Friday, August 19, 2005

Wal-Mart: we decide your entertainment needs

Other than the troubling way that employees are treated and paid and their anti-competitive destruction of smaller local businesses (Starbucks and Microsoft must be taking notes), a WireTap/Alternet article, The Wal-Mart Thought Police, documents another disturbing trend with the huge retailer.

If you live outside of a metropolitan area, chances are that the store which will be ready to service the whole spectrum of your consumer needs is probably Walmart. When one store has that much reach over the country, they also have the power to dictate what's being pushed or offered to the public. As the article notes, any store has the same power to some degree but nowhere near the degree that Walmart does because of its size. If they decide that a CD or DVD is unacceptable and doesn't meet their standard for 'family values,' then the artist and their company is SOL. This even includes stickered/labeled items that warns parents that they shouldn't be letting their kids partake in it. Because Walmart is the 'No. 1 CD retailer in the world,' record companies and movie studios take this very seriously. They know that if they don't stock their product, they're missing out on a potentially huge market. As a result, they have to cater to Walmart's standards.

Obviously any store, no matter how big, can't stock everything. Also, every store has a right to make a decision about what to carry and what not to carry. But when one single store has the power to make that kind of decision nationwide for its customers, that's troubling, especially when their decisions are based on their view of acceptable community standards, which is something impossible to maintain throughout 50 states (and something the FCC should realize for their own standards).

Also, no doubt following the Starbucks model, Walmart is now deciding to work exclusively with Garth Brooks. If Alanis and now Dylan can do it with the coffee retailer, how long was it going to be before Walmart was going to follow charge? And when will it end? Are the days that we can potentially find all the big name artists and best sellers in one place over? There are a lot of possibilities and surely, more artists and retailers will go this route. So far, Starbucks minted a good idea but you can see where this can haywire, having to make several trips around town to find the stores exclusively stocking the music you want.

But then there's the Net. You could more easily just go to each of these company's websites to find each of these exclusive records. But again, there's a built-in inconvenience factor- you can't go to one site to find everything but instead have to surf around the web to see where your favorite artist is offering their latest album. That ain't fun.

That leads us back to the Walmart problem. If what we want is or isn't available in one place and we have to go out of our way to find anything that isn't at the store we happen to be in, how motivated are we gonna be to search elsewhere, online or offline? Walmart is banking that consumers are gonna settle for what they have there and indeed, many will. That's a shame 'cause that means that any product/artist that doesn't fall under their guidelines or their exclusive licensing is shut out. That kind of selective stocking isn't going to be a problem until a big enough artist or product that demands loyalty makes consumers look elsewhere. So far, we haven't reached that point yet. But if enough exclusive deals are inked and there's product wars (which is inevitable), Walmart's lock on the U.S. market might not hold. And that definitely wouldn't be a bad thing. Ideally, one of the glories of consumerism is freedom of choice, right?


Blogger Jeffrey Davidson said...

If what we want is unavailable at the convenient location, it will test the consumer to see how much they truly want the item. If it is simply an impulse, which many things tend to be, the consumer will forget it. But, if they truly want it, they will find whatever means necessary.

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