Friday, March 22, 2013
Is Wal-Mart driving planned obsolescence?
Although I didn't realize it at the time I was looking at evidence of planned obsolescence escalating and hearing rumors about it before I ever even heard of Wal-Mart and, apparently, Wal-Mart wasn't even the leading retailer in the country. In the eighties K-Mart was still bigger than Wal-Mart. However apparently, for one reason or another, Wal-Mart grew dramatically at a surprising rate since then and they now have a much bigger share of the market than any other company and there appears to be plenty of evidence to indicate that they have been using their market power to influence many industries and this includes driving down the quality of merchandise in their stores as well as in other oligarchies.Instead of competing to provide the best quality at the most reasonable price it appears as if the market has been divided up amongst a relatively small number of oligarchies with the same profit motive and they have been driving out any small business that tries to do a better job with creativity, variety or quality.
It costs much more to ship a large volume of low quality merchandise, some of which turns out to be broken, half way around the world than it does to ship a much lower volume of quality merchandise a short distance.
All Wal-Marts propaganda will never change this fact which indicates major problems with their claims to be so "efficient."
After looking into it a little more, due to the fact that it has escalated so much that it is virtually impossible to notice, though I suspect the evidence will clearly indicate that Wal-Mart has done more than any other company to increase the use of planned obsolescence to a level that any rational businessman might not think they can get away with.
Any rational businessman that came to that conclusion would be right, as recent activities may have already indicated although most people don't seem to have noticed.
In a series of posts that started a couple years ago under the author tag “A small success against planned obsolescence” I described how there may have been a partial reversal of this after an enormous amount of backlash from many customers that were outraged by the quality of their products; my comments were about my experiences but there must have been many more, some of which I have heard of; or they wouldn't have responded by partially addressing the problem.
If I am correct this could create major problems for Wal-Mart much sooner than many people might have suspected. However even if Wal-Mart loses its market dominance or even goes out of business there have still been no changes in the economic ideology of the oligarchies, commercial media or political system; so additional reforms will be needed and it has to be exposed. One of the reforms that needs to be made is trade secrecy laws have to be reformed because as I explained previously Proprietary Information is, by definition, a conspiracy.
I am not the only one to notice, nor am I the first to report on it. I first heard of this, as far as I an remember, when they came up with "pre-washed jeans" about three decades ago. The purpose of this was to enable consumers to avoid the breaking in period that we used to have to go through when we bought jeans and they used to shrink a little when they were washed so people had to prepare by buying them a little bigger. I don't remember anyone complaining about going through the breaking in period, although I'm sure some did, but the manufacturers came to the conclusion that it was a problem and they were going to solve it for all of us even if we were satisfied with the way they were previously.
Or so we were told.
What I do remember was that there were plenty of people at that time talking about how this would mean that they wouldn't last as long. It is now clear that they were right at the time but when they first came up with "pre-washed jeans" they didn't reduce the quality so much that it was noticeable for years and most people probably forgot the claims that this was part of an effort to reduce the quality of products so that they could force consumers to buy more.
Ironically if they hadn't taken things to a bizarre extreme I would still be one of those people that no longer think about it and I never would have reviewed some of the events over the past several decades to remember things that would help assess how much things fall apart faster than they used to; nor would I have looked up information which is only available on alternative media outlets that back this up.
The traditional media would have us believe that all those outlets that have popped up on the internet over the past decade or so have little or no credibility. They often provide coverage of many of the most fanatical ones so that they can create stereotypes about alternative media outlets. However anyone that has sorted through some of the more credible sources on the internet probably knows this is false. To add to this the commercial media has increasingly become more like the fringe alternative media outlets that they attempt to discredit with their behavior, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
One of the more reliable source that have addressed this situation is Stacy Mitchell author of "Big-Box Swindle" and the following article.
I'm inclined to believe that if anything it might be even worse than what Stacy Mitchell describes based on my own experiences and some examples of how long many things used to last twenty or thirty years ago compared to how long they last now. I have thought of the following examples to show what may have changed and how I can remember them; some of them specifically involve Wal-Mart products. I have also found what might be considered some recent evidence to indicate that they can still manufacture quality merchandise and that at least one retailer is responding to backlash from customers and restoring the quality of their merchandise at least temporarily. Wal-Mart has also restored some of the brands that they once pulled from their shelves as well but I don't get the impression that they're the same quality they used to be or that Wal-Mart can be trusted to do more than they feel they absolutely have to if they do anything at all.
We’ve been told the free enterprise system is supposed to prevent this type of thing from happening yet clearly that isn’t the way things have been working out. The way it is supposed to work is of course that different businesses are supposed to compete to get the customers by providing the best product for the lowest price; at least that is what the propaganda tells us. This is based on the assumption that the consumer is supposed to have the information they need available to them to make decisions. This assumption is false; in fact they passed numerous laws that are designed to prevent consumers from obtaining the information they need to make many decisions. These laws are trade secrecy or proprietary information laws. They’re supposed to encourage innovation that provides an advantage to the customer. This sounds good but what they’re being used for is to prevent the customer to realize that they’re gradually reducing the quality of their products or that they’re constantly studying consumer spending habits so that they can find out how to manipulate them more effectively.
These laws are also designed to enable them to avoid letting the public know about how much of an advantage the big businesses obtain by using their market power and even by obtaining subsidies from the government and that they often get these with the help of politicians that collect an enormous amount of money from the corporations that benefit from these subsidies.
The result is that instead of a free market system where businesses compete fairly we now have an oligarchy market where big corporations use their political and market power to suppress the rights of their workers, customers and just about anyone else involved including those that are concerned about protecting the environment or stopping corporations from marketing tactics that may interfere with the proper education of children. The methods that corporations have been using these tactics have been exposed before; in fact over a hundred years ago Clarence Darrow gave a speech about "Industrial Conspiracies" (Some of you may have noticed that I have cited this previously; I hope you agree that it is worthwhile.) that exposed many of these tactics. Following that speech thanks to a large grass roots effort there were significant improvements in the anti-trust laws to prevent the most extreme of these abuses. These improvements were never what I would consider complete but they were major steps in the right direction; but unfortunately over the past thirty or so years they have rolled back almost all of these improvements and as a result we now have an oligarchy system that is involved in mind boggling epidemic levels of consumer fraud and they're also suppressing worker rights all over the world and destroying the environment and even threatening the democratic process. Stacy Mitchell's book "Big-Box Swindle" provides plenty of information about how they have done this and there are several other books available to expose this but unfortunately there are still an enormous amount of people who either rely on the commercial media for their information or they have learned not to trust the MSM but haven’t found better sources through the alternative media yet.
The example that I cited about the broken toilet seat that came right out of the package is a clear indicator of how much problems the current system when you consider that it isn’t an isolated incident. There is an enormous amount of low quality of defective products being shipped half way around the world before they get to the customer. In many cases they almost certainly pull many of these broken products before they make it on to the store shelves but there are many others where they don’t.
Have you ever seen a broken product on the store shelves and declined to buy it?
Surely just about everyone has; who do you think pays for all these broken items? If you spot it before you buy anything you don’t pay for it, or so it seems. These are business expenses; one way or another they have to pass these expenses on to the consumer if they’re going to make a profit. This means they have to add on the expense of their waste to the price they charge consumers. In a competitive market presumably businesses that keep their waste down can make more profit because they have to pass less on to the consumer. But in an oligarchy market they don’t have to worry so much about passing this waste on to the consumer because they can use their market power to ensure that consumers don’t have other options.
In addition to this I know of at least one case where a pair of Nike sandals were donated to the poor and one person wore them for a day before throwing them away because they were so uncomfortable and they even drew blood. These were apparently made out of plastic and after taking a look at them I found it hard to believe that anyone would buy them if they saw them in the store. Social workers that deal with the poor more might know of many more examples of this especially if there are a lot of examples of corporations donating defective products for tax write offs. Personally I would never buy anything that had such a huge logo on it under any circumstances but in this case it was apparent that they would never be very comfortably at all. These things aren't manufactured individually and the problem was the design so this clearly means that they must have mass manufactured a lot of them and shipped them half way around the world before finding out they were useless.
This means that statistically speaking they must be shipping an enormous amount of merchandise half way around the world that is either a very low quality or broken before it gets to the consumer the consumer wears it out much faster than they would have if they were buying something that was made with good quality a short distance away.
We used to hear about how Soviet Russia used to make a large volume of useless products including sunglasses that no one could see through; Sixty Minutes just did another story about how China is doing the same thing with buildings now. We've been told this is the problem with centralized government control where the decisions are made by bureaucrats that are no where near the manufacturing plants or the stores listening to the customers.
These sandals weren't nearly as bad as the following ones as reported in Bree Wee's Blog
I can't confirm that this is accurately reported and if this was a major problem there would almost certainly be much more people reporting on it but there are still an enormous amount of problems with many products and many of the other ones can be confirmed through sources that are more widely known although I have no reason to doubt this report.
They don't report about the fact that this is increasingly happening here under centralized corporate control where the decisions are made by bureaucrats that are no where near the manufacturing plants or the stores listening to the customers now.
If this simple fact was given much if any consideration then it would be hard to maintain any faith in the claim that these large corporations are doing things in an extremely efficient manner which they routinely claim. They may be able to do some things efficiently but if the things they’re doing efficiently aren’t helping to advance the ultimate goal than it isn’t as efficient as we choose to believe.
There used to be an enormous amount of efficiency when we were able to buy at some of the factory direct store that were often near the plants. These probably weren't too much cheaper than what the stores sold them for but only a handful of people lived close enough to the plant to take advantage of it unless they timed their shopping for vacations; which few people did. One of the few exceptions that I know of is in Maine where they used to have a lot of factories that were close to vacation spots but even those only attracted a few people. In these cases even when they did sell through stores they saved a lot of money because it is much more efficient to ship items a few hundred miles than it is to ship them half way around the world.
There is a surprisingly simple way the propagandist avoid addressing this simple fact. They don’t mention it at all or allow anyone that might mention it to have any air time.
Another major thing they avoid doing is simply avoid asking what the goal it is that they’re trying to accomplish in many cases. Are they trying to maximize profits? Improve the quality of life for the majority? Is there a contradiction between these two objectives? There is but they don’t give the public this impression with their propaganda.
The best interests of the richest businessman are not in the best interest of the workers or the consumers but they create an enormous amount of propaganda to give people the impression that they are. The impression is that they make money by making life better for everyone but this is simply not true. The more they cut corners and cut wages without cutting much if anything off the prices the more they can keep for themselves increasing their profits through the roof; which is exactly what has been happening judging by the various "vulture charts" about wage inequality. In most cases these "vulture charts" don't even mention the fact that the quality has deteriorated so badly that most of us have to replace things over and over again.
To make matters worse apparently the reason why we wound up with this oligarchy system that has replaced the some-what free enterprise system that we had about thirty years ago is largely because of government policy that is designed to help the oligarchies gain an advantage over small businesses that used to provide them competition whether it was manufacturers or retailers, as described in "Big-Box Swindle."
There are even more tactics that they use to suppress competition that can be found elsewhere or more elaboration on some of the tactics that Stacy Mitchell describes. One of them is slotting fees which Stacy mentions although she doesn't use that term. This is when they charge suppliers for shelf space and the suppliers have to increase their prices to cover this expense. It is rarely discussed at all so it is hard to know when this is done but it is almost certainly much more common than most of us are led to believe. It has been widely reported among grocery stores and tobacco companies have been famous for using these to get prominent placing of their products. They have been exposed for intentionally using slotting fees to put their products in locations at small stores where they could easily be shop lifted by children as part of their efforts to get them addicted. They studied this and found that teens grew out of the shop lifting and remained addicted so they compensated the store owners with slotting fees to cover their losses. I found a lessor known example when discussing what someone did for a living and she told me that she worked for a wholesaler and set up their displays in department stores. This is very inefficient since the person doing the stocking has to travel and the wholesaler has to pay adults more since they can't hire teens. Of course if you think they should pay enough to earn a living to adults anyway it is still inefficient.
Stacy mentions it when it comes to prominent placing of books in book store which is especially outrageous when you consider this impacts the information that many people receive and what is promoted to people. The commercial media has an enormous amount of influence on what many people read unless they go to the trouble to find their own sources most people are often inclined to pick from the things the commercial media or the books stores or Wal-Mart puts in front of them and this is often based on propaganda and the ideology of those that run the corporations. Wal-Mart is famous for withholding books or albums they don't like and in some cases pressuring the artists to make different versions for their store. this should be considered an anti-trust violation by any reasonable standards. What many of us used to be taught was that businesses made their buying choices based on the quality of the product and what would make the consumer happy. Slotting fees are blatantly contradictory to that assumption.
Without the subsidies from the government and massive marketing power they never would have been able to drive out all the small businesses that used to exist; before that happened they never could have pressured their suppliers to constantly cut costs so much that it gradually reduced the quality of their merchandise or they would have lost all their customers. Regardless of how they obtained a more dominant share of the retail industry than any company has ever had before it should be considered a major anti-trust violation; and it should have been stopped before it got this far.
This is similar to what they did in the nineteenth century when they imported low paid labor like the Chinese. Back then it cost more to import and house the Chinese so that they could pay them less than it would have to negotiate a reasonable compromise with the workers that demanded fair wages. It wasn't just about saving costs but about wage suppression and control of the economic system. Over the past several decades it cost a lot of money to shut down all the local factories and move them over seas then when they get caught with their human rights abuses it costs more money to shut them down again and move them while hiring public relations firms to convince the public they're fixing the problem without actually doing so. It also costs more money to maintain much more retail space than they did decades ago. Mitchell's book writes about how in addition to having much more retail space per capita than we ever had before we also have many more abandoned buildings that have been a burden to local communities. In many cases the local governments have paid to buy them and either renovate them at a loss for another corporation or tear them down to reduce the amount of blight.
I could go on much more and probably will in follow up posts but fortunately there might be some good news when it comes to Wal-Mart and it even includes a partial restoration of the production of quality merchandise. However it doesn't include major political and economic reforms that are needed to ensure that these changes are completed or that they aren't reversed again. This possibility is based on experiences that I have had in a couple of different store and the fact that I have reason to believe that the department stores have been suffering from much more customer backlash than they have been letting on over the past couple of years. I haven't seen any reports in the news about this but have had first hand experience and if it is correct then it could be confirmed by other peoples observations as well. I described this previously under the author tag “A small success against planned obsolescence.”
Some recent experience with Wal-Mart has indicated that they might not be so inclined to restore the quality of their merchandise and might be digging in their heals with their old practices and there might be a few articles about Wal-Mart that might hint at bigger problems that have already begun.
If other suppliers start restoring their quality and Wal-Mart doesn't then it is a matter of time before the consumers figure it out and abandon Wal-Mart.
Adam Hartung, a contributor for Forbes magazine recently wrote, WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic. The assumption that one single scandal would cause Wal-Mart to sink like the Titanic is of course highly unlikely, if not completely out of the question but this is just one of many scandals and the fact that they haven't been willing to change their business plans. Hartung cites several others that he based his conclusions on and there are many more that he didn't mention. This is Forbes magazine not a wishful critic; generally they rarely ever make such extreme claims in the business sections as far as I can tell even when there are real problems. In the case of Bear Sterns many of the annalists in were recommending it until it became obvious that they were in so much trouble that they couldn't avoid covering the collapse.
A recent story about a leaked E-mail, Wal-Mart Executives Sweat Slow February Start in E-Mails, indicates that they have been losing much more sales than previously indicated so this may already be happening. Furthermore another story, Wal-Mart Struggles to Restock Store Shelves as U.S. Sales Slump, indicates that even while they're losing sales they're having a hard time keeping up. this should raise serious doubts about their alleged efficiency. They still seem to have increased their profits but that seems to be primarily based on a lower tax rate according to the AP, Wal-Mart sees profit rise but tempers outlook.
I mentioned that I had recent occasions to visit Wal-Mart which would hardly be likely since I clearly don't seem to be to thrilled with Wal-Mart. I have actually been one of the last people in this country to ever actually see a Wal-Mart due to the fact that I live in New England and it is one of the last areas that they have saturated. I first heard of them in the nineties when they were the subject of a news story about how they were putting so many other businesses out of business and how they were ruining so many communities. This was shortly before the consolidation of the commercial media escalated and this type of story became much less common. So after hearing about this when they finally did come to New England I didn't shop there. This changed on two separate occasions when for one reason or another someone decided to buy Wal-Mart gift cards for Christmas. The first was several years ago when I indicated that I bought their sneakers and a couple of pairs of jeans as well as a few other items and found out just how crappy they are. This actually escalated my frustration that led me to start saving receipts and I wound up holding different stores accountable for their products including the sneakers that I mentioned earlier.
For some reason I didn't think to let the individual know what I thought about Wal-Mart since it isn't someone I talk to often and I received another one this year.
While reading about Wal-Mart I noticed that they always talk about how they negotiate very good deals so they can offer low prices.
As I indicated they clearly don't pass on the benefits of these negotiations since they seem to involve cutting so many corners that tehir products are worth much less.
When I received the second card it occurred to me that if they negotiate for my benefit and don't pass on the savings since their products are crappy then the solution should be simple
All I have to do is negotiate a good deal since I now know that they're open to negotiations.
I'll let you know how that turned out soon enough.
For other Wal-Mart blogs see author tag "Wal-Mart Watch" assuming you're not already on that page.
"Big-Box Swindle" by Stacy Mitchell
For some related articles see the following sites.
http://c4ss.org/content/12561 Center for a Stateless Society