Sunday, January 08, 2012

Did They Buckle? Was I Right All Along? Or Is Something Else Going On?

Two years ago, my local Walmart stopped providing shopping bags--customers were to bring their own. It was Walmart's "green" initiative, but I have to believe that part of the calculus involved the money they'd save on bags. My local store did an "experiment" without bags--which was no experiment at all--and then all Northern California stores were to go bagless. I wasn't pleased, wrote several posts about it (one's here), and decided that Walmart didn't much want me as a customer. I estimate that the money I spent at Walmart has dropped off 90% since then, with Safeway and a couple other places picking up the slack.

Today, though, I went to Walmart (it's still close by and cheap, if not entirely convenient) to pick up a few items--and what did I see at the checkouts? Why, clean, white, pretty Walmart bags! Did they learn the lessons that I saw coming a mile away? I asked the checker, and she didn't know why the bags had returned, but suspected that they'd be reintroduced for the Christmas shopping season (why, one might wonder) and they were just using up the stock.

I hope this is a permanent change. I don't want to carry bags around whenever I go to shop.

On a side note, while there I was looking in the $5 video box, and found Antwone Fisher. I'd never seen the movie, remember hearing good things about it, so I bought it. Impressive movie. I recommend it. Have Kleenex on hand.


allen (in Michigan) said...

Not really tough to see the story arc of this one.

Somewhere within the confines of Walmart a bright, young MBA made the case for greenie-weenie-osity being a way to re-establish Walmart's previous momentum. It'll show that Walmart's a sterling supporter of environmental awareness and responsibility, cares about all the little, furry things, dances naked in the moonlight in celebration of the transcendence of whales and all the rest of the greenie-weenie horse manure.

People, enraptured with the idea of buying a cheap pair of pants at Walmart and brag about their environmental cred would come flocking to Walmart.

The MBA's moved on when the idea was inescapably proven stupid, or more likely well ahead of the idea being proven stupid, and Walmart was given a little reminder of why it's as big as it is. Whether the lesson will take is a different question but the history of outfits like Walmart doesn't suggest it will. A relentless focus on the customer is pretty bothersome which is why so many previously-great companies are now historical footnotes. It's just easier to sway the board of directors with sexy eye-candy then it is to convince people to come into your stores and spend their money.

MagisterGreen said...

Enjoy it while you can. Here in Maryland a new law just went into effect compelling all businesses to charge for bags, $0.05 per bag.

I'm already doing more shopping at Costco (no bags) and my wife and I are arranging to shop in Virginia when we can (she works in VA, so it's convenient). So much for that. So MD gets to dispose of my plastic bags while getting no revenue from it AND losing the revenue I'd pay them in the form of sales taxes and the like.

Seriously, do these people even care about consequences?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... in the SF Bay Area, the stores seemed to have "learned" and San Jose has passed a law so that bags can no longer be provided for free (I think the deal is that plastic is unavailable and the stores have to charge for paper). I shop mainly in Mountain View, so this hasn't hit me yet.

My wife and I are starting to get a list together of things we can order from Amazon. If "they" make things hard enough to shop locally, we can plan ahead for all of the non-perishables and order from Amazon (heck, they deliver to our door via UPS).\

I don't think this is over, I just think that the stores are going to use the cover of a law to make it harder for shoppers to switch to local competitors. I think that they have forgotten about Amazon ... but once we start ordering our bulk items from Amazon, I don't think we'll be switching back for a while because habit is inertia. My guess is that this will not be good, long term, for local supermarket employment.

-Mark Roulo

MikeAT said...


On your point of unintended consequences a Wal-Mart story from Chicago. For years Wal-Mart has wanted to be in Chicago by the unions kept them out. Finally they just opened their store in an incorporated suburb of Chicago. If I remember the numbers right there were 300 permanent jobs created and almost all of the people who applied were from The Blowing, err Windy City. The mayor of this small town figured Wal-Mart would bring in over three million a year in tax revenue.

Gee guys stupidiy has reactions.

KauaiMark said...

How to get around the plastic bag ban in San Jose.

Buy lunch at MCD's (or any restaurant)and ask for it "to go" in a plastic bag "on the side please"

You can use it at the grocery store on the way home.

maxutils said...

I think you give Wal-Mart too much credit. You're paying for those bags regardless, and I seriously doubt they lowered prices across the board to reflect the lower overhead. It also gave them the opportunity to make a greater profit by being able to sell reusable bags at a greater profit margin. The only way you can get away with that is if you can convince your customers it's vital to the ecology of the planet . . .and my gut tells me that only about 50%of Wal-Mart shoppers can tell you what an ecology or a planet is.

Darren said...

I never meant to suggest that Walmart lowered prices after dropping the bags, only that *they* were saving money by not having them.

maxutils said...

exactly . . . in a free market economy they should have needed to lower prices to make up for the loss of the cost of the bags.

Darren said...

OR they could pocket the difference while touting their "green" credentials. Duh.

Ellen K said...

Lefties hate Walmart. And that sentiment has seeped into common usage despite the fact that other Big Box stores treat their employees just the same way or worse. The disdain lies in the fact that by having the lowest prices on many things, Walmart attracts low income people. Here's news to those liberals, rich people didn't get that way by spending more on toilet paper. That being said, Walmart hired some Ivy League B School theorists (think Geithner) to fashion Walmart into a more palatable entree. Instead they ended up losing money. One of the things I learned when I worked at The Container Store was that Walmart makes a ton of money off of impulse sales at the check out stand. If you force customers to bring their own bags, they could only bring enough for their planned purchases and keep profits down. Impulse purchases translate into additional sales. And if you think only Walmart does that, look at Target, the grocery store, or any other retail establishment.