Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Big, Bad Walmart

I'll admit, I have a love/hate relationship with Walmart. Before we moved into our house 4+ years ago, I never shopped there. Now, I shop there all the time because we live in a small town and it's the only major retailer around without driving 20-30 minutes. They can't be beat on price when buying everyday essentials like toilet paper and diapers, and our local Walmart is a Super Walmart with groceries, too, that are often much cheaper. As much as I shop there, I am also big on supporting local businesses. I do most of my grocery shopping at the family-owned regional grocery chain, especially meat, fruit and other perishables, which I have not found to be of good quality at the Super Walmart. I rent videos from the mom-and-pop store instead of Hollywood Video and we order pizza every weekend from a local shop instead of Domino's or Papa John's.

The whole union labor issue aside, there have been times when I think Walmart is taking advantage of the American public and we all just go along with it. Case-in-point is the cost of baby formula. Hayley used the Infamil Lipil with DHA/AHA, a fairly new formula a year ago. It cost $3.82 a can at my local Walmart. At the Walmart near my parents, about 30 miles away, it cost $3.60/can. We're not talking a nickel here - that's a $0.22 difference. And when, at one point, I was buying up to eight cans a week, that can quickly add up. I finally approached someone in Customer Service at my Walmart with a receipt from the other Walmart about the difference in price. The response was some song-and-dance about how they set prices based on other area stores are charging, etc, etc. Well, two of the local grocery stores in the area didn't even carry this type of Infamil - they were only carrying the "regular" Infamil since the Lipil was still so new. There really wasn't anywhere else I could buy it, and I felt that they were charging as much as they could get away with because they knew that. Still, whenever I went to my parents' house, I would stock up on formula from that Walmart. Either way, they still got over $3 out of me. Like I said, love/hate.

And now, this latest news. I am a big fan of the debit card. It keeps me from charging things on a credit card and helps with budgeting. However, about a year ago, my bank started charging $0.25 for every debit card transaction where you used your pin number, but not on transactions processed as "credit" with your signature. Fine, no problem, I just transact everything as a credit function and it doesn't effect me either way. But now Walmart, where I use my debit card at least two times a week, is going to stop accepting signature-based debit transactions and only accept PIN-based transactions. The company that broke the record less than a week ago with single day sales of $1.52 billion on Black Friday says it's too expensive to process these transactions. Instead, they're going to push that cost back on the consumer.

I wish I could say I would stop shopping at Walmart, but I know that's not true. It's just not possible where we live - they have the monopoly right now and as a family on a budget, it can't be denied. But let Walmart be forewarned that I'll be the gal holding up the check-out line by writing a check instead of using my debit card. Also, it will be interesting to see how this plays out at my local Walmart because my bank is located inside the Walmart, the very same bank that has issued the MasterCard debit card.