Monday, April 1, 2013
Negotiating at Wal-Mart
As I said at the end of my most recent post about "Is Wal-Mart driving planned obsolescence?" I received a gift card from Wal-Mart so I could only use it there despite the fact that I don't like them and have been boycotting them so I decided to attempt to negotiate a good deal based partly on the fact that they had previously sold me seriously defective merchandise, including a pretty pathetic pair of sneakers and the cheesiest couple of pairs of jeans that I have ever seen in my life; it turns out that I may have bought them shortly before they started restocking other brands like Levis, Wranglers and Lees. At the time the closest thing they had was something that they call "Faded Glory" which was supposedly made out of "durable materials," or so it said on the stamp that was on the inside of the jeans. I didn't realize it at the time but this was the brand that they were manufacturing in Bangladesh that eventually led to the sweatshop fire last fall. There would have been no way for me to know about that particular fire but there have been many other incidents where the employees were subject to abuses that also would have had an impact on the quality of their merchandise.
It wasn't until later that I checked to see how many complaints they have on-line about this and found that there are an enormous amount of complaints about the quality deteriorating. There are also an enormous amount of reviews talking about how great they are for one reason or another and many of these seem to go into a lot of detail, perhaps to make them seem sincere. After seeing the stories about the manufacturing practices and the quality of their merchandise it seem hard for me to believe that any sincere customer would leave reviews like this. As I indicated in "Wal-Marts unethical marketing to children" and the previous blog about Wal-Mart and planned obsolescence I suspect that they are almost certainly posting positive reviews for their products to offset the enormous amount of complaints that they receive. After reading some of these reviews I don't see how there could be any other explanation for the positive ones, since their products are absolutely nothing like the reviews, and even if they were that great I can't imagine people going to so much trouble to write these reviews. It is much easier to imagine why plenty of people would write reviews if they were outraged by the rapidly deteriorating quality of their products.
This means that one of the things that they are almost certainly doing to respond to their complaints is spend more money on creating false impressions which could have gone to restoring the quality of their products instead. They just might be doing additional activities that have little or nothing to do with providing decent products for their customers as efficiently as possible.
Before I finished talking to the Wal-Mart workers a couple of them openly admitted that they were receiving an enormous amount of complaints about their products.
"You sell an enormous amount of incredibly pathetic disposable garbage, so that people have to replace things over and over again."
"That's exactly what we do so don't shop here."
That would make an excellent commercial that would go viral if it was caught on tape; of course as soon as the card I got is done that is exactly what I and many other people will wind up doing, or according to recent news reports already are doing.
Another employee said simply, "we get a lot of that;" I don't know if they still have their jobs. I certainly wasn't expecting them to respond like that before I was done. I thought about not mentioning this but if Wal-Mart is going to retaliate against them they would have almost certainly done so anyway; and the reverse is also a potential problem for Wal-Mart. With so many people angry about Wal-Mart for one reason or another and their long history of retaliation it is almost certainly already beginning to backfire on them along with other scandals they've been involved in. Besides if they keep firing their sincere and qualified workers then they'll only have the bad workers left and that has almost certainly already led to major problems for them.
I didn't begin saving my receipts for the sake of future complaints until after that and the fact that it was clear that they have been cutting so many corner that it was virtually guaranteed that their products wouldn't hold up nearly as well as their customers might expect. This is also justified in my opinion since instead of using the money they obtain from customers to do a good job providing good merchandise they donate it to campaigns and lobby for voter suppression against the best interests of the customers that indirectly provide the funds for these donations. They also use a portion of the money they collect from consumers to pay for their deceptive ads. Wal-Mart manages to obtain overwhelming protection for their rights to free speech which they finance with money they collect, often by corrupt or misleading methods, from their customers; while the consumers receive much less opportunity to use their free speech.
There are an enormous amount of stories about how Wal-Mart negotiates all over the world to get lower prices and that they use their marketing power to drive a good bargain so that they can give their customers good deals, which sounds good; however they don't give their customers good deals at all. Their products are so shoddy that they fall apart much faster than any reasonable customer would expect and as Indicated in my previous post about this they have been driving the process to a new extreme while some of their competitors may have at least been starting to reverse the process after an enormous amount of pressure from customers, although this could be temporary unless major reforms are put in place before the resume the same process more subtly.
Also I have seen enough information from a variety of sources to indicate that their mark ups are much higher than they would lead people to believe on many items and even if they weren't that high they include expenses that aren't nearly as efficient as they lead people to believe. Shipping low quality products that start falling apart almost immediately half way around the world isn't nearly as efficient as shipping high quality products that last a long time a short distance. It never has been and never will be; when Wal-Mart and other oligarchies did away with the advantage of factory direct they were abandoning an enormous amount of efficiency so that they could maintain authoritarian control over the economic system.
Not that I need an excuse after all turn about is fair play.
However Wal-Mart apparently disagrees and they don't feel obligated to acknowledge the fact that they've been ripping off customers for years even when they are confronted with an overwhelming amount of researched evidence of the fact.
In fact when this happens it appears as if they might have a contingency plan to keep people distracted and prevent customers from expressing their sincere complaints in front of other customers that might also have plenty of their own complaints that they might want to bring. Barbara Ehrenreich once wrote about corporate plans for how to respond when activists strike in one of her books; however even though she mentioned they had these plans she didn't go into details about what they might be. An article from a protest that took place over a year ago in San Diego, Wal-Mart invaded by Occupy protesters on Black Friday (Video), might indicate what one of these plans might be while it is in action; but this might be mild by comparison to the way they typically might happen.
Some of the ways they respond to complaints may be down right stupid; and they could backfire if they're used on a regular basis since they might be easy to recognize and they could easily be exposed and they may also rely on the cooperation of employees who have their own grievances against Wal-Mart.
I didn't think about this until after I saw how they responded to my request for a discount based on the fact that they had sold me disposable merchandise in the past when I was expecting real merchandise; however their behavior was clearly organized to distract people and end any opportunity that I might have to explain anything without actually acknowledging the problem with their products however some of the comments by their own employees almost certainly weren't what the Wal-Mart management had in mind while the comments from someone that was supposedly "not a Wal-Mart employee" just might have been what the management had in mind.
Ironically few people if any may have paid any attention to what I had to say until this person began her distracting tactics so if it was intended for that purpose it may have done the opposite.
I began by getting together a few of the things that I had bought at Wal-Mart including the jeans that had fallen apart at a record breaking speed because they were so cheap and a pair of the disposable sneakers that have been piling up at a record pace since they have been getting worse every few years until many people began giving some of these corporations an enormous amount of backlash including me as I described in the author tag “A small success against planned obsolescence.” That didn't take place at Wal-Mart but the fact that at least a couple of their competitors is finally responding to complaints is almost certainly also a reason for Wal-Marts recent loss in sales. The sneakers I got as free replacements is finally a better quality than anything I have seen in over ten years after steady deterioration of products across the board. This wasn't because they gave me a pair that was a higher price; they replaced an enormous amount of sneakers with ones that seem to be better quality so this must have been a result of a larger backlash from many people.
I don't know if Wal-Mart has restored any of their quality but they certainly haven't done as good a job and people must know it. I also brought with me a folder full of information I had about Wal-Mart scandals including ones that involved their corrupt practices and evidence of much higher mark ups than they imply as well as articles about how it is “not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments;” and others that clearly indicated that many other things that have nothing to do with making jeans are "financially feasible" including the enormous amount of money they spend on lobbying and promoting privatization of schools and suppression of voter rights so that they can get away with all this. I didn't get the opportunity to discuss this much; which I didn't really expect but thought they might have to respond to it one way or another and that since I had bought their products previously and they really did have an enormous amount of quality control problems they would at least offer a token discount; or not, as it turns out.
I did my shopping as usual then brought it to the customer service center and pulled out the jeans and explained to them that "These jeans aren't old;" which they weren't. They were pathetic and I also informed the person that they have an enormous amount of other problems with their products. I had sneakers that fell apart in only a fraction of the time it used to last and I had a couple shirts that were well over fifteen years old that were in better shape than typical shirts that were only a few years old.
He called it in and almost immediately a woman appeared who started acting in an antagonizing and authoritarian manner and telling me that I should put away my stuff and leave. This woman ridiculed me when I commented about how manufacturing expenses were “not financially feasible," which wasn't the exact context that the NYT put it but she also raised her voice in a clear manner that was designed to prevent any further discussion.
I don't remember the exact order but approximately at this time when it seemed as if I was assuming she was the management she said "I'm not a Wal-Mart employee." This struck me as quite odd because she clearly wouldn't have any reason to behave in such a manner that I could think of unless she was a Wal-Mart employee. She didn't appear to be in line for any reason or have any business that she was conducting. Once I realized that I simply stated something like, "excuse me I thought you were; if you're not I can't imagine why you would care." This woman was acting like a teenager with an inferiority complex trying to antagonize me; although I didn't realize it at the time that might have been exactly what she had in mind. If I had acted otherwise they might have been able to attempt to charge me with something although it would have been foolish; and if they were concerned about their reputation at all they never would have responded in this manner.
Regardless of why she was behaving this way I then turned away from her and she said that I should leave before security got here or something like that and I still couldn't imagine what she wanted or why. I wasn't being belligerent; especially compared to the way she was behaving. I was simply expressing an obvious and major problem with the quality of their merchandise. Which is why I didn't worry about it when she threatened to call the cops, and ignored her.
I then proceeded to talk to what appeared to be a real Wal-Mart employee and also turned around and noticed that there were now at least half a dozen Wal-Mart employees standing right behind me. I wondered if this could be what the woman meant by "security" and immediately concluded that these employees weren't here for that reason. They appeared to be ordinary employees and at least one of them seemed to be nervous although I didn't say anything to antagonize this person. At one point I said to at least one of the employees that this wasn't anything against him but against the management decisions in the corporate office; I think that was probably before most of these other employees arrived. We discussed their problems for about a minute or so but clearly they were trying to end this conversation and deny any problem with their merchandise and avoid discussing any of the enormous amount of bad press which was widely reported and I had an enormous amount of it in writing that they almost certainly didn't anticipate. This was about the time when one of the employees agreed that they "sell an enormous amount of incredibly pathetic disposable garbage, so that people have to replace things over and over again." They wound up saying that they would take no responsibility for past grievances or officially acknowledge any problem but that I wasn't getting any discounts for products that were incredibly crappy; nor was I getting free replacements for the products that I bought in the past that fell apart almost immediately.
They said that I either had to go through the register and pay full price; without any compensation for their fraud or shop elsewhere.
The moment I said that I wouldn't buy their products then it became clear that they were told to act in a manner that was planned. Everyone immediately grabbed one or two items from the cart and quickly disappeared. And they started nudging me toward the door in a manner that clearly couldn't have happened if they weren't prepared with a predetermined response.
The stupidity of this boggles the mind; and I'm sure that many people would conclude that I was the one that was being stupid but some of these employees clearly acknowledged that I was right about the big problems with their merchandise. Furthermore anyone else that I talk to about this acknowledges that the quality of products are clearly deterioration; it is beyond dispute; even the cop that showed up as a result of the complaint called in by the person who "was not a Wal-Mart employee" agreed.
At this point I left the store without further incident just as the cops arrived. They be began to ask what this was all about and I explained it to them the same way I tried to explain it to the employees only they were actually more willing to listen despite the fact that when I went to show them the merchandise that they had they said that I didn't need to do that. I also showed them the papers that I had and began to explain it to them; but then of course they asked for ID which was standard operating procedure when investigating anything. What they thought they might be investigating I don't know and they never charged me with anything related to this incident; however after I spent a minute explaining my complaint to them they received information from when called in my identity in and said they had a warrant for my arrest which totally surprised me but it gave them an opportunity to arrest me without figuring out what was going on and I suspect that Wal-Mart had no desire to charge me with anything since I didn't actually do anything that should be considered illegal and that would have resulted in an investigation and it might include checking the tapes from their cameras.
The warrant turned out to be something from ten years ago, although I didn't know it at the time; nor did the police. I asked what the warrant was about and they inquired if I knew which of course I didn't. One of the cops then responded that it might have been issued as a result of court expenses that were unpaid or something like that which is exactly what it turned out to be; these court expenses were added on years after the fact and they never should have been. Apparently this is becoming much more common with a major fiscal crisis and extreme reluctance to make any attempt to collect money from wealthy people with political connections. They obviously didn't try to issue this warrant very hard since it was two years old and they had plenty of time to try to find me if they thought it was important; I was in the same town it was issued and they knew it.
When we got to the station the older cop who did all the talking addressed the incident at Wal-Mart and he seemed to agree with most of what I my grievances although he also made it clear that he would do his job as he was ordered to, which seemed kind of ironic. The first thing he seemed to be concerned about was whether or not these workers were able to handle the complaints I had. I responded by saying that is why I told them I had nothing against them it and that I understood it was the executives that were making these decisions and they weren't the problem. As I said one of the workers that was standing by to take products away as fast as possible so they could make this situation disappear ASAP had a concerned look on his face but that wouldn't have been because of the way I was responding to him since I didn't even talk to him. The ones I did talk to didn't seem concerned at all; they found it amusing but they had to do their job as they were told.
I don't remember exactly how the conversation went but he made numerous statements about how he seemed to agree with me. When he started reading all the papers I had about Wal-Mart he stated that it looked like I had done my homework; this included a lot of the information that I posted under the author tag “A small success against planned obsolescence.” and the author tag “Wal-Mart Watch.” Anyone that looked up enough information about Wal-Mart would have a hard time doubting there is something seriously wrong with their business practices and that it might be appropriate to agree it was corrupt to the core. At one point he seemed to mumble something about how perhaps I should join the people at some other activity in another town. His voice trailed off but it seemed like he seemed to be referring to one of the many protests that have been going on one place or another. I know there were protests planned for that week in several locations in tow different directions from where I was which he could have been talking about as well as another one in Washington DC.
This was not what I expected and if he was asked about it he would almost certainly deny it. He made as many of these comments as I did and if he hadn't I probably wouldn't have even tried to discuss these things with him. He said something about this all being because they had all the lobbyists in Washington and he agreed that it was much more efficient to make high quality merchandise closer and ship it a short distance often with the option of factory direct than to move all the factories half way around the world rely on sweat shop labor then use an enormous amount of subcontractors in between.
Not the type of conversation I expected to have with a cop; however perhaps this should not be too surprising; over the years I have known at least three or four cops off duty and they haven't been unreasonable at all. Some rural or urban police departments are almost certainly much more authoritarian but there are almost certainly many police that are also concerned citizens and they may not like the epidemic of corporate corruption that has been going on any more than anyone else; although it isn't their jurisdiction to hold corporations accountable they may not like suppressing legitimate complaints either and they may have mixed feelings about doing so.
But then he said that what I did in there was "disorderly conduct" and that he would arrest me if I did it "in my town." He seemed to be implying at one point or another that he wouldn't mind if I did it in another town. He said that I was "interrupting business as usual."
I said something like, "Business as usual is crooked as hell."
"Business as usual is crooked as hell."
He agreed! But then he back tracked one way or another and said if I had objections I should "go to corporate."
He didn't suggest I should write my congressmen or go to a government run consumer protection agency to ask them to look into it, not that it would have done anymore good since politicians will just ask for more campaign contributions and eliminate more funds for any consumer protection. This seems to imply that the authority that I should go to was the corporation itself not the government which would be a reasonable assessment under the circumstances but of course they wouldn't have done anything unless they had no choice. Which essentially implies that the corporations are the ones in control of the economy which is true.
The basic impression he gave was that he didn't like Wal-Mart anymore than I did and that he sympathized with the employees who had their legitimate complaints but that he was going to do his job as he was supposed to according to orders from higher up although he might have been one of the top cops in this town. I don't know how common this attitude is among cops; I suspect in some towns it might be more common than others and if the protest movements continue as they have been the politicians may eventually have to allow at least some reforms especially if there's a chance that some of the people enforcing the laws might not defend a system that is increasingly corrupt.
I didn't try to debate whether or not the woman who "was not a Wal-Mart employee" might have been the one that was guilty of "disorderly conduct" or not. I know this would never get to a jury where the truth managed to be told but if it did and that jury was reasonable I have no doubt that they would have considered her behavior more disorderly than mine.
Her behavior didn't make any sense unless she had some kind of motive to behave that way. It is hard to imagine that Wal-Mart would have someone on hand to behave like that in the event that they felt they had a need to do so; and if their intention was to make their complaints go away it was guaranteed to fail because it was so incompetent. But it appears as if that might have been just what they have done although I can't be certain. According to a recent Bloomberg article, Wal-Mart Struggles to Restock Store Shelves as U.S. Sales Slump, "Once a paragon of logistics, the world’s largest retailer has been trying to improve its restocking efforts since at least 2011, hiring consultants to walk the aisles and track whether hundreds of items are available." This was first reported in 2011 on October 7, Wal-Mart Brings in Consultants to Help Keep Its Shelves Stocked. If you accept this at face value then they're having a serious problem with their efficiency which I don't doubt especially since they're cutting so many corners; but I can't imagine why they would hire outside consultants to check for how well stocked their shelves were while simultaneously cutting funds for employees that actually stock the shelves or check to see what is running short.
Hiring consultants for this purpose makes no sense. Wal-Mart employees that do this could communicate directly with those that stock the shelves and solve the problem much more efficiently; I'm quite certain this is the simple way it has always been done.
What does make sense is hiring consultants for things that they want to keep confidential and apparently Wal-Mart may have a history of doing just that for a variety of reasons. According to one article, Wal-Mart consultant posed as reporter at opposition's L.A. events, there might be at least one example where a consultant was caught doing undisclosed infiltration attempts to investigate opposition to opening a new Wal-Mart; and another article involves Walmart Consultant Caught On Camera Bad-Mouthing Town Council. They have also used consultants to handle their bribes in the scandals in Mexico that may have also included additional bribery scandals in India as well which haven't been reported as widely.
The timing of the first reports of these consultants being used might also be a factor; they were first reported on October 7 2011 in the Bloomberg News, which was about three weeks after the Occupy Wall Street protests began. If Wal-Mart thought they might have been a target for the Occupy Wall Street movement they would have actually had more time to think about it than that since they first announced their plans in July which is still available on their Archives. Even though they might not have been the first target of the Occupy movement it wouldn't be hard for them to figure out that they would be later if it turned out to be successful which it did although it isn't over yet. Wal-Mart is also famous for its union busting tactics as many articles including Security cameras and HQ squads: Wal-Mart's union-busting tactics indicate. If they did have consultants sympathetic to Wal-Mart in the stores during the Occupy Wall Street protest in San Diego that I mentioned previously that might mean that the individual that was shouting at the protesters could conceivably been one of them; although I have no way of knowing for sure.
What might make more sense is the possibility that they might be using these consultants primarily to watch for union activity and potentially to help respond if another unexpected protest comes up or a customer that has a legitimate complaint that they don't want to respond to. They might have plans on how to act if they are confronted with certain problems but when they face new ones they might have to improvise and it may not be as likely to work out as planned. This would be extremely foolish if you ask me and it is hard to believe that they would even consider such a thing. However they have a long history of doing extremely foolish things and they often come up with lame denials after the fact and attempt to blame the lowest level person they can when they get caught. That seems to be what they did with Stephanie Harnett when she was caught posing as a reporter in the article previously cited and several of the examples that Adam Hartung cited in the Forbes article, WalMart's Mexican Bribery Scandal Will Sink It Like an Iceberg Sank the Titanic. They have a long history of using authoritarian tactics to intimidate people and they may be spending more money trying to dominate people than they are trying to produce the products that they provide for their customers.
Whether I encountered one of these tactics or not they clearly are using them much too often and it is a matter of time before a much larger portion of the public learns about how often they occur and the fact that the commercial media doesn't report on them properly; if they report them at all they report them as isolated incidents not as a major pattern of behavior. Furthermore if, as I indicated previously at least one of their competitors responds by replacing their merchandise when they get complaints and partially restoring the quality of their sneakers at least then it is a matter of time before their customers figure it out and abandon them in droves, which may already be happening.
If on the other hand this is the way they respond to well informed customer complaints or protests then it would be incredibly easy to catch them in the act by simply replicating the situation with caution not to do anything that could be considered illegal before a jury. They could find some excuse to arrest people like trespassing, disorderly conduct or, as Clarence Clarence Darrow indicated Conspiracy; but if there are witnesses it won't stick and they might wind up with another public relations disaster and it could be used to draw more attention to all the scandals that Wal-Mart is involved in that are only given a token amount of coverage by the commercial media.
If Wal-Mart has their way then when they take money from their customers and use it to donate to campaigns or pay for deceptive ads that would be protected free speech but if their critics, employees or customers have legitimate complaints they have much more limited rights to speech and if they try to use it too much their speech can be regulated even though the money they use for their speech is from the work of their employees and the money from their customers.
By spending so much money on union busting tactics, consultants that carry out all kinds of odd activities to gain control, lobbying, campaign contributions and shipping incredibly low quality products half way around the world while cutting costs on their activities that actually benefit the customer they're guaranteeing that their customer complaints will get even worse and they will wind up angering many more people than they already have.
By spending so much money on activities that don't benefit the customer while cutting costs on their activities that actually benefit the customer they're guaranteeing that their customer complaints will get even worse and they will wind up angering many more people than they already have. These non-productive expenses can include union busting tactics, consultants that carry out all kinds of odd activities to gain control, lobbying, campaign contributions and shipping incredibly low quality products half way around the world; they may save some money by taking advantage of low cost labor but the added additional expenses prevents them fr4om passing on that savings to the customer while the quality is much worse.
They're not getting business because they compete for it by providing a good product for a reasonable price; they get their business because of their political connections and the use of marketing propaganda and trade secrecy laws to keep the public in the dark about the real economic policies that are available.
They are almost certainly going to lose a much larger share of the market in the future especially with news outlets like Bloomberg News and Forbes Magazine, which are usually friendly to business, exposing some of their tactics; however the worst news that will do the most damage is the news that is reported on the alternative media and when more people recognize that is where they have to look for information the commercial media will be less relevant.
Just in case your wondering I still had the gift card after this which means that Wal-Mart wasn't finished getting customer feedback from me.
Additional feedback wound up going to the Wal-Mart at a different location and the funny thing is that some of the same items were cheaper. That story won't be as dramatic but if more people use these gift cards like I do they will almost certainly have to stop offering them.
Wal-Mart is almost certainly in more trouble than most people realize. There involved in more scandals than anyone can possibly keep track of and in addition to all the scandals they're involved in there is also a surprisingly big movement to Boycott Wal-Mart which isn't under centralized control; these boycott movements are coming from an enormous number of small groups and individuals. There are even an enormous amount of books written to expose Wal-Mart including "In Sam We Trust," "Big-Box Swindle" and many others which of course also include some puff pieces that are almost certainly written by authors with a financial incentive to prop up Wal-Marts reputation. In addition to spending a lot of money to create studies to portray them as beneficial for communities they also seem to have a few books mixed in with all these critical books but many of them are incredibly easy to recognize.
With all this information available while the commercial media and the political establishment continue to ignore all these enormous problems it is no wonder that one of their greatest fears is if people use their first amendment rights at the grass roots level to expose their scams to those that are still complacent.
In addition to running an enormous amount of scams they're also threatening the democratic process with their efforts to suppress voter rights and corrupt the political system; and when people shop at Wal-Mart they're financing the destruction of our society and in return they get products that are incredibly flimsy and start falling apart almost immediately.
You don't save money and live better if their products start falling apart so fast and you only have to keep replacing them over and over again ande they destroy the economy while keeping all the money for themselves or spending it on bureaucratic efforts to control the public.
For additional articles on Wal-Mart including some that have been cited in this blog see the following.
Walmart Presses Felony Charge In Oreo Theft
Customers Flee Wal-Mart Empty Shelves for Target, Costco
Wal-Mart Brings in Consultants to Help Keep Its Shelves Stocked
Unexpected Ally Helps Wal-Mart Cut Waste
But some environmental and shop-local groups contend that the company's business model remains inherently anti-environment.
''Wal-Mart's price pressure on manufacturers is undermining the durability and quality of products, which has contributed to a sharp increase in how much Americans buy and how much we discard,'' said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. ''The majority of what the company does is designed to accelerate consumption.''
Voter Suppression 101: How Conservatives Are Conspiring to Disenfranchise Millions of Americans
"Up Against Wal-Mart" at Mother Jones
Walmart PR Consultant Stephanie Harnett Caught Revealing True Identity After Posing As Fake Reporter
"What Else You Should Know About Walmart" at Chicago Reader
"Wal-Mart's Top US Exec: 'I Funded Union-Busting'" at Truth Out