About a year ago, Talk of the Nation had a show about a new decision by Target Stores: to disallow Salvation Army bellringers from the entrance of their stores. During the course of the show, a caller phoned in to disagree with Target about this decision. Neil Conan, the host, asked her if her upset with the decision was going to cause a change in her spending habits:
Would you, after hearing this, that some places are excluding those bell ringers, would you exclude [Target Stores] from your shopping list?
Um (laughs) ... I don't know ... I don't know.
Possibly not, in other words.
Possibly not. Because Target has such a wide variety of things and ... I don't know.
The reason that this conversation sticks out in my mind has nothing to do with the bellringer controversy and everything to do with this caller's response. To me, it was the epitomy of a person having zero connection between her wallet and the companies where she chooses to spend her money. She was upset, and called a national show to talk about Target making a bad decision. But to stop shopping there? That would be much too much of a hardship -- of course she was not going to stop shopping there.
I was reminded of this call yesterday when I went to see Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price. The movie is a muckraking type movie, and is extremely slanted against Walmart. It has stirred up quite a controversy -- but in general if you are the type to read a blog like mine you probably know most of the information that is in this movie.
As I watched the movie, I kept coming back to the fact that consumers who dislike Walmart need to be taking much more of a personal stand against the store. At one point in the movie, a man whose small-town business was allegedly a casualty of Walmart's coming to town was talking about how profits changed once the Walmart opened. He said something to the effect of "once it came to town, it caused profits in our town to drop 50%". What he really should be saying is "Walmart came to town and my neighbors decided to spend their money at Walmart instead of frequenting the small local businesses." When it comes down to it, Walmart can come to town but if no one decides to shop there, then no businesses would close.
I get frustrated with what I call the "zombie effect" with some people when it comes to a place like Walmart. Many times you will hear this type of effect when people are fighting a Walmart coming into their town. They make it sound as if it's inevitable that stores will close down, and that everyone will be shopping at Walmart. But the thing is, we all have a choice. No one is going to hold us down and force us to give our money over to Walmart. We choose to spend our money there (or at Starbucks, or Target, or Home Depot or any other store that is controversial).
Of course there are more facets to the Walmart issue, but the bottom line is this: The only thing that Walmart will respond to is a change in their profits or a change in their stock price. Period.
So, this holiday season, ask yourself if you are spending any money at Walmart. Or if any mutual fund you own has Walmart stock. Or if you are spending money at any other store you disagree with. Because every day, with every dollar we spend, we are voting with our dollars -- in a language that those corporations understand. And the only way that we can vote against any corporation is to withold those dollars and choose to spend them somewhere else.