March 28th, 2017

The Walmart experience

There are certain things I buy at Walmart. One of them is plain old T-shirts, of which Walmart carries an astounding variety of shapes and types for prices that range from about $2.50 to barely $6.00. The other day I braved the Walmart aisles in order to lay in a supply to supplement my decimated stock of them (I use them for blogging and for sleep, in medium for the former and very large for the latter).

Then I wandered around the store for a while; wandering around the vastness of Walmart can be good exercise on a rainy day. In the produce section I noticed some wonderfully large boxes of wonderfully large blackberries for about $3.50, and decided to take a chance on them at that price. I wasn’t expecting much—after all, I’ve found that the blackberries in most groceries usually look good but are sourish. But hope springs, even at Walmart…

And lo and behold, when I got home and ate a few, I discovered them to be the very best blackberries I’ve ever tasted. Sweet and intensely flavorful. The brand is Driscoll’s, for anyone who cares to look for them. I was so taken with them that I went back the next day (yesterday) for more, hoping that I’d find some from the same batch. I bought three packages—and yes, they were just as sweet and just as good.

But the rest of my Walmart experience was disturbing. The entire store had an odd vibe—even for Walmart, and that’s saying something. It was about 9 PM, but the store was almost deserted, and there were three checkout aisles open. The first one I waited in featured one customer ahead of me, a person with some oddity that was indescribable but notable. Perhaps he was intellectually challenged, perhaps emotionally, perhaps both, but something was just off, and the same was true for the clerk behind the register, who sported red hair so brightly colored that it resembled no hair found in nature, and piercings on his face that were strange even for piercings. His nose, for example, had what looked like straight pins hanging from it.

The clerk was ringing up (archaic phrase, that) the last of four enormous canvas bags of goods the man was buying. At the very end, the laborious end for which I’d patiently waited, some glitch occurred that invalidated the entire transaction and the clerk said he had to start all over and ring everything up again. Since this had already been occurring at a snail’s pace (and a particularly slow snail at that), I moved to open register number 2.

Two young women were there, buying just a couple of things, so it looked promising. But then both of the women and the clerk, after hurried and almost-whispered consultation with each other, abandoned the register and disappeared. I waited for several minutes and they did not return. So I pushed on to register #3.

An older woman was there, buying two small cases of Enfamil. Perhaps for a grandchild, I thought. Seemed like this would be a simple thing. Of course, it was not. There were a lot of papers shown (not food stamps, by the way; bigger papers then that, and more of them). Then there was a wait for another clerk, a higher-up, to approve something or other. After that, the customer disappeared for a few minutes, and came back with some cash.

Let me add that at no time during all of these transactions did anyone, customer or clerk, address me or the fact that I was waiting. And if you want to know why I continued to wait, it was the power of those blackberries, the best I’d ever eaten.

And then finally it was my turn. The clerk who waited on me did address me, too, but only in song. Yes folks, he sang everything he said to me—and he wasn’t a good singer, either.

Are these signs of the coming apocalypse?

[ADDENDUM: I may not understand what was going on with the people in Walmart. But I may have solved the mystery of what was going on with the blackberries.

Driscoll’s has been transitioning to a sweeter variety of blackberry, and I may have tasted the fruit (literally) of their labors (the article is from 2013):

California-based Driscoll’s plans to phase out its sourcing of the public blackberry variety Tupi in Mexico over the next eight years, replacing it with sweeter cultivars in sync with an expanding surface area. blackberries.

Driscoll’s Blackberry CMx supply manager Gerardo Cruz [says]…

“We sell Tupi to the whole world, but the new varieties have a higher brix and are being accepted very well, and in that way we can differentiate ourselves from the competition,” he says.

“The average brix of Tupi blackberries is around 10° but our varieties Catherine and Dasha are above 13°.

Nice going, Driscoll’s.]

49 Responses to “The Walmart experience”

  1. Janetoo Says:

    Driscoll’s Strawberries are amazing as well.

  2. Griffin Says:

    There’s nothing quite like being in line when the person is buying the baby formula and they get out the WIC paperwork. And then of course they have their SNAP card. And then of course they have the other stuff that WIC and SNAP don’t cover. And at least where I live at least half the time they don’t seem to speak any English so it leads to much confusion. Then they leave and you see them getting into the Escalade in the parking lot with the pricy rims.

  3. Griffin Says:

    Oh and I forgot that the person with the WIC paperwork and the SNAP card also seems to have a pretty large wad of cash on them, too.

    Funny that.

  4. Oldflyer Says:

    Amen Griffin. But, that is not unique to Walmart.

    Shame that you had the negative experience. My wife and I shop Walmart frequently. We started in our small town in Virginia, and found one nearby in California; and as a bonus a Walmart Neighborhood Market even closer. I much prefer Walmart to Target, for instance.

    Walmart will never be confused with “up scale”, but the prices are exceptional on the same brands carried in our more expensive stores. Call me cheap, but I hate to pay more than necessary for equal quality. Nor have I ever had a negative experience with a Walmart employee. In fact, I have never experienced anything like you described; and certainly have never seen anything like the supposedly humorous customers depicted on certain internet sites. The draw backs are Walmart’s proclivity for cluttering the aisles; and the sheer popularity.

    We do enjoy Trader Joe’s for a change of pace. Kind of fun, with a distinctive atmosphere.

  5. Griffin Says:

    Oldflyer,

    Trader Joe’s is pretty damn awesome in my opinion. Some of there frozen meals are great and for a pretty reasonable price. Being organic too much of there stuff like fruits, vegetables and bread spoils way too fast for me to buy. But the sliced pineapple is soooo good.

    And yeah most of my experiences with WIC SNAP people are at Safeway so that is definitely not a Walmart only problem.

  6. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    Two words for ya: self check out.

    Unless those were also closed/not functioning.

  7. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    “The average brix of Tupi blackberries is around 10° but our varieties Catherine and Dasha are above 13°” Who knew that blackberry agriculture included such specialized jargon? I didn’t, anyway, but I like it. I’m not going to look up “brix,” because I enjoy wondering what it might mean.

    As for strange-looking people working at WalMart, Mr W and I have noticed that the cashiers in our local store often seem to have disabilities or physical oddities or disfigurements that might have made them seem unsuitable for working with the public in other retail establishments. Those oddities don’t appear to bother the hiring managers at WalMart, and that seems to be a good thing. Those same odd-ish employees often seem to be particularly happy and helpful in their jobs. Jobs are very scarce on the ground indeed where we live, and it’s good to see people working who might not have been otherwise.

  8. T Says:

    I am amazed at the lack of customer service training register clerks of all ages have today. In my first teen-age job as a stock-boy in a discount pharmacy chain many years ago. We were all trained on the register. It was company procedure that if a register line got longer than three people you were to stop whatever you were doing and open up your register to check out shoppers. They understood that their business relied on the purchase of the goods they sold.

    Today I have been in situations not only with long or slow moving lines, but where register clerks were engaged in a conversation and had no intention of attending to a customer until they finished their thought. There have been times when I just abandoned my purchase and walked out; if they don’t need my business, they shouldn’t get it.

  9. neo-neocon Says:

    I R A Darth Aggie:

    I am somewhat equipment-challenged myself, and have had some harrowing experiences at the self-checkout, so much so that I’ve pretty much checked myself out of them.

    However, I would have tried them last night had I realized what I was in for at the regular registers. Problem was that each situation looked very promising when I started to wait. It was only over time that the problems revealed themselves, one by one.

  10. ambisinistral Says:

    Every time I go to Walmart I feel like an extra in a Fellini movie.

  11. CV Says:

    People of Walmart is a thing:

    http://www.peopleofwalmart.com

  12. DNW Says:

    ” ambisinistral Says:
    March 28th, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Every time I go to Walmart I feel like an extra in a Fellini movie.”

    Yeah …

    Dropped into one a few years back after 11pm for a last minute pick up of some extra rounds for hunting before I left town early AM, and was struck by the number of fat-assed couples in jogging clothes strolling aimlessly around with their kids in the cart.

    I asked the clerk if that was normal that late. He said it was nothing special. It went on in the middle of the night.

    Lackadaisical register clerks, buyers whose CC cards don’t work right, who invariably have a handful of coupons many of them invalid, who try to do a return on that doll dress they bought a year ago …

    And you, there for batteries, light bulbs, a quart of 10W30, or to replace a broken steam iron on the cheap, wonder how you allowed yourself to unthinkingly drop down that bloody rabbit hole once again … even though you swore up and down a year before that you would never, ever, go there again.

    Maybe the ones in Idaho are better.

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    ambisinistral:

    I was talking about the experience to someone last night and I said it was something like a Fellini movie.

    Or, of course, Idiocracy.

  14. Brian E Says:

    Our local Walmart works with agencies and hires handicapped workers. I think part of their wages are paid by the agency.

    My daughter and future son-in-law would have a Walmart date night– go to Walmart and sit at the front and watch the show. Talk about a cheap date!

    I wife uses Walmart in the winter for her exercise. She walks the perimeter of the store (inside). They don’t seem to mind.

  15. Liz Says:

    Hmm, there are supposed to be 11 comments, but I am only reading three so I am sorry if I duplicate any comments…

    I had to smile when you mention using the store as a walking location during bad weather. I do the same during the really hot weather, but there is a method – you have to speed walk the outer edges of the store first. This works well in Lowes and other big box stores. You see fewer items and people. Then, you can stroll down the aisles. If you don’t have a shopping list to follow, you can get into serious trouble. For me it’s the garden center.

    Where I live, there are many options. Within my normal five mile errand circle, I can go to 4 Super Walmart/Sams/Targets, at least 6 different grocery stores and numerous Braums and other mini-marts. If I wanted to travel farther, I could get to a Whole Foods or Trader Joes, but why, since the locals are just as good & cheaper.

    Because there are so many options, everyone has improved their selections and prices. The Super Walmart actually has a great selection of produce and meats/fish. And, I can get my oil changed, pick up some ammo, clothes, etc. Darn, I still have to stop at the liquor store for wine and whiskey. But, local experience may vary.

    I like Walmart because they hire many types of people – at least, they are giving them a chance to work. They may be weird, but they are trying. I go during daytime hours, so I don’t see the really weird people of Walmart.

  16. Yankee Says:

    Neo, you were there at 9:00 PM. That’s the source of your problem. Just go at a more reasonable hour, like 8:00 AM, and you will have a different experience.

    It’s also a matter of time and utility. Competent employees generally work better jobs, and during more favorable hours. And most normal customers are relaxing comfortably at home by 9:00 PM.

    Nonetheless, I have a soft spot for lower-end retail and service workers of all types, and would avoid any criticism of them. Those jobs matter, and someone is creating value by doing them.

  17. Oldflyer Says:

    Ha! Ha! Grocery store snobs on Neocon, who knew?

    It is true that the clientele in Walmart, on the whole, are not as upscale as in some of the other markets. However, I have never considered upscale to necessarily be superior.

    My options are Albertsons, Vons, Ralphs, Sprouts, Stater Brothers, and of course Trader Joe’s.
    Or I can brave CA 91 to reach a Mother’s or Pavilions.
    (Albertsons ,Vons and Pavilions are all owned by Safeway.)

    Griffin and I have already traded comments on TJ’s; which is a unique and delightful establishment; but a bit limited as well.

    Safeway employees in California are union, so they don’t have to extend themselves to stay employed. So, although options other than Walmart are generally less crowded, the customer service is not necessarily better–sometimes worse. (Except Stater, a smaller store, where the manager will rush to a register if the lines get overly long. But, I have seen that in the local Walmart as well.) The main differences are the prices. If you don’t mind paying $2 more for the same box of cereal; approx $1/lb more for the same apples, or $2/lb for the strawberries, it will give you the status to poke fun.

    Can’t use self checkout if you buy wine. But, I guess most people buy their wine from specialty shops, eh? Four of the stores I mentioned don’t have self check out (Walmart does); and many of the stations seem to frequently be inoperative at some who do.

    Then there is Costco.

  18. Philip Says:

    Thus have I been introduced to the degree Brix, a unit with which I hadn’t at all been acquainted. Not sure what I might use this for, but I imagine there are applications in hummingbird care, for example.

  19. Griffin Says:

    The last few years I’ve started using the self checkout as much as possible as it’s just easier and I can bag my stuff in a more efficient way and not have 40 items and 35 plastic bags. The down size is the scales can be very annoying and super touchy which means the attendant has to come over and help but for the most part it is just easier and you can avoid the hassle of waiting in line.

  20. AMartel Says:

    Both Safeway stores near where I live have excellent employees who ring up your stuff promptly and get you out the door quickly but the CVS drug store in my neighborhood is like a magnet for sad sacks and weirdos and while a few of the employees are good the rest are just SO SLOW. Part of the problem is the new chip card technology is very slow but these people were slow before that and so it’s just slowing them down even more. They are probably charity hires so I don’t complain but DAMN they’re slow.

  21. AesopFan Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    March 28th, 2017 at 5:16 pm
    “.Problem was that each situation looked very promising when I started to wait. .”

    Scientifically speaking, if you run an experiment three times with one constant factor, the trouble must be due to that factor. In the quasi-existential quantum universe, we create our own bad luck.
    😉

  22. Bumsrush Says:

    We live in Florida but spend the summers in Ontario, Canada. We have a 40 foot Diesel Pusher towing a car hauler/boat hauler behind. When available we spend the night in Walmart parking lots. Thanks Walmart.

  23. The Other Chuck Says:

    Driscoll’s is in the forefront of plant breeding genetics. A good friend recently retired from the company after many years as an experimental field manager. It seems that within the company there is a saying that relates exclusively to Walmart. They call it The Walmart Problem which seems to cover several problems they don’t have with other customers such as dictating their own pricing structure, and demanding field to store traceability. He is not a big fan.

    Here is a very interesting article about the company and its breeding program:
    http://www.afr.com/technology/how-driscolls-is-creating-berries-of-the-future-cultivated-by-technology-20161121-gsug2r

  24. F Says:

    We have two Way Marts close to us. Both seem to have too few open checkout counters at all hours of the day, so I use self checkout if there is one open. I have learned, though, that the self checkout counters appear to be slower than the price readers at the regular checkout counters. If I don’t try to ring up individual items at the same speed as the professional clerks, I usually come out ahead.

    And yes, Neo — the checkout clerks at both appear to be “special needs” hires. I guess that’s good for that population, but hard for customers.

  25. OM Says:

    It’s been about five years now, but back then it was a thing of joy to those of us working in the shale oil boom when a Walmart opened in Dickenson ND. One in Dickenson, one in Williston, the pre boom grocers and retailers couldn’t supply what was needed at that time.

  26. CV Says:

    I generally avoid Walmart because it’s generally such an unpleasant shopping experience. There must be 40 checkout lanes and only half a dozen open and staffed at any point in time, leading to ridiculously long lines, especially in the evening.

    That said, the grocery prices are unbeatable and they are open 24/7. It’s one stop shopping (it’s great to be able to grab house and garden items and office supplies along with groceries). I’ve also become fond of certain brands that can only be found at Walmart, such as Better Homes and Gardens housewares and Sam’s Choice foods. I have no complaints about the staff, and I appreciate the senior citizen greeters at the front door. The secret is getting there early in the morning when they are fully stocked and the aisles are fairly empty of shoppers. The place is more tolerable then.

    There is also a refreshing lack of Obama, Hillary and Co-Exist bumper stickers in the Walmart parking lot! It’s harder to avoid those at Whole Foods, TJ’s, etc.

    Still, there’s no denying that Walmart’s clientele can be, uh, colorful. At our local Walmart, a customer brought their pet monkey into the store and it bit another customer in the checkout line (yes, they were purchasing bananas. No joke.).

  27. Steve57 Says:

    Still, there’s no denying that Walmart’s clientele can be, uh, colorful.

    As opposed to the clientelle shopping at Nieman Marcus?

    Yes, the are just as colorful. No more, no less.

  28. Steve57 Says:

    I agree with CV regarding the buying experience. I do generally avoid Walmart because there are no open lanes. But not (and I don’t think CV meant this) because the customers are loathsome.

    I just bought a pair of Brahma boots and I expect them to last me for five years.

  29. Steve57 Says:

    Not bad for 46 bucks and change.

  30. Deploreable Says:

    Big fan of self-checkout here. You definitely need to learn your equipment and its limitations. Some tips:
    -just wave the items in the air over the scanner with the barcode down–do not press them down over the clear window.
    -Put your stuff on the shelf with the scale to the right without bagging it. That takes too long and can trigger the dreaded wait for service alarm. You can bag after you pay.
    -Almost all credit cards are chip now. That takes careful timing to avoid triggering the service alarm. Usually it’s a multi step process. First choose credit card payment on the touchscreen. It will tell you to use the credit card machine to complete transaction. Wait for the machine screen to request to push the card into the slot. Careful to put the chip end first. Identifying this can be tricky and it is worthwhile to study your cards at home to avoid problems in the heat of battle. Then wait for the machine to tell you to remove the card. That can take a long time and a premature withdrawal, so to speak, can cause big problems.

    Once you know the ropes, you gain freedom. You are the master of your destiny and not at the whim of cashiers. And since they usually have multiple checkout stations and one line even if an incompetent customer takes a long time at one station you won’t be stuck as you can go to the next station that opens up.

  31. timw42 Says:

    I refer to the Wal Mart near my home as the “Bokhara Market” Wal Mart. It can be difficult to find somebody working there who understands English and I keep expecting to find barricades of burning tires at the ends of some of the aisles.

    That said, the overall selection is not bad, but the check out lines–both manned and automated are usually a festival of disorganization and delay.

  32. DaveMay Says:

    Great descriptive skills Neo! Have you written any fiction?

  33. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    Part of the reason I shop at WalMart is simply because it upsets my Leftist relatives who live in Portland.

  34. Cappy Says:

    Come for the blackberries, stay for the entertainment!

  35. ArmyMom Says:

    I like my Neighborhood Market Walmart and shop there often. The quality of the produce and meats are very good and I actually prefer them over Albertsons, Kroger, Tom Thumb and Target. I don’t like going to the big super Walmart because it is so crowded. You can order things online from Walmart.com and can have it delivered to your local Neighborhood Market Walmart. And with the Walmart app, after shopping I scan the receipt into the savings catcher part and it will go looking for better prices at other stores on the things I buy. If it find better prices, I get the difference refunded in the form of a gift card that can be used in anyway I want to.

  36. neo-neocon Says:

    DaveMay:

    Thanks!

    Yes, I’ve written short stories. Several came close to publication, but no cigar. Very frustrating. I haven’t written fiction in about 20 years, though.

  37. Frog Says:

    In the last 15 years, I have only gone into Wal-Marts to buy non-resident hunting licenses on my upland outings. Yay, Wal-Mart!
    But I would never dream of going into my local Wal-Marts to save a few bucks. The experience, from parking to mingling with welfare-level clientele to checkout to a return to vehicle is simply not worth the few bucks saved. I don’t shop for entertainment or for a freak show; I shop for food, nothing else, not tee shirts.

    Wal-Marts should be leftists’ delights: cheaper goods for the masses, the wretched that leftists shed tears over and tax us for. But no. leftists hate Wal-Marts with a NIMBY passion.

  38. Roy Lofquist Says:

    Here’s Gerard VanDerLeun’s take on Walmart.

    http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/american_studies/the_gift_of_the_walmagi.php

  39. Irv Says:

    Whenever I enter a line I always feel the need to apologize to the people in front of me in line because the minute I enter it, it stops dead! My dad always referred to this as the Jonah Syndrome. Some of us have it; some don’t.

  40. miklos000rosza Says:

    This was kind of interesting to read. I’ve never been in a Walmart’s in my life. I guess I just shop at a nearby delicatessen and at Trader Joe’s. It would never occur to me to chase blackberries, nor any other fruit I can imagine.

  41. Steve57 Says:

    Big fan of self-checkout here. You definitely need to learn your equipment and its limitations…

    I’m a big fan of self-checkout, too.

    But I like to pay with cash. Because it’s just too easy to run up big charges if all you have to do is swipe the card. And nearly half the time I go into my local Walmart they have signs up on the self-checkout registers saying they’re not accepting cash.

    Apparently my local Walmart is not hiring A) people who can be trusted to handle cash or B) can count.

  42. Sonny Wayze Says:

    Phillip,

    “Thus have I been introduced to the degree Brix, a unit with which I hadn’t at all been acquainted. Not sure what I might use this for, but I imagine there are applications in hummingbird care, for example.”

    Quite possibly, but it is a vital measurement in winemaking.

  43. LCB Says:

    One great benefit of Walmart’s low grocery prices is that it forced Krogers to lower prices to remain competitive.

    Krogers is a much nicer shopping experience for groceries and we stopped going to Walmart because of the long times in checkout. The turning bagging stations at Walmart, forcing the clerk to scan AND bag, slows the whole process down. And…the clerks at Walmart just don’t care.

  44. neo-neocon Says:

    Phillip; Sunny Wayze:

    I’m familiar with the brix from peaches. There are some special peaches in the market about which advertisers boast of their high brix. Those peaches are fabulous, although expensive (worth it).

  45. neo-neocon Says:

    miklos:

    Well then, you’ve never tasted these blackberries.

    Because to taste them is to chase them. 🙂

    I have, however, been known to chase various foods, not just fruit. For example, see this.

  46. GRA Says:

    There are three Wal-Marts near my parents. The first is located in an area that’s somewhat ethnically diverse and in a lower income bracket. I was explaining this to my uncle from San Francisco and I basically said it’s the semi-ghetto. The aisles tend to be cluttered and what you were seeking most likely wasn’t in stock. The second Wal-Mart is about a 15-minute drive away, just taking the main street from my parents. A cleaner neighborhood, mostly blue-collar folks, and the step up of cleanliness was noticeable. The third Wal-Mart was in a more wealthier neighborhood compared to the previous two. This is the Wal-Mart I prefer to shop if I’m in the area. It’s clean. The choices are enough to make you confused. When you self check-out there’s barely any issues.

    And the workers weren’t picketing for a higher wage or yelling how evil the Walton family is.

  47. Gringo Says:

    I R A Darth Aggie
    Two words for ya: self check out.

    I find self check out at Walmart to be rather annoying. Excuse me: VERY ANNOYING. For example, if you don’t have a bag, it is a pain, and even with a bag, more often than not I need a Walmart employee to log in to finish the transaction. I go for a clerk whenever I can.

    I live near a Walmart, which makes it convenient for selected grocery items.

    Frog
    Wal-Marts should be leftists’ delights: cheaper goods for the masses, the wretched that leftists shed tears over and tax us for. But no. leftists hate Wal-Marts with a NIMBY passion.

    Lefties love the poor, as long as they don’t have to associate with them. Sushi trumps catfish, as it were.

  48. Gringo Says:

    I bought a digital watch at a Walmart competitor for $6. The battery didn’t take long to run down- must have been a closeout. I went to Walmart to install a new battery and to also change the band from a defunct watch. I can see why the digital watch was a $6 closeout- very problematic to install the battery, which should be an easy affair if the watch is well designed. I was very impressed with Walmart service.

  49. Tom Dilatush Says:

    I was in our local Walmart (Logan, UT) yesterday for some dog beds, and checked the produce section: they had Driscoll’s blackberries (along with some other brands). I picked up two packages, and had half of one this morning with my muesli. Wonderful, they were! Thank you so much for the tip!

    Our Walmart here seems to be completely missing all the entertainment other commenters speak of. The employees and the customers all seem perfectly normal to me. But then, perhaps that’s more a comment about me than about them! 🙂

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