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University of Connecticut School of Law




Wal-Mart is often said to be bad for its workers, including those workers in its production chain in developing countries, and good for its consumers, most of whom are women. Most people argue that its consumers gain from low prices. This brief essay argues that consumers absorb a share of the costs of Wal-Mart's low prices. Contrary to intuition, Wal-Mart may increase significantly the financial and time pressures on its shoppers, the majority of whom can ill-afford increases in either. Most small retail is sited to take advantage of travel routines people have already established to meet their residential and work needs. In contrast, Wal-Mart's site choice is driven by the need for a plot of land large enough for a 150,000-200,000 square foot store and a parking lot three times that size. The market plan of a Big Box store includes changing the travel behavior of its shoppers, while small retail merely catches people as they move from home to work to school. Wal-Mart's plan for influencing consumer conduct is more ambitious socially. Compounding this effect, Wal-Mart drives smaller retail stores out of business. The consumer then loses choices over whether to drive to purchase goods. She can no longer mix long trips to Wal-Mart for low-cost goods with shorter trips to local retail for relatively higher-priced goods. Wal-Mart thus introduces barriers for those without cars, financial burdens for those with access to cars, and logistical strains on time use for time-starved consumers. Time and logistics already strain those attempting to balance work and family responsibilities, and the sprawled placement of big box development increases these burdens. I argue that most Wal-Mart consumers intend to choose its low prices, but do not intend to eliminate logistically easier shopping options.

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