Growing up in a world where the minimum wage was $4.50 an hour, there are two things that I learned to buy the best quality of that I could afford: shoes, and a wristwatch. I learned this lesson by finding myself back at Payless Shoes every month to replace the pair I'd bought there the previous month which already had seams with holes and flappy soles. And also by that same day stopping at K-Mart for another Timex because the one I'd had for only a few weeks was telling me the time on the planet Crapwatch.. So, eventually I figured out that If I went to the Army/Navy store and spent my shoe budget for the next 4 months on a pair of Officer's shoes, I wouldn't have to replace them for two to five years. And if I bought a mid-priced Swatch (Their quality line, not those candy-colored vomit things they got famous for back in the day) for the price of 8 Timexes, I could count the dollars saved on the additional 20 Timexes I eventually didn't have to buy.
It's a lesson that really only needed to apply to those two items for most of my life. Other items that applied to my life in such an intimate way never seemed to be an issue. Clothing lasted a good long time, whatever you paid for it, books came only in hardcover or paperback, and Mom & Dad supplied the rest until I moved out, and then I was really happy I already had a good watch and good shoes because then I could barely afford food, but that's another story.
But I'm finding that, after my burning re-entry into the atmosphere of the planet United States, this is a lesson that needs to be re-learned about many other things, and after a few anecdotes and some preliminary research, I've discovered the cause to be Wal-Mart. Here's the thing; Like McDonald's and other fast food, Wal-Mart tastes great to me. I like going to one hugeongous warehouse store and getting everything I need at one go, and getting the hell out, because I actually hate shopping. My feet get tired and my brain begins to swim when I have to make choices between things like strawberry, or blueberry, or whitening, or breath-freshening, or anti-plaque toothpastes! So I say, get in, get out, and enjoy the extra time you've gained in your life from it by locking yourself in your room with your computer and your bloodshot eyes.
But, also like fast food, there is shit in Wal-Mart's meat! The anecdote that I first heard was from my friend Stephanie; she related that she (or a friend of hers, I can't remember) had bought an HP laptop computer there for a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than the same model at Circuit City. In a matter of weeks, the hard drive crashed. She sent it back in for repairs, got it back, and a few weeks later, System Failure 2, at your local box office! So they brought it in and had it replaced with a new one, same model. System Failure 3: Joke's On You, Sucka! Intrigued as to why this should be, when HP is a respected manufacturer of fine computers, she did a little research and discovered that Wal-Mart, in their quest to bring loyal Wal-Mart shoppers lower prices, actually dictates to their manufacturers what prices they are willing to pay to stock their shelves with stuff. So, what companies like HP wind up having to do, in order to continue making any sort of a profit at all, is to manufacture a line of computers with their name on it, using inferior materials and cheaper production costs in Mexican child slave factories*, solely to be shipped to Wal-Mart stores!
If it's not obvious to you why this might be a bad thing, here's the breakdown: Johnny Dipshit wants to buy a computer. At Circuit City, he sees one for $1200, but at Wal-Mart, he sees the same one for $800. So, obviously he buys it at Wal-Mart. Well, there are 10,000 Johnny Dipshits in the world out there buying laptops right now. When Circuit City, or any other retailer, doesn't sell their $1200 model, they stop selling them and all that you can find, anywhere, is the crappy fall-apart in 3 weeks $800 model. Do the math, it's not good.
Well, I didn't really buy this anecdote, (seriously, I didn't. I'm not just saying that to sound like a reasonable crank with an educated conversion to Wal-Mart haters R us) but I started noticing little things. My Dad's wife Erin bought me a few car accessories at Wal-Mart for Christmas that I had asked for. The very solid-looking extendable snow brush and ice-scraper snapped in two the first time I tried to use it on my icy windshield. A pillow that I bought there for my room started off nice and fluffy but within two weeks you wouldn't have been blamed for mistaking it for a table place mat. ALL of the clothing I've purchased there has either shrunk, lost it's color, or frayed to an unacceptable degree after just a few washes.
Not everything I've bought there has caused me problems. Those blank DVD's for instance. The toothpaste seems to work just fine. So far my beanbag chair is ok... I'll keep you updated on that if anything happens there. But... it's all a part of the general degradation of US standards that I've been seeing everywhere. Mike Judge is a genius for his film Idiocracy, because the more I look around, the more prophetic it looks. It also reminds me of the bit in the novel 1984 by George Orwell about how everybody is eating substandard food and drinking crap Gin that makes your stomach into a big fat churning ulcer, because of the devolution of standards, or something. It's been a long time since I read it. Feel free to fill in the blank there, for me.
Anyway, I did some of my own internet based research, and with a preliminary article scan, here are two links that are quite troubling and eye-opening that I've found. The Wal-Mart You Don't Know, and The Man Who Said No To Wal-Mart. I'm sure some of you who like to comment when I talk about stuff you already know all about will have already looked into all this, or had your own experiences... send me anecdotes, send me links! I'd like to read further. I'm already considering boycotting Wal-Mart, as I have done with fast food; In both cases more for my own benefit than for any gung-ho anti-establishment reasons. I have already decided to limit at the very least the types of things I'll buy there. No electronics, no clothes, and no crap. Toothepaste, milk, other things that I don't see any degradation of the product on... for now. But you're in my crosshairs, Wal-Mart! Bow down before me and tremble! MUAHH HAHAHAHA!!!
Right. Anyway. The point of all this is, I think you'll find that in the long run, whatever your budget may be, that you're better off buying your laptops from quality retailers, and your clothing from the non-budget stores... granted, it's harder to find those sorts of things at decent prices outside of Wal-Mart these days because they've put so many lesser entities out of business, but it's still possible... FOR NOW!
*This was an attempt at humor, not a statement of fact. Although it's my opinion that Wal-Mart probably uses Mexican child slave labor as a bargaining tool with their manufacturers to make a cheaper product, I have no facts to back it up. It's also my opinion that they should not be allowed to dictate the manufacturer's pricing, but what do I know?