Walmarting Across America: Blogging in the Discount Aisles of Good vs. Evil

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Their idea was simple enough - two people taking an RV trip across America, stopping at Wal-mart and visiting with employees and its customers throughout the country - Walmarting Across America had all the earmarks of being a great travel blog.

[cue evil-sounding muzak]

So, Jim and Laura were able to get Walmart's permission to write about their journey and the giant retailer offered to sponsor the trip in their campaign to promote Working Families for Walmart.

And that's when the proverbial shit hit the blogosphere.

BlogHers own travel editor, Pam, blogged about how these Wal-marting Rvers were outed as corporate bloggers, and not only did bloggers want to know if Jim and Laura are real - yes, they are in fact freelance journalists - Walmart critics went on the attack:

Why? Because we dared to write positive things about Wal-Mart. The people who hate Wal-Mart couldn’t argue with anything we said — we were writing about real people and telling true stories.

Although it started out as a blog, Walmarting Across America has - as most blogs have a tendency to do - become a catalyst to a controversy that has left a bad taste for consumers, especially those of us who have shopped at Wal-mart.

Who hasn't?

Walmart is one of the largest retailers in the world - with more than 1.4 million employees and over $10 billion in profits - and has also received a lion's share of consumer criticism over treatment of its workers, which is why sites like Wake Up Wal-mart are blogging reasons why Wal-mart needs to change:

Wal-Mart has become much more than just a small corner store in rural America. In the past 10 years, Wal-Mart has grown into the largest retailer in the world -- number 1 among the Fortune 500 -- and is America's largest employer. With more than 1.4 million employees and over $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart is a giant company with giant responsibilities. First and foremost, Wal-Mart has a responsibility to all Americans to set the standard for customers, workers and communities, and to help build a better America.

Though many bloggers feel as if they've been lied to by Jim and Laura, Wal-mart takes all the blame for the blogging fiasco and reinterates their commitment in promoting trust:

For the past several days, I have been listening to the blogging community discuss the cross-country tour that Edelman designed for Working Families for Wal-Mart.

I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client's.

Allegations of poor worth ethics is why blogs like Wal-mart Watch are keeping an eye on this consumer giant they feel are just a few steps away from becoming the crash dummies of marketing:

For every baby step it makes--pushing organics, pushing energy-efficient light-bulbs--it does something, well, just plain dumb.

As a mother of four, I think it's safe for me to say it's tough raising a family on a tight budget and it's hard not to see Wal-mart rolling back their prices on everyday items...as a good thing.

Sheta is a single mother who happily shopped Wal-mart using their layaway plan (especially at Christmas) - before they canceled the program, that is - and blogs her disappointment with Wal-mart (as well as Target) and believes herself to be forced in choosing between the lesser of two evils:

I know that Wal-Mart treats their employees like shit. I know that they use dirt poor Chinese labor in horrible conditions. I waver between "well, they took the job, what would they be earning if it wasn't there?" and "this is completely unacceptable."

Target...Wal-mart...K-mart...these are the places that every day average shoppers (like me) are more likely to find a bargain and are trying to match their prices...sale for sale...in hopes of meeting their shoppers' desires with satisfaction, like Allie Beatty's need for affordable meds:

Wal-Mart is my guilty pleasure. I'll spend hours browsing the isles and the faces. I love Florida. Really, I do. No state tax, great highways, warm winters, Disney. And now this! By the way, you know how they say imitation is the highest form of flattery? Well, Target plans to match Wal-Mart's $4 drug program. I guess everybody will have to jump on the generic drug rollback bandwagon.

After reading both sides of the love/hate relationship bloggers have with Wal-mart, I believe that it's fair to say that we consumers should be allowed to express our opinions, especially when a large discount retailer (such as Wal-mart) puts itself into the position of making a profit, while our trust lies in the balance and its fair trade practices are in question - no doubt - but, with that said, should big business stay away from the blogosphere?

Only time will tell - I, for one, would like to see more corporations make good and honest use of bloggers - and if the big-wigs of business are listening, perhaps there's hope for Wal-mart shoppers, yet.

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Contributing Editor Elizabeth Thompson also writes for the eZine, "The Imperfect Parent."

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