Why won't middle class people shop at Wal-Mart?


Wal-mart's stock took a steep drop as the company announced that it was expecting lower profits. There are a number of problems Wal-mart has, such as its website and fulfillment not being quite as good as Amazon.com, but Wal-mart is primarily a brick and mortar store, not an internet company.

The basic problem as I see it is that middle class people are afraid to shop there. If you look at reviews on Yelp one of the most common words used to describe Wal-mart is "ghetto". There is even a Yahoo question on this very topic:

Why is every Walmart so ghetto? Why? I have never walked into any Walmart without feeling like I was going to be mugged, even in a nice area. I know the prices are very convenient, but still. I don't see why every Walmart attracts gangs, druggies, and sometimes even hookers. I've actually seen all those things at a Walmart before, including a man wearing a thong....

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This "ghetto" term can have a racial connotations, but I think has more of a class basis: the problem for many people is not shopping in a store patronized by black and hispanic people, but shopping in a store patronized by black, hispanic, and yes, also white people, who dress and act in a very low class and sometimes even threatening fashion.

There is even a website dedicated to recording the shoppers of Wal-mart called PeopleofWalMart.com. This website features photos of some of the customers. You might think these are atypical photos, but there are so, so many of them, hundreds of them, on the website.

Many of the photos on PeopleofWalMart.com feature men and women with exposed breasts and buttocks, often wearing stretch pants that are neither large or opaque enough to conceal their biomass. This doesn't make for a good shopping environment.

One possible solution would be for Wal-Mart to impose a code of conduct and a dress code. But I suspect the damage to its brand is already done.

In upscale Mountain View, California, there is a Wal-Mart and a Target side by side, right next to each other. But middle class people never go into the Wal-Mart. They are too afraid of what they will see.

That's why I think Wal-Mart, to save itself, needs to diversify and create a new chain of more upscale stores that charge higher prices, like Target. The higher prices will keep out shoppers without bras and underwear, while attracting a new demographic segment of customers who are afraid to shop at Wal-Mart.

That's what companies like The Gap do. The Gap owns both its Gap stores and Old Navy, a lower cost alternative. Wal-Mart should have two sets of stores, one for overweight and underdressed people (Wal-Mart) and a second set for people who eat a little less and fit better into their clothes. Something a little pricier even than Sam's Club. It would also help if more of their sales help spoke English, the last time I was in a Wal-Mart and asked a question I felt like I was listening to a foreign film without subtitles.

What else do you think would help Wal-Mart better compete?

(Abridged version originally published in AT)



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