Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Observations from a 2am Stroll through Wal-Mart

Last year at this time I wrote a posting entitled "Observations from a stroll at a mall" where I basically described various things I noticed on a dead quiet night, about two weeks or so from Black Friday, 2010 as stores were decked out in full holiday regalia and prepared for a month of big sales.


This time, rather then go back to the mall, I decided to visit the local 24 hour Wal-Mart Supercenter and really there is no better time to visit your local Wal-Mart than at the dead of the morning, i.e. 2am.

It was a nice, quiet drive there-- quite peaceful and serene, and when I arrived, I had my pickings of quality parking spaces close to the front door, something one never finds during regular business hours.  I enter with clanking push-cart in hands, and the greeter was most friendly as he sat restfully on the motorized handicap assist cart.

Upon entrance I noticed two things rather quickly: 1)  I was the only non-employee there, which admittedly is always a treat and 2) Christmas music was playing throughout the store-- on November 8th.  Certainly I expected to see Christmas decorations, gift sets and such on display but the music was a little bit surprising.  I remember thinking how sorry I felt for those who had to work the graveyard shift , having to hear 'Jingle Bells' and 'Frosty the Snowman' a good 41 days before the special day until later I noticed many of the shelf stockers had headphones in their ears with music drowning it out.   It turned out, only the customers had to suffer.  In this case, myself alone.

I decided to go to the holiday section to see if there was anything worthwhile to purchase; something unique and quality made; something that would help to bring out the spiritual and festive essence of Christmastime.   Suffice to say, I left the holiday section with shopping cart still empty.   I was glad that I was not playing a drinking game where every time I saw something Chinese made, I was to take a drink, or else I'd have drunkenly smashed my cart into something by aisle 2 & have gotten cirrhosis of the liver by aisle 3.

Its gotten to the point where its far more of a surprise to see something American made than not.  I glanced at collectible metal popcorn tin for $5.75.  It said the popcorn was made in the US but the tin made in China.  I tried to think of the logistics of that:  Company X buys millions of tin containers from abroad, pays the shipping fees, then dumps its US made popcorn into the tins before sealing up, and sending off for distribution.  I thought to myself, would it have killed the company to make the tins in the US? Were they afraid if US customers had to pay 25cents more, they wouldn't buy?  And really, if the profit margin was so great to make the tins abroad, why not just make the popcorn as well?

Now when you shop at a Supercenter WalMart, there's lots and lots of merchandise stacked up in the aisles, just waiting for the graveyard crew to unpack and re-stock the goods.   No one smiles... no one laughs.. no one focuses on anything or anyone but re-stocking.  They work efficient and quickly- like autonomous robots.  One crate of goods emptied and stocked, immediately start upon the next.  All ages, races, genders and ethnicities- quietly re-stocking at somewhere around $8/hr while the rest of the world soundly sleeps.

As I strolled through the aisles, I didn't concern myself with the question of whether Wal-Mart would do well this holiday season.  Of course they would.  Who can resist $1.50 wrapping paper, $5 DVDs and $10 holiday Old Spice 'Fiji' gift sets?   My focus was more on their overall holiday sales strategies--  gift cards positioned Everywhere, lots n' lots of low priced end-cap displays, the Christmas music pumped through the speakers (which people will enjoy and appreciate starting on Black Friday). and lots n' lots of junk food in special holiday wrappings to entice people to spend, spend, spend...

Because I really wasn't in the mood to spend much money, I ended up just getting a couple essentials- milk, cereal, etc..  Now in every single Supercenter, there are probably 40-50 cash register stations by the front of the store and during a typical day, you're lucky if 10 of them are open.  Well at 2a, there's only one register open, and usually located close to the other entrance way, the one purposely closed at 11p.  Not sure if its meant to be a deterrent for people thinking to steal from the register or just a cruel sadistic game, making customers walk doubly long and far in the dead of night?

The woman at the register wore sanitary latex gloves.  Guess there must be a lot of germs and other contaminants us customers carry, and no way was she going to get someone else's cooties to merge with her own.  I said hello.. got a mumble.. paid for my merchandise, then said 'Thanks' after I got my receipt- another mumble.  Ugh, talk about bad habits-- why do people always thank the store for taking their money?  I really must stop that -- will put on my New Years 2012 Resolutions list.

Its funny to think that in 17 days. there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people across the nation, lined up outside in the cold, waiting hours n hours to get inside and shop the Black Friday sales.  Maybe save $5 on Barbie or perhaps those $5 DVDs will be on sale for $4.  Ehh, its probably the enticement of a HDTV dramatically marked down for one day only but limited to 2 per store.  So many people willing each year to stand outside at 4a.. 5a. to get into a Wal-Mart and yet tonight I shopped completely alone.

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