Walmart: Friend or Foe?

Since the day I started business school, one of the biggest lessons was about WalMart. They are a brilliant company, there is no denying that. They are the largest retailer in the world; and they use that power well. WalMart has created an ecosystem of their suppliers and retailers, working together to serve their mission however they see fit. There is no way that a business person cannot commend them for this.

But consumers always seem to have such strong opinions when they see that big, yellow smiley face. I know a lot of people that love WalMart, in every sense of the word. I’ve never been to a WalMart, but only because I’ve never lived in a place where one was near. (I hear they have great deals on socks.) My point is, a lot of the people I know who won’t go anywhere else for a six pack of socks are women. Or minorities. Or anyone else that WalMart has reportedly hired screwed over its’ lifetime.

There is a flip side to that love – consumers also get angry when they hear the WalMart name. Documentaries have been made about how awful the organization really is. (I did have to watch that documentary in one of my business classes, after discussing the business’ brilliance.) These people protest, deny ever stepping foot in one of the chain stores, and criticize others for shopping there.

But do consumers actually care how “bad” WalMart is?

Women sue the company for massive amounts of money, and then the lawsuit is suddenly dropped. I know plenty of women that will still shop at WalMart. The same can be said for children caught in WalMart sweat shops – how many parents bring their kids into the stores because the clothes are cheap? It is understandable logic – as long as that same parent doesn’t preach about child labor laws.

I’m just wondering if all of this news REALLY affects the WalMart name. Consumers have hated them for years – and continually shopped there. Obviously business is booming for them. No problems on the home front.

Do they just have the most incredible PR team known to man? Or do consumers only pretend to care about corporate policy, and then turn their heads when socks are on sale for 3 for the price of 1?