Big Box stores & the contribution of waste

ItHow people justify shopping Big Box

Big Box stores – almost everyone has shopped at one at some point in time. Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us, you just can’t beat them on their prices. They have so much purchasing power by buying their goods in freakishly huge quantities that they run smaller mom & pop shops right into the ground. The average business cannot even begin to compete with them in most aspects. I hear people say they want to support small business but can’t afford to. This annoys me on many levels because everyone can afford to support local business, they just chose not to & they make excuses to justify their choice. Let’s look at those justifications.

Big Box stores are cheaper.

Not more affordable. I could go into Wal-mart and buy a lamp for $25 or go into the locally run furniture store and buy one for $50 or more. Technically Wal-mart has a lower price but do they have a better product? Additionally, do I really need another lamp or am I just buying one because I can afford to if it is $25.

The terms cheap and affordable are related terms however, do not have the same meaning. If you use them in the correct way, you can start to change the way you think.

Cheap: Low and/or reduced in price; Of poor quality; Of little worth; unfairly powerful.

Affordable: that you have the financial means for.

Big Box stores are contributing to the economic failure of American families.

There it is, I said it. Consumers are nickel and diming their hard earned income away and not even noticing. I am a firm believer in just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. What is it that you want and what is it that you really truly need. American’s are really good at being wasteful like no where else in the world. We have convinced ourselves that the more stuff we have the more successful we are and Big Box stores have no problem telling us that is indeed fact. We need big houses to hold all of our stuff and we need big cars to transport all of our stuff. We spend most of our money credit card payments for this stuff and then buy houses we cannot afford and lease cars that will never be ours. We don’t actually own anything but we are in debt for it all.

We can never have enough, it’s a constant pursuit of material happiness that we think we will find in substandard products. Big Box stores are there to help us in our pursuit of happiness.

What kind of quality do you find in Big Box stores? Not high quality, that is for certain. Pressboard furniture (made of sawdust and glue), cheaply made clothes that fall apart at the seams after a wash or two, toys that don’t least more than a few months of playtime and somehow we decided that this was all acceptable. You get what you pay for and we seem to be ok with that. We repeat the mantra they don’t make things like they used to and head up to Target and buy another one. Here’s the thing, they DO make them like they used to they just don’t sell them where you shop. We are so stuck in the vicious cycle of more stuff we don’t take the time to reflect on it. We have so much stuff we don’t even use that we buy pressboard furniture to store it in. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say they need a bigger house. I tend to ask why and they tell me because they don’t have room for all of  their stuff.

Instead of buying twice as many crummy things we could spend our money on things that have quality, will be a value to us, and that will last or at least give us resale value should we decide to replace it in the future.

Ah, resale value. Now this is the whole reason for my post.

Why buy it used when you can buy it new?

I had a yard sale this weekend with some friends. We priced items very reasonably and only sold items of good quality and we had a hard time even giving the stuff away. One of the things I overheard from a shopper ,”Why pay $3 for a child’s outfit that still *looks* new at a yard sale when they can pay $9 for one that *is* new at Wal-Mart?” It was that that made me write this. I can tell you why I would, because the child will outgrow that outfit in just a few months and I have better things to spend my money on. I buy a like new item for less than half of the new value and I have saved that much money to spend on other things I need or want that have more value to me.

There are many outlets for reselling everyday items including newspapers, flea markets, yard sale, Craigslist, and Ebay. You can find anything somewhere for the right price (and maybe shipping and handling). Obviously the more rare and in demand an item is the higher the cost is driven but, what about everyday necessities? We can factor the value of a used item based on it’s condition then take that number and using basic economic pricipals we learned in primary or secondary education factor in it’s market saturation or availability and adjust the price accordingly. What I have discovered is that current trends are showing that the value of a used item isn’t anything close to what it should be (we are also seeing this with real estate, automobiles, and other things but that’s another post). The majority of consumers are neither educated shoppers nor are they capable of understanding the value of a product – they are only seeing a small piece of the computation. They see a product, compare that product based on price in the Big Box discount stores where they shop and instantly place a value on it.

Example: Hardwood dining table handcrafted and sells new for $1500.00. Listed used but in excellent condition for $500 (considerably less than what they could ask for it but lets say the seller really wants to get rid of it). Consumers view picture (or actual item) and note that while it is in good condition there might be normal and nominal wear and tear so price is mentally calculated as 1/2 of retail costs. Sound reasonable so far? Wait for it. Consumer draws up comparable (to their memory) item, ie, superstore butcher block kitchen table. Retail price anywhere from $150 – $300 for substandard mass produced quality. Consumer instantly comes to the calculations that this previously owned table should be worth $60-$150 and might go as far as to offer such an absurd and unreasonable price to the seller. Seem like a fictional scenario to you? I witnessed this again and again in person last weekend. Item is either sold for an insane price, given away, or ends up in a dumpster because it’s just more trouble than it’s worth – literally.

Big Box stores have now not only managed to run out the mom and pop stores that provided higher quality and better customer attention but has successfully underminded used resell values. People cannot resell their items and they might very well end up piling up a landfill and I can’t imagine that all these crummy man made materials biodegrade all that well. Even if you aren’t greenminded think of all the potential heirlooms that are lost everyday because the disposable household items won’t hold up to pass to your children much less your grandchildren and beyond. Personally I am proud to have an opportunity to share stories of my grandparents when they were young and newlyweds because the kids asked me about my bedroom set which just so happened to be their very first one after they married. To some it might be an outdated dresser, to me it is memories everytime I give it a fresh coat of paint and a set of shiny new drawer pulls.

Before my train of thought got derailed I was talking about crazy consumer calculations and thought processes but I started testing theories.

The more you get the better the deal.

What is a better deal; 25 cents per item or 4 for a $1? Four is more than one so four for a dollar has to be a better value! I know, just bear with me. Big Box has spent a lot of time convincing us that more is better and it has sunk in. Buy one get one half off sales draw in consumers like no tomorrow. Drug stores regularly have sales of this kind on more expensive shampoos and makeup and I frequently see shelves sold out of these products by Monday evening even though the sale was only announced the day before. This is only 25% off two items but if it was advertised that way it wouldn’t draw in nearly as many sales. The items are already higher priced items to begin with so the profit margin is higher and is the $4 shampoo really a better quality than say a $2 shampoo? Frequently  consumer reports have found that there isn’t a difference in many products except the name, label and resale cost. If you are marketer you get paid to come up with this language that gets the consumers in and spending their hard earned dollars. Kuddos to you for fooling so many of us.

Herding the sheeple

My daughter recently went through a life skills class. They were assigned jobs, incomes, and bank accounts. They were taught to shop, buy homes, and spend money. They are seventh graders and this is one of the last mandatory classes they will ever have on these skills. She was assigned computer programmer and given an annual salary of $25,000 per year (quiet you geeks, I know this is insane) and her friend was given the occupation of physician and paid $300,000 per year. The went into their professions with no student loan debt which in my opinion was already a massive fail and told to find housing. My daughter (lucky girl she listens to me sometimes) decided to room with a friend in an apartment and split living expenses. Needless to say she ended the class with a healthy checkbook. Her doctor friend bought a very expensive home and while she was doing well with her annual salary didn’t have much left over when all her expenses were calculated. The funny (sad) thing is that her friend mocked her for not having all the wonderful things she herself had as a doctor. Good thing she didn’t find out how life can throw a malpractice suit at you and take everything you have.

Really, there was a point to this and the point was, we are failing to educate our future. We are teaching them how to spend but not how to be smart consumers or how to save money. We are teaching them more is better and that quality doesn’t matter but quantitiy is everything. We are hearding a new generation of sheeple off the cliff of dependency and failure. Why should we stop? We need consumers to spend so that we have more stores, bigger profit margins, and fatter bankrolls.

Don’t forget, Big Box isn’t just Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Fry, and other similar shops but includes grocery chains, fast food, and sit down frozen cooked to order chains like Applebee’s and TGI Fridays just to name a few.

I could take this in so many directions I might just write an e-book but until then you get the point. Big Box contributes to waste: consumer over spending, landfill filling, destruction of small community business and more. Is it worth it to have one on all sides of town?

Is the convenience worth the loss?

Do you really need all that stuff?

2 responses to “Big Box stores & the contribution of waste

  1. Great post although I must admit I did an immediate find for the “C” word, nope didn't find it.CHINA, lets face it most if not all big box stores are nothing more than a pipeline of Chinese made products sold to us. What does that mean? Cheap borderline slave labor sub standard products for us to purchase at an “affordable” price.On the flip side this poses a dilemma for gifted designers who want to sell products to as many people as possible. For them they need to think about creating mass produced items in a cradle to cradle way, is that even possible in the big box business model?Again thanks for the great post, that is all.

  2. You are quick with the reply – am I on your speed dial? ;)There is a ton I left out of this post and I just had to stop. I started it Sunday morning and couldn't go to sleep until I at least finished it. This is not my typical posting topic but gee, it's another one of those things that drive me nuts. My brain went in so many directions – including the China sweatshops – crummy materials full of lead – consumer protection that kills future home based business – I mean really, it could so easily be a book but my final thoughts led me back to my latest fit of the dumbing down of America so that might just be my next post should I get my facts checked. Thanks for reading and offering your thoughts. I always appreciate and value them!

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