I’m back again with some comments about my experiences as a consumer in the home of consumerism – the USA (California specifically).
Firstly, I can (finally) speak with first hand experience about the monster of all retailers – Wal-Mart. I popped into one of the stores on the outskirts of a relatively innocuous mid-size town. It was a pretty underwhelming experience, not overly different to an Aussie Big-W or K-Mart. The merchandise was certainly cheap, but it was also pretty cruddy. I wouldn’t be heading there for much more than some brand name essentials that I might buy in bulk. The vibe was very much indicative of the spartan practices of the firm.
Of course, this is exactly what this firm trades on. Much of the sources of competitive advantage come from cutting the fat out of the customer interface and all other aspects of the value chain (see much more discussion of that here). The latter is not likely to be obvious to the casual visitor.
There is one other aspect worthy of note in both Wal-Mart and numerous other large-scale retailers we’ve encountered. We are frequently served by elderly sales assistants, male and female. This segment of the labour force is rarely employed in such roles in Australia. Presumably turnover amongst them would be much lower than among the usual troops of high school and uni students enduring such employment down our way. This springs from significant differences in industrial relations laws and the like. It would be intriguing to know whether such variation is viewed as a further barrier to these US firms entering Australia.