View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, May 18, 2003
Let's take Wal-Mart a step further. Let's suppose that only a few people are complaining, and that Wal-Mart is responding to those complaints out of an institutional bias towards conservatism, and, maybe, a little Southern Baptist puritanism. Well, geez, it's their store! If the shareholders have a problem with this, they can bring it up at the next annual meeting, or sell their shares.

Part of the reason Wal-Mart gets hit with this stuff is its perceived power. It does tend to run off competition with their economies of scale, and this is perceived as a narrowing of choice in general. There is some truth to that.

Smaller niche stores do tend to get run out of business because they can't compete on price on the 80% of their sales that Wal-Mart carries. Since Wal-Mart is never going to carry the other 20%, I, as a collector or specialist, have to resort to more distant sources, and usually pay more. This also inevitably leads to a consolidation of whatever market we're talking about. But it also means that as I spend an increasing amount of time in Wal-Mart, as they enter more and more business lines, I am less likely even to see items that Wal-Mart doesn't carry.

Now, browsing the aisles is harder on-line, and it wouldn't surprise me if it raised the entry bar for certain hobbyists. If I've been doing, say, needlepoint for a year or so, and want to get some more exotic patterns or colors or whatever it is that defines A+ quality needlepoint from the Home-Sweet-Home cross-stitch you see in every sitcom kitchen, I may have to go online. I can't wander into Wal-Mart and ask the local "associate." And the store I would have gone to is gone.

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