Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Retail retaliation: Walmart faces Black Friday strike

Before the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers have cooled, the official Christmas shopping frenzy will begin on 'Black Friday'.

This year, Walmart faces a potential disruption as many thousands of its workers are determined to protest their treatment there. I don't want to read too much into this particular 'strike' (it's not a real strike, Walmart's not unionized) but it's tempting to see this as, perhaps, the beginning of an uprising against the low wages that attend Walmart's low-price obsession.

Ironically, when I was researching Build a Brand Like Trader Joe's I came across ample evidence that suggests that Walmart's profit would actually increase if it paid its workers more. Trader Joe's is anti-union too, but it does pay Crew Members a living wage. Right now, offering starting salaries in the $11-12/hour range and easy access to a rudimentary health insurance program allows Trader Joe's to pick and choose the best retail employees. I'd be willing to bet that Trader Joe's per-square-foot sales and profit are at least as good as Walmart's.

Walmart won't kowtow to its workers' demands right away -- in fact, I expect they'll retaliate against anyone they perceive as fomenting this conflict. But I have the feeling that the American shopping public may be on the verge of an epiphany -- egged on by strike supporters like and the 'occupy' movement. Will shoppers finally realize the impact that Walmart's relentless drive for low prices has had on American manufacturing jobs, middle class wages, and even popular taste?

If the shoppers take the workers' side, Walmart will have to change the way it does business. Trader Joe's is a great model.

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