business news in context, analysis with attitude

  • Interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times about how a Wal-Mart Supercenter is altering shopping habits in California’s Coachella Valley, where even people who don’t approve of Wal-Mart because of its labor and expansion policies find themselves shopping there because its prices seem to be better than those of any other supermarket retailer.

    “Dozens of shoppers interviewed in La Quinta, about 20 miles southeast of Palm Springs, said Wal-Mart's prices were the lure,” the LA Times writes. “Indeed, an informal survey by The Times of 20 grocery staples showed that the Supercenter's prices were the lowest overall, beating out Stater Bros., Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons.”

    For the moment, at least, the biggest impact seems to on the three major chains – Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons – all of which continue to be hurt by the after-effects of last year’s Southern California grocery strike. The Times suggests that Stater Bros. is managing to be more competitive by having “relatively low prices, big produce sections and full-service meat counters.”

  • The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on a phenomenon noted previously here on MNB - the fact that Wal-Mart keeps being used as an example in the mainstream culture…though not always in a positive way.

    The company has come in for criticism for its labor policies on the drama “Without A Trace,” and was lambasted on “South Park” for turning customers into greedy zombies.

    Over on “The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said that Wal-Mart was opening a store near some ancient ruins in Mexico -- "which marks the first time the chain moved into a community that was already in ruins."

    And this doesn’t count the number of times that Wal-Mart is probed on television news and magazine shows.

    The WSJ suggests that when the media criticizes Wal-Mart, it may be just another example of a chasm between “culture” and “reality” – that the entertainment business doesn’t understand the importance of Wal-Mart to the heartland.

KC's View:
What we found most interesting about the WSJ article was how Wal-Mart spokesperson Mona Williams portrayed the “South Park” episode as ultimately sympathetic to the retailer.

Because the show identified the heart of Wal-Mart as being a mirror, suggesting that no matter what its impact, the company is only giving customers what they want, Williams said, "’South Park’ confirmed that the power behind Wal-Mart is the consumer. Even if I don't agree with the way they do things, there is frequently a lot of truth in their satire.”

Talk about rationalization. There’s no way that the “South Park” episode can be seen as a positive reflection of Wal-Mart…rather, it suggests in not-very-subtle terms that Wal-Mart is a reflection of some of the worst of human impulses.