For years, likely decades, I’ve been a Walmart Shopper. “Why” is pretty simple. I could roll in, fill the cart with all the usual stuff, and be out the door for about 1/2 the price of everyone else fairly fast. Lines were usually short at checkout and they carried most of what I wanted.
About 5 years ago while in Florida, my Florida Friend made some disparaging remarks about Walmart and how there always seemed to be either police or a fight going on… I’m not sure what store he went to, as the one near me in Florida was Tourist focused, had a LOT of stuff folks “on the road” would need, and was largely filled with folks with enough money to travel thousands of miles for a week or two at Disney World. A very fun crowd with the opportunity to hear all sorts of languages (a hobby of sorts of mine… guess that language ;-) I liked it and shopped there for the regular monthly stocking up run. (We used the Public’s across the street for weekly needs)
Well, contracts end and I returned to California.
The nearest Walmart to me was built not that long ago. Maybe a decade? We’ve shopped there from the first opening to now. It is just a neighborhood grocery outlet. For the Big Box experience of their Superstores I’ll drive to Milpitas in one direction or sometimes Gilroy in the other. Call it 1/2 hour drive. In prior years the gasoline in Gilroy (of Garlic Festival fame, and a recent shooting) was cheaper enough to pay for the trip. Lately, a Costco Gas station here is just as cheap so the drive is no longer free. Then there’s another Neighborhood grocery sized store we sometimes shop at in a more seedy urban area.
The point behind mentioning all that is to point out this isn’t one store. This is a broad experience of several stores. I also tend to travel Walmart to Walmart when crossing the country. Many have low cost gas stations and I can fill up the cooler and lunch bucket at the same time. I’ve stopped at Walmarts in every State across the country on 3 different main routes. I’m a Regular.
So what’s happened?
Now I do not know if this is just a California Thing (as we have very high labor costs and land costs and…) or if this is going nation wide. I do know I’ll be watching for it the next time I cross the country. Walmart is making their stores Customer Hostile.
I first noticed it at the Gilroy store. It has a very large Hispanic customer base and is a rural not-that-rich area; but the folks are nice folks. Still, they put all the cosmetics in a Corral area with a dedicated register at the entry. I didn’t care much as I don’t buy cosmetics. Then the local Walmart had a “renovation” and put in a few self check out counters. OK, I can ignore them unless I have like 2 items… Lately, they did another renovation and made a big self checkout corral with a dozen “registers” (and shrunk the actual checkers to one or two and long lines…) That was annoying enough, and I cut back on my trips. I moved to the Other Walmart in the seedier area that had more checkers for the regular weekly grocery run…
But, what put me over the edge, was when we needed a couple of “quick things” and returned to the more local store. One was an eyedrops / moisturizer and the others included dish soap for the machine. The eyedrops are like maybe $5. Cheep enough I don’t even know (and I always watch prices…). The dish soap is the regular old Cascade found everywhere. The spouse and I went in, and immediately were stuck at the “redesigned” pharmacy. Just about everything is behind locked glass doors. There’s a little box on the display where you push a button and someone comes to open it. We pushed. And Waited. And pushed. And waited. Eventually someone came by… and said they would be right back as there was someone else they had to help… and waited, and eventually they returned. Then we moved on to vitamins. And got to repeat the experience. I left the spouse waiting in Pharmacy while I ran over to groceries to quickly pick up the dish soap… It was behind a locked glass wall with a push button… Dish soap.
I decided we had enough for a few more days and I’d get it somewhere else.
At checkout, we tried the corral. Waited in line. Went to the open station. Scanned an item… it announced that it didn’t take cash. I pay cash for things. OK, back to the attendant to ask “which station takes cash?”. The bottom line is that a discussion followed and it was ‘explained’ that they were “Not ALLOWED to put up signs saying what station accepted cash”. As we only had like 2 things, they just checked us out right there at the attendants station…
On the way to the car the spouse and I talked… We both were annoyed at the wait and time loss, peeved at that feeling like we are being treated as criminals, and amazed at the Stupidity of not telling their cash customers which stations will take cash. We agreed we were “writing off Walmart”.
It went from first stop on the shopping run to:
“last stop and only if nobody else has it and you really need it.”
In retrospect, I’d also noticed something else in the last year. Walmart has selected for a rougher crowd of customer. The folks in the store are not the people I see around the neighborhood.
This is California. Houses cost an astounding price. I could not hope to buy my house now. This is a neighborhood where the typical house is a $Million or more in price. Even the crappy 60 year old 1200 square feet plain suburbs house. BUT, it does mean everyone here can either make those payments OR bought the house long enough ago they are a “paper millionaire”. This is not a place filled with poor folks just off a boat.
But, in the local Walmart, on that last trip, I noticed that almost all the shoppers were speaking Spanish, something from India, an Asian language I could not place, and last on the list, poor English. They were very much not representative of the neighborhood. Now this Walmart is right off a freeway offramp, and the poor side of town is not that far away. My guess is that these are all or almost all drive in shoppers. Walmart has driven away the local neighborhood occupants from their “neighborhood” store. There had been a Walmart over on the East Side that is now closed. An area with a lot of recent Hispanic, Indian, and Asian arrivals. It looks to me like when they closed that store, those folks started taking the few mile drive to the next nearest.
So the net-net is that Walmart now has a large number of people driving to a store in a nicer area while driving away the people who live in that area. Only folks who have no choice have stuck with the local Walmarts. The folks with a bit of money have moved on. Has their “loss prevention strategy” and “cost control strategy” thus selected for a clientele where they are needed while driving away those who have a chioce? It seems that way.
Where I Shop Now
It wasn’t too hard to find a replacement. It is a little more complicated as no one store has what we want. In Florida we just did Publix. An absolutely great grocery store with good products at reasonable prices. They even offer to push your cart to your car and load the groceries. I’d shop there if we had one…
OK, my First Stop is now “Grocery Outlet Bargain Market” (or something like that… why on earth have a name four words long? Pick one.) They have a lot of overstock and clearance stuff. IF they have anything we use, buy it there as it is usually very much cheaper than anywhere else. So if it is on the list, I get it there. IF they have something we regularly use, I’ll buy a load for inventory. All the rest goes to the next stop.
Next stop is COSTCO. HUGE sizes and limited choices, so not the place to pick up a can of oysters (or even tuna in oil as they have decided for you that only water pack matters…). But I do buy some stuff there. Potatoes are better (larger) there. Instant Coffee or Regular Coffee. Fresh fish. Bush’s Baked Beans. (But no peas… for some reason COSTCO hates peas and never had them…) So again IF they have it, and it isn’t such a huge size we can’t possibly use it (carrots by the 5 lbs bag is over the top…) then we buy it. And I gas up the car. (We take a different car each trip so they all get filled up in rotation).
In Florida we’d shop at BJ’s sometimes for a similar experience. There IS a COSTCO but it was on the other side of Orlando 1/2 hour+ away.
Now by this time we’ve got most of the Regular Weekly Shopping run. But there are some things that they either don’t have, or where for a ‘get it quick’ it just isn’t convenient to either make a stop (potentially a second stop needed) to see if they have it, nor drive 10 miles to Costco. So on to the next tier:
Also we make a regular stop at Trader Joe’s once a week for things like Goat Milk that is hard to find elsewhere, nice wine and booze at low prices, really good butter as cheap as Walmart, frozen seafood of quality, nice fresh vegetables & bread; and dog food. Their’s was The Best in our search for food that dogs didn’t upchuck. And it is the lowest price. Note that IF, for example, we need a bag-o-salad or some mushrooms or just olive oil or ‘whatever’, I’ll pick it up at whatever store I’m going to that trip. So sometimes from Bargain Market, sometimes Trader Joe’s. The Trader Joe’s is right next to a regular weekly stop we make for non-shopping things, so it’s essentially a ‘free trip’. It shares a parking lot with Smart & Final, so two for one stop.
I found that for big sizes, Smart & Final has decent prices. Small individual sizes are a bit pricey, but if in a hurry, well, it will do. They also tend to have a Weekly Special on some parts of a chicken; and we like our chicken. Often about 89 ¢ / pound. Nice. Even cheaper than Walmart that runs about $1.29 for the same brand / same parts. So we have a regular once a week stop there for chicken, some fresh vegetables, and things like flats of Dasani Water (it has added Mg and helps with kidney stones for the spouse… and no, other waters don’t quite cut it) and cases of Ramen Cups (that I particularly like). They also have all the misc. stuff that either Bargain Market or COSTCO don’t have, so for a “quick, get a can of soup” run, they are the place in pole position.
Just a couple of miles further there’s a Target and then a Lucky’s grocery. IF the run has not finished the list by this point, we just extend the run another stop or two and it’s all bought. Yes, prices are a little higher, but with Bargain Market and COSTCO being cheaper than Walmart that gives enough advantage on the bulk of it that the other bits don’t matter.
And yes, it IS more stops. OTOH, they are closer, much smaller parking lots, a lot faster to get around the store, way faster checkouts, and overall much nicer experiences. Then figure that we really don’t go to every store every week. I have a grocery list with the store that’s best for a given product noted on it. ONLY if we need to go further down the list of stores do we “go there”. Then, if we KNOW an item is only at, say, Target, we just go straight there. Finally, all these stores are on main roads we regularly travel, so often we’ll just put “that stop” at the tail end of some other drive for some other reason.
In the end, the total costs are about the same or maybe a bit lower, the annoyance is far far less, and the time it takes is about the same or less. Just by adding some stops on our regular trips past those stores anyway.
Oh, and IF, by some crazy chance, only Walmart has something we need, well, maybe I’ll drive over and see. But for that I’m far more likely to go to one of the Superstores as groceries are everywhere so unlikely to be the item in question.
Honorable Mention also must go to our local Asian Grocer and the local Italian Grocer. As they are only local I won’t bother with the names. For specialty items they are the best. We make a regular sushi run… but oddly, it is to the Italian store. They have a great fresh sushi counter making it while you watch.