Wal-Mart: Friend or Foe?

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that Wal-Mart is a controversial subject in this country. So why all the fuss about this retail giant?

First a little background: The first Wal-Mart store was opened by Sam Walton in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas. In 1970 it opened its first distribution center and in 1972 it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The rest, as you know, is history. Today Wal-Mart has over 6500 stores in 16 countries.

But despite its success, Wal-Mart continues to spur debate on whether or not its organization is good for workers and communities or not. Here are some of the prevailing arguments on each side:

Wal-Mart’s supporters say:

Low Prices – There is little debating that Wal-Mart has rock bottom prices on most things. In these times of rising interest rates and gas prices, that can be a big help to the consumer. According to the Wal-Mart web site, an independent study found that Wal-Mart saves the average household more than $2300 annually.

– With 1,300,000 employees, Wal-Mart is the United States’ largest private-sector employer.

Charitable Giving – According to the web site Working Families for Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart gives over $200 million to charitable causes each year, 90% of it at the local level.

Wal-Mart’s detractors say:

Wal-Mart Hurts the Little Guy – Those low prices come at the expense of small, mom and pop businesses, which can’t compete with the corporate giant.

Wal-Mart Hurts the Big Guy – Even large suppliers feel the squeeze by Wal-Mart; they can’t afford to sell to Wal-Mart at such low prices but can’t afford for their products not to be in the stores of the nation’s largest retailer.

Exploited Workers – Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. are underpaid and lacking in benefits. And profits come at the expense of exploited, impoverished workers overseas.

So what’s your take on Wal-Mart? Do you shop there? Why or why not? One thing seems certain, while Wal-Mart critics are growing and becoming louder, American consumers seems to be voting with their dollars. Are they holding their noses while shopping for lower prices? Or is all this controversy playing out in the media while the average shopper couldn’t care less?