December 16, 2005


Wal-Mart Throws an Undercut at Target: Chain-Store Strategy Changes for the Christmas Blitz (Ylan Q. Mui, December 16, 2005, Washington Post)

Sales tags touting deep price cuts were flying like battle flags this week in the electronics department of Wal-Mart in Manassas. Twice each week, about a dozen employees sneak into enemy territory -- Target is just two miles away -- to scope out prices. When they return, the store starts discounting, undercutting the competition by 5 percent or more, manager Beth Melson said.

"We can stay the lowest price in the market to draw shoppers into our store," she said. "They know they can come here and get the lowest price."

So The Wife was detailed to buy the gift certificates for her department staff this year, which means I got sent to Borders to get them. With each one they gave a certificate for 20% off the purchase, plus a 10% discount card for the purchaser. Not only does nothing cost more than it used to, it doesn't even cost what you just spent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2005 11:17 AM

Borders is a very bad place. shame on you for supporting that hell hole. Any place that treats its workers as poorly as they do, doesn't deserve your wife's hard earned money. (lesbian managers who refuse to serve/speak to men, low pay, and no benefits)

Long live

Posted by: buck at December 16, 2005 12:06 PM

The Borders on the west side of Fort Worth isn't that bad, though I still prefer B&N for nostalgic reasons, since when I was a mere yute in Manhattan, the local bookstore was Barnes & Noble, back when Fifth Avenue & 18th Street was their only store.

As for Target-Wally World, the former seems to have slightly better quality clothes, but on the other consumer items such as electronics, health care products or sporting goods, Target rarely if ever undercuts Wal-Mart. On the other hand, Target doesn't build stores in as many lower income areas, and has a certain cache among the more rabidly liberal types of being (along with Costco) the un-Wal-Mart, so they don't have to compete in price as much to get some folks into their stores, since they want to save money, but want to feel good about themselves while doing it.

Posted by: John at December 16, 2005 1:15 PM

Surprised at you, OJ. Anyone who reads, and thus presumably purchases, as many books as you do ought to realize that the reason Borders and other bookstores can give out so many discounts is that they make it all back in their inflated regular prices in the first place.

I can find the same books for half the price used (online, usually at Amazon) or at (new). _Those_ are the outlets that you might use to support your "nothing costs more" maxim.

Posted by: M. Bulger at December 16, 2005 1:45 PM


Tactility matters.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2005 1:52 PM

Target is French owned.

Posted by: erp at December 16, 2005 1:53 PM


I sympathize completely. I still shop in bookstores for that very reason. But I don't buy there, and I read a great deal more as a result.

And there's still the tactile thrill once you've opened the box.

Posted by: M. Bulger at December 16, 2005 1:56 PM

Tactility matters

Have you tried stroking your back hair with your free hand while you point and click? Just a thought.

Posted by: joe shropshire at December 16, 2005 1:58 PM

free hand?

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2005 2:02 PM

The box & plastic wrap are off-putting.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2005 2:04 PM

Erp: that would be amusing if true, giving a basis for the jokey pronunciation "tar-ZHAY," but it's not. It's a U.S.-based, publicly held corporation.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 16, 2005 2:34 PM

Not only does nothing cost more than it used to, it doesn't even cost what you just spent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2005 11:17 AM


My new 500+ lb. gas guzzling 4X4 pick'emup cost more than my first house. I'm just say'n....

Posted by: NC3 at December 16, 2005 2:35 PM

papayaSF. Are you sure about that? I wasn't basing it on the jokey pronunciation and I've heard it from more than one source.

Posted by: erp at December 16, 2005 6:12 PM

Here's what I think most folks overlook: WalMart allows so many other retailers to fly under the radar. Other big-box, or bigger-box stores -- Target, Kohls, Home Depot, Loewes, and the office supply kindred -- do not suffer the same attacks as WalMart. Yet all of them have an impact on the old Mom-and-Pop stores that used to sell those products.

It could be that at base WalMart's cardinal sin is that it sells to everyone, rich or poor. The others try to appeal to some niche. Target, for example, is WalMart for Yuppies. In a sense, WalMart is classless and is punished for it by those who hold their class identities dear.

Sorry to sound like a Marxist. I shop at all of them.

Posted by: Ed Bush at December 16, 2005 6:43 PM

Wal-Mart is America.

Posted by: Sandy P at December 16, 2005 6:59 PM


An even better example is IKEA. It's massive, drives Mom & Pop out of business, almost everything is made in China, and lots of it is crap. BUT! It's Swedish, so it's absolved from all blame.

I always say my ancestors left Sweden to get away from that kind of furniture. But IKEA's also the only place to get good Swedish food these days...

Posted by: Timothy at December 16, 2005 7:01 PM


IKEA has one saving grace. At its food court, it sells round flatbread. I used to go to IKEA just to buy it (and nothing else). It may well just sell much the same stuff as other places, but it has a real identity.

Wow! What a concept. A chain of Scandy food stores that sell flatbread, various kinds of herring, and really good salmon.

Smorgesbord "R" Us. I suppose people like me, who love sardines (King Oscar, of course) and pickled herring are in the minority. Probably wouldn't work.

Pity. In the end it is not what you sell but how you make people feel about buying what you sell.

Posted by: Ed Bush at December 16, 2005 7:18 PM

Wal-Mart is red-state, Target is blue-state. The latter is owned by Dayton-Hudson, family of Senator Mark Dayton.

Posted by: Gideon at December 16, 2005 7:39 PM

Erp: Various rumors about Target are debunked here.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 16, 2005 8:48 PM

I have now lived in three different areas with Target's, and the experience has aalways been the same: After a few trips, I quit going. I have yet to be in any other store with such long lines and so many unattended cash registers. Local newspaper columnists have even joked about it. Do they change? No.

Posted by: Dan at December 16, 2005 9:31 PM

PapayaSF -- thanks for the real skinny (does anyone use that phrase anymore?) on Target.

It doesn't matter much though because my shopping is just about completely online now. There's no reason to go to the mall. The one decent store, Burdines, is now Macy's and there isn't a movie we want to see at the adjacent Cinema.

We pick up groceries and sundries at the nearby supermarket, visit the local nursery for garden supplies and an occasional romp through Office or Home Depot complete our shopping sprees.

Posted by: erp at December 17, 2005 12:11 PM