are exerted on others because of Wal-Mart's success? On the other hand, what about the people that work at Wal-Mart? They seem happy enough with the company they work for. In fact, Wal-Mart ranked #8 on this year's Top 50 Employers in Canada by the Report on Business.

At the end of the day, where you shop and why is a personal decision. But increasingly, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. For a long time, I think most of us simply watched and listened to stories about corporate activities without letting it become personal. But recent events, like the ethical and accounting scandals on Wall St. and Bay St. and at companies like Enron, combined with revelations at home like the Gomery Inquiry into Adscam are making people re-evaluate their personal stake in what's going on around them.

As Bell Canada explains it, "We are all connected."

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