Nov 06 2014

Walmart Fieldwork Post

Published by at 10:30 am under Uncategorized

I apologize about how late this post is… I really have no excuse to be honest.

On Friday, October 25th, I got a ride to the Walmart in Central Park from Ashton and her roommate. We departed from campus at around 11:00 A.M. from outside of Pollard on College Avenue and arrived at our destination some fifteen minutes later at 11:15 A.M. The weather was pretty normal; fair conditions. It was mildly cloudy and around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The location of the Walmart we visited is in Central Park and can be found on 1800 Carl D Silver Parkway. Once we arrived at the store, Ashton and I split up and I strolled around the maze of merchandise to take notes.

As it is a giant chain retailer, retail items are delivered by trucks to the grocery side of the building, where they are unloaded into the warehouse. The store is divided into a grocery area (essentially a small supermarket within the Walmart), a clothing section, a technology section (which includes a wall of huge flat screen TV’s),  a toy section, a bedding/furniture section, a hunting section, a toiletries section and many other miscellaneous aisle filled with merchandise such as automotive care, shoes and sporting. What struck me is that you can even buy fish there. Like, you can buy pet fish at a Walmart. The thought of that was quite surreal. In front of the registers in the front of the store, there is a pharmacy, a bank, a McDonald’s, a small arcade area, an eyeglass store and a nail salon. Walmart truly is like a mini-mall in itself. I spent about ten minutes perusing the “Outdoors” section and was shocked that alongside BB-guns, paintballs and slingshots, Walmart actually sells real ammunition. You could potentially buy your milk and cereal and then meander over and buy yourself some buckshot ammo for a shotgun. Again, like with the fishes, a surreal experience for me.

I asked an employee a few questions about transportation and how many employees worked at the Walmart. She seemed quite suspicious of me and wasn’t particularly friendly. This is a big difference in my eyes from the employees of a big corporate retailer such as Walmart and those that work in local, non-chain stores like The Oldetowne Butcher. The employee that I spoke with there was very friendly and went out of her way to help me. I essentially felt like I was doing something wrong by just walking around Walmart and was only met by critical or suspicious looks by the employees.

While she wasn’t particularly personable, the employee I spoke with did answer my questions. Walmart workers arrive either by bus or by car. There is a bus stop nearby which many people seem to take. I asked her if anyone bikes or walks to work and she said no, not to her knowledge. The giant parking lot in front of the store offers plenty of room for both customers and employees to find adequate parking, even at peak hours. She also told me that around 400 people work at that particular Walmart. By looking around, I found that most of them are Hispanic.

The shoppers at Walmart couldn’t be more diverse. While I saw mainly lower class consumers, there were people of all ages, ethnicities and economic statures. I saw college students, young professionals (although it was an odd hour- maybe on lunch break?), old citizens and families among. I did also see somewhat sketchy-looking people such as a man whose entire face and head was covered in tattoos. All in all, there were many different types of people there. This is because Walmart is simply so convenient- you can knock out grocery shopping and shopping for electronics in one go. Furthermore, the prices are so cheap that it is hard to shy away. The store is always busy, even in times of poor weather, although many people may strategically come in the day before a storm to stock up on groceries and essentials as well.

The sheer amount of merchandise is mind-blowing. You can seemingly buy anything there. This calls for selling patterns and sales strategies such as putting discounted goods in bins in the center of the aisles. The bins have giant letters spelling “Low Price” on them. Seasonal products can also be found in prime foot traffic flow areas such as the center of the large aisles. As it was right before Halloween when we visited, Halloween decorations and a plethora of different candy options were up at the front of the store. This helps set the stage for the season- even if you’re there to buy something else, you’ll see the Halloween decorations and feel compelled to buy some. What struck me is that so many of the employees just had a annoyed and gloomy demeanor. It really seemed like many of the employees simply didn’t want to be there. This affects the selling patterns because the employees aren’t very personable or aggressive salespeople, although they probably don’t have to be.

Throughout my walk around the store, I bumped into Prudence, Shannon, Professor Moon and Liz & Erin. It was kind of funny seeing everyone doing their own thing in different sections of Walmart. At around noon, I then headed to the McDonald’s and bought lunch and then promptly saw Ashton gesturing that we were leaving. Then we departed Walmart. Overall, I do not feel connected to the retail space that is Walmart and actually really dislike going there despite its convenience. This is because I much prefer a more intimate and personal consumer environment that might be offered in a small local store.

Professor Moon, I am very sorry about this being so late. I have fallen behind on a few of the blog posts but am making an effort to get back on track. Hopefully you’ll still award me some credit for this fieldwork blog post.

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