This passage could seem like an innocent piece of background, but it also serves as a direct counter to the unspoken conventional wisdom about Wal-Mart, without any reference to court proceedings.
What’s more, the piece attempts to glean insight from shoppers’ habits.
Sprague admits she’s puzzled by some of the store’s hot recession sellers, like $5 white toilet seats. “It seems bizarre,” she says, “but I can’t keep them in stock.” Her best guess: unemployment and cocooning are leading people to put more wear on their home bathrooms, and they’re choosing her $5 seats over pricier ones at Home Depot.
TV sales are still strong, fueled in part by the conversion from analog to digital signals. While adult apparel has dropped sharply, moms are still buying kids’ clothing. As people seek cheap ways to entertain, lower-end patio sets and barbecue grills are selling well.
At the front of the store, Sprague passes a big display of Emergen-C, a vitamin powder. It’s been a hot seller all winter as customers try to stay healthy to avoid missing work. Shoppers are also asking pharmacists questions they once might have asked during a doctor’s visit, and making do with over-the-counter remedies instead of prescription drugs.
Which are, you know, quasi-interesting observations, but they all sit much higher in the story than this poor attempt at balance:
Even as Wal-Mart profits during the recession—revenue hit $401 billion last year—its executives admit to one worry: that when the economy strengthens, some of the upscale shoppers who’ve flocked to Wal-Mart to save money may return to their preferred stores. By some measures, it’s a reasonable fear: according to a survey in the May issue of Consumer Reports, Wal-Mart ranked 56th out of 59 grocery chains, due to poor service and lackluster perishables.
So, just to review, Wal-Marts are crappy stores that treat their employees badly and hurt local economies. But! The shopping carts of their customers are so! revealing! All I can really say is, come on… It’s certainly a cute concept to analyze what people are buying in the face of the recession. However, it’s dishonest to apply said cute concept to a company whose reputation is complex and controversial, and to omit it completely. This is crappy journalism, and is worth flushing down a porcelain throne, capped by a $5 toilet seat from Wal-Mart.