What Not to Buy at Walmart

This article is part of a package on consumers and Walmart. To read the other article, on what to buy at Walmart, click here.

Wake-Up Walmart

While Walmart has recently burnished its reputation among upscale shoppers, there are still some product categories where you’d be better off going elsewhere — either because you’re straying beyond Walmart’s core competency, or to avoid supporting the giant retailer’s bad behavior. Here are three of them.

1. High-End Electronics

Though Walmart has expanded its selection of name-brand electronics, it’s still focused on value-oriented products in the sub-$1,000 price range. And its sales staff tend not to be experts in the finer points of multimedia interface. So if you want to splurge on a top-of-the-line television or digital SLR camera — and get the accompanying level of service and accessories — you’ll want to visit a specialty electronics store. Best Buy (BBY), for example, has a customer support team (the Geek Squad) capable of explaining why, for instance, you may need a television with several HDMI ports.

2. Books

This year, Walmart slashed prices aggressively to establish itself as the low-price leader for best-selling books. The store cut the cost of popular novels such as Stephen King’s Under the Dome by 70 percent to $13.99, sparking a price war with Amazon (AMZN).

The Walmart/Amazon rivalry translates into incredibly low prices for consumers on some of the most popular book titles. But Walmart’s prices come at a cost, say local business advocates. In the long-run, such deep discounts can drive independent booksellers out of business. And without these stores, consumers will have difficulty finding all but the most well-known authors, says Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that advocates for local businesses.

3. Wood Furniture

Despite Walmart’s increased focus on sustainability, the retailer has a long way to go in the furniture category. In December 2007, an environmental group published a report tracing furniture from Walmart suppliers to wood illegally logged in protected Russian habitats for Siberian tigers and other wildlife. Several months later, Walmart promised to investigate its suppliers and joined the Global Forest & Trade Network, an organization dedicated to eliminating illegal logging. Environmental activists have applauded Walmart’s promise to purge environmentally rotten wood, but Walmart could take until a self-imposed deadline of 2013 to phase out the products. Until then, consumers can’t be certain that Walmart’s wood furniture comes from well-managed forests.



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