Monday, December 19, 2005

Despite Negative Image, Shoppers Still Flock to Wal-Mart

Recently, dueling polls have found that one-third of Americans may hate Wal-Mart but 85% of Americans still shop there. In short, Americans may not like Wal-Mart--the Corporation, but they love Wal-Mar--the store.

Not long ago, Wake Up Wal-Mart commissioned a Zogby poll to find out the public's opinion about the retailing giant. The Zogby poll indicated that

The debate about whether or not Wal-Mart is good or bad for America is occurring. In a comparison of two statements, just over 39 percent of Americans agreed that Wal-Mart is “good for America” (statement A) while 56 percent agreed that “Wal-Mart is bad for America” (statement B).

Statement A – I believe that Wal-Mart is good for America. It provides low prices and saves consumers money every day.

Statement B – I believe that Wal-Mart is bad for America. It may provide low prices, but these prices come with a high moral and economic cost for consumers.

Further results indicate that 6 in 10 American adults believe that Wal-Mart is seen as a retail monopoly that threatens the American economy. Interestingly, 63 percent of Americans agree that the impact of the Wal-Mart business model should be investigated by our nation’s elected political leaders.

Leaving aside the asinine statement that Wal-Mart is some sort of monopoly needing investigation by Congress or the Federal Trade Commission (which investigates anti-trust violations), the Zogby poll couched a fair number of questions in relation to Wal-Mart's main competitor, Target. For example:

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Wal-Mart has a more negative public image now than compared to last year?

1. Strongly agree 36
2. Somewhat agree 29
3. Somewhat disagree 17
4. Strongly disagree 11
5. Not sure (Do not read) 7

Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that Target has a more negative public image now than compared to last year?

1. Strongly agree 4
2. Somewhat agree 10
3. Somewhat disagree 27
4. Strongly disagree 28
5. Not sure (Do not read) 31

Now comes a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press which has some conflicting results, or at least results that call into question some of Wake Up Wal-Mart's conclusions.

According to Pew, despite Wal-Mart's apparently poor public image, four out of five Americans think Wal-Mart is a good place to shop. Nearly 7 in 10 believe Wal-Mart has been good for their community and nearly 2/3 of Americans think Wal-Mart has been good for the country.

Fully 84% of Americans have shopped at Wal-Mart at some time in the past year. For the poorest of Americans, Wal-Mart is the place to shop, with 86% of Americans with incomes below $30,000 having shopped there in the past year, 53% have said they shop there regularly. When you consider that the 2004 poverty level for a family of four is $19157, according to the Census Bureau, it seems as though Wal-Mart is better for the economy than any single government assistance program.

Wal-Mart has a negative image. Given that Wal-Mart is the only company on the list below who has two organized groups aligned against them, such a negative image is not surprising. Also, Wal-Mart is the most nationally recognized company on this list (compiled by Pew), with fully 95% of Americans knowing the company well enough to form an opinion.

Exxon/Mobil and Halliburton are favorite corporate whipping boys of the press. Pfizer is likely a victim of bad internal policies, but nonetheless, Wal-Mart has been taking a beating in the media.

While American's may think that Wal-Mart has a bad public relations image, they don't seem to be voting with their feet to shop somewhere else. This is a not a partuclarly suprising phenomenon.

People can, more and more, separate political and economic issues. In the months following the 2000 and 2004 elections, Democrats expressed wonder at why poor people would vote contrary to their economic status. By the same token, people have a very low opinion of Congress as a body, but still love their Congressman.

In the same vein, these polls are telling me that while they may think Wal-Mart as a corporation may have some problems, those problems don't extend to their decision making about whether to shop at Wal-Mart. All the bad press in the world is not going to change that calculus so long as people can purchase cheaply those items they want or need.

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