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The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How it's Transforming the American Economy [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Charles Fishman , Alan Sklar
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc; Unabridged edition (15 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400102235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400102235
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 1.4 x 0.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,131,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Synopsis

Presents an analysis of Wal-Mart business tactics, where the company's efforts to lower prices has had far-reaching effects on its suppliers, competitors, employees, and foreign manufacturers.

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Starting in the early 1990s, a change swept through a line of products that most adult Americans use every day. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
I came to this book in search of solid reporting from within the company - afterall, the cover boasts that the author "penetrated Wal-Mart's wall of secrecy." Well, I am sorry to report that the author has done no such thing. Instead, what the reader gets is a rehash of some of what has already been written (if by him in many instances), with extended (and repetitive) stories on outside critics as well as some partners (suppliers) of the company in stories that are so long as to feel like filler. But he does not find any honest visionaries or even concerned doubters within the company to offer perspective, which I was hoping to find. Moreover (and far worse), there are huge gaps that the author entirely misses or indeed may have preferred to ignore.

Wal-Mart's business practices are well known: promising "everyday low prices" and convenience as its competitive advantages as a general merchandiser, the company relentlessly searches for cost-efficiencies in the form of squeezing suppliers, offering relatively low wages and little health care, and developing an unprecedented logistics operation that literally spans the globe with sweatshops in China, etc. That is about it and it explains the company's phenomenal expansion and the growth of its power.

Of course, the case of the critics is becoming equally well known: 1) workers need a "living wage" and better health coverage options; 2) suppliers need better treatment so that they do not ruin their brand when selling to WM; 3) local governments should not face so much pressure to grant tax breaks and other concessions to WM; 4) local businesses need some protection and nurturance to stay in business when WM comes to the community; 5) WM needs to learn to listen to the concerns of critics and act on them better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect analysis 22 April 2013
By kuroro
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a perfect analysis of Wal-mart and the effct it caused and causes in this world. It is a must read for how ever wants to understand economy , or just the world he/she is lives in.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Behind-the-scenes at secretive, powerful Wal-Mart 3 April 2008
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Most people are generally in favor of both a just society and low prices. So what are they to think about Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.? Is it the world's most rapacious retailer or a great place for a bargain? Does it rule its suppliers, forcing them to run overseas sweatshops to compete or does it spur more economical products? Does it pay rock bottom wages and relentlessly pursue profits, sales, market dominance and cheap goods, or does it provide rare relief for the consumer? The accusations sound daunting, unless you are a budget-weary customer. For many shoppers, these are uncomfortable contrasts. And whatever you think of Wal-Mart, you can't ignore it. With huge stores across the U.S. and worldwide, Wal-Mart, according to Charles Fishman, is not just "the world's most powerful company," it is an "economic ecosystem." Railing against it is like shaking your fist at a tsunami. Wal-Mart is nearly impervious to external impact, but Fishman has made it far more knowable. Given the debates it provokes, the impact of its policies and the price wars it wages, getAbstract welcomes this look behind Wal-Mart's shelves.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contra the Long Tail: the Big, Fat Head 2 Feb 2007
Format:Paperback
This is a fascinating book about a fascinating phase of capitalist history, and is an interesting antidote both to the luvvie new-economy out-of-posterior-blowing efforts such as Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and the Stage 1 Pol-Sci anti-capitalist dreck which usually passes for informed criticism of the corporate sector in these enlightened times.

Whereas there may be some mileage in the contention that the internet has permanently pushed the threshold of viable business down the Long Tail - thereby creating a virtuous circle of more demand, more choice and more diversity of supply, here is a barnstorming tale of the organisation that seems single-handedly to scotch that argument. If there were much merit in Chris Anderson's general thesis, it would be hard to explain how, in such a transparently open and competitive market as the United States, one retailer - one *low margin* retailer - can have gone from a standing start to a 30% market share of almost any business it has cared to be in, in the last 30 years. For Wal-Mart is the very essence of the Fat Head, that part of the market which is supposed to be fraying and deteriorating before our very visual display units.

There is some mileage in the Long Tail, to be sure - for every Wal-Mart, there's an Amazon.com - and the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle. What is fascinating is how Wal-Mart's position as a monopsony (a buy-side monopoly, in other words) has stressed the economy and traditional business models in hitherto unforeseen and unanticipated ways, but has not troubled the carefully framed anitrust laws.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  144 reviews
102 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wal-Mart Culture 1 Feb 2006
By Kerry Walters - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Wal-Mart, one of the world's largest economies (it accounts for an astounding 2% of the U.S. gross domestic product, and in any given week, 100 million people--half the adult population in the U.S.--shop at Wal-Mart!), has taken it on the chin in recent years. John Dicker's _United States of Wal-Mart_, Bill Quinn's _How Wal-Mart Is Destroying America and the World_, and the recent film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," are all examples of this trend. Each of them documents Wal-Mart's low wages and benefits, its take-no-prisoners competitiveness that slashes-and-burns local business and guts local main streets, and its willingess to buy sweat-shop goods.

In his _Wal-Mart Effect_, Fishman doesn't deny the pernicious practices of Wal-Mart. But the more interesting feature of his book is his analysis of the culture that Wal-Mart has created in the United States. In a word, Wal-Mart has trained the American consumer to expect and to demand low prices, and to immediately suspect that any commodity that has a higher price tag than its Wal-Mart equivalent must be a rip-off. The Wal-Mart ethos, in other words, has replaced traditional consumer concern for high quality with low cost as the primary criterion.

This replacement of quality with cheapness is troubling enough (think of the environmental effect of buying cheap crap that quickly winds up in a landfill). But Fishman goes on to show that the new culture of low costs means that Wal-Mart must relentlessly scurry to satisfy the customer demands that its practices have created. So Wal-Mart increasingly buys off-shore sweat shop products to keep down prices, and in the process is forcing more and more American wholesellers, already struggling to survive, to shut down their U.S. operations and move overseas where labor and production costs are lower.

Fishman is careful to point out that Wal-Mart really does offer commodities--especially groceries, which Wal-Mart offers about 15% cheaper than its competitors--at lower prices, and this is no small benefit for folks who live on the economic margins (a steadily growing demographic group). But the hidden cost of the low prices is a disturbing cultural and economic transformation: a disregard for quality and the outsourcing of America.

Highly recommended.
80 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like or hate the place, Walmart affects us all.....but do you know how much? 2 Feb 2006
By K. Corn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After seeing a rather frightening documentary about the worst of Walmart's business practices, I decided to have a look at his book. I'm glad I did because I learned quite a few things that weren't exactly public information...in fact, they might actually be company secrets.

Mostly, though, I got a glimpse into the ways Wal-Mart affects our economy, for good and ill, with their relentless search for low prices (which consumers seem to love, not realizing how this could weaken our economy), to the bully tactics used to force suppliers to offer the "lowest price", even in the wake of higher costs for raw materials and other factors that make price cuts near impossible, below a certain level.

The result? Wal-mart often buys from manufacturers who produce products overseas (they can often produce products for prices cheaper than American companies), lessening the benefit to the American companies and actually forcing many longtime name brands out of business. Gone are many of the familiar names we used to see on store shelves and others are hard-pressed to stay in business (Rubbermaid learned a hard lesson when it tried to buck the Walmart dictates and Walmart retaliated) or are forced to lessen the quality of what they offer.

Anyone who lives near Walmart (and who doesn't?) should read this book to get a real idea of how the company influences nearly every product you buy.

Why? Because the Walmart "formula" is one more and more companes are being forced to imitate. Yes, this may result in lower prices for many products but is the overall longterm effect good for us- and our economy? That is a major issue addressed in the book.

By the way, an excerpt from this book appeared in a national magazine and led to what that magazine called the most powerful response from its readers IN THE HISTORY OF THE MAGAZINE. So be prepared for the author to keep you glued to the pages.
64 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars moderately critical, but disappointing if sometimes useful 22 Feb 2006
By Robert J. Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I came to this book in search of solid reporting from within the company - afterall, the cover boasts that the author "penetrated Wal-Mart's wall of secrecy." Well, I am sorry to report that the author has done no such thing. Instead, what the reader gets is a rehash of some of what has already been written (if by him in many instances), with extended (and repetitive) stories on outside critics as well as some partners (suppliers) of the company in stories that are so long as to feel like filler. But he does not find any honest visionaries or even concerned doubters within the company to offer perspective, which I was hoping to find. Moreover (and far worse), there are huge gaps that the author entirely misses or indeed may have preferred to ignore.

Wal-Mart's business practices are well known: promising "everyday low prices" and convenience as its competitive advantages as a general merchandiser, the company relentlessly searches for cost-efficiencies in the form of squeezing suppliers, offering relatively low wages and little health care, and developing an unprecedented logistics operation that literally spans the globe with sweatshops in China, etc. That is about it and it explains the company's phenomenal expansion and the growth of its power.

Of course, the case of the critics is becoming equally well known: 1) workers need a "living wage" and better health coverage options; 2) suppliers need better treatment so that they do not ruin their brand when selling to WM; 3) local governments should not face so much pressure to grant tax breaks and other concessions to WM; 4) local businesses need some protection and nurturance to stay in business when WM comes to the community; 5) WM needs to learn to listen to the concerns of critics and act on them better.

Fishman covers these areas competently, if by reiterating stories that anyone who follows the issues should know, such as the way that Vlasic pickles was bankrupted by being forced to sell at a price too low to sustain itself. (This important example, which he broke in his original article for Fast Company is now repeated in just about every critical source I have read on the company.) As such, the substance of the book is really not much beyond what should appear in a long article, meaning that there really is no much new in this book - it is just a compilation of what we know, well written perhaps, but surprisingly thin.

I did get some detail on issues such as the environmental impact of WM's demand for Salmon on Chile or what economists are researching on the company. In addition, there is very useful original reporting on WM's foreign-factory inspection programs, which Fishman portrays as PR window-dressing and which I will use in my currect project. Nonetheless, I was often disappointed at the thinness of the reporting and the sparseness of ideas in the text.

However, what Fishman fails to cover - and which is already becoming well known - diminishes the value of the book. At the moment, Wal-Mart is facing a series of crises. Not only has it saturated the rural areas of its origins, but customers are beginning to tire of the low quality and shabby, pedestrain styles it offers. This is directly reflected in its declining stock price and profit margins. Finally, consumers are beginning to learn and disapprove the company's practices.

The remedies to this crisis are far from certain. First, WM must go into new georaphical areas, that is, into more urban environments. Unfortunately, it has proven rather inept at doing so because unions and political activism are strong in these areas, which translate into passionate resistence to the company in the form of economic empowerment, community control, decent treament of workers, etc. (I have witnessed this first hand as a reporter in the community of Inglewood, near LA, which mobilised a diverse coalition and beat the snot out of the company.) Second, the company hopes to appeal to higher-class consumers, who disdain its style while shopping there for low-margin generating necessities. These are precisely the well-educated consumers who oppose the company for all the reasons that critics are advancing: environmental impacts (traffic and pollution), the assault on traditional downtown areas, etc. Getting them onboard, let alone in, may not be possible.

Thus, to placate these critics, WM would have to do the unthinkable: pay more, invest more in the community, and refrain from certain forms of competitition. Alas, this would erode its competitive advantage, forcing the company to raise prices and hence undermine its core business model. Amazingly, Fishman barely acknowledges this dilemma and offers no comprehensive analysis on it. This is not great reporting if you ask me.

So I would only tepidly recommend this book. If the reader wants a general introduction, this is a decent place to start, if incomplete. But if the reader knows the issue and argument, don't bother with this book if you are looking for new detail or comprehensive coverage. A far far better book is Nelson Lichtenstien's Wal-Mart: The Face of 21-Century Capitalism.
55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The world Wal-mart made flat 20 May 2007
By Peter Lorenzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Charles Fishman is a lot like Thomas Friedman, only on a limited travel budget. Both authors look at the world, collect data, talk to a lot of people and pundits, write best-selling books and take on an air of expertise. What they both really have is this "Gee whiz, can you imagine that?" view of the world. Much of their writing offers little real insight or recommendations and sometimes only very little food for thought. They sell a lot of books and this apparently causes their audience to confuse writing for thinking, speaking for knowing, and words for wisdom.

Wal-mart is huge - duh! Fishman would probably liken them to the Death Star in "Star wars," while a Wal-Mart executive likens the firm to Baby Huey - young, huge, immature, and prone to making large but largely innocent errors. Neither simile works. All the apocalyptic hyperbole about Wal-mart taking over the world economy or outsourcing all of America should be taken for just that, hyperbole. Fishman laments (p. 241) that the twenty largest firms today account for twenty percent of the nation's economy, while twenty years ago it took thirty firms to capture twenty percent of the market. What he fails to discuss is who used to be among the top thirty firms back then and where they are today. And he ignores the fact that the American economy has grown so much that the dollar value of the economy outside the control of the top twenty firms is growing even faster. And he completely ignores the world economy, growing faster still. And, like Friedman, he ignores the lessons of history. Twenty years ago, IBM and Japan would have been the villains in this book, not Wal-mart and China. Forty years ago it would have been General Motors and the Soviet Union. Fifty years ago, Bethlehem Steel and... well, no foreign country, as the world economy was in pretty bad shape after World War II. It probably would have been the UAW.

Fishman attacks Wal-mart for making use of government health care for their employees at a time when many large American firms are clamoring for even more of that. He ignores the failed effort to force Wal-mart to spend more on employee health care, known to be bad business practice by the states and, for that matter, ruled illegal by the courts. He reports stories of American employees making quality products being displaced by cheap foreign labor making shoddy, low-quality goods. These displaced employees then shop at Wal-mart knowing better than anyone that they are buying cheap, shoddy, low-quality goods. Fishman and these displaced employees, along with millions of other Wal-mart shoppers, confuse price with value. Fishman is dismissive of the growth of stores like Target and Kohl's, stores that ignore the "low prices always" motto and replace it with a better shopping experience. He can't really grasp why Wal-mart same store growth is waning. He shows little interest in or appreciation for Wal-mart's efforts to go green, to save energy, to share ideas. Maybe they are responses to criticism; and just maybe, these acts are too little, too late to stave off the decline of Baby Huey.

Wal-mart has mastered logistics and supply-chain management to a level that wins universal admiration. They flattened the world well before Friedman noticed. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-mart, not government regulators or regulations worked best to solve problems. But being good at what you do and very big makes people envious, curious and suspicious. What Fishman seems to really despise is Wal-mart's ability to keep secrets. He seems intent on opening up Wal-mart's books, to force them to tell the world and their competitors their market volume and share. He thinks the government should force Wal-mart to be more open, just as the government "forced" auto firms to achieve higher fleet gas mileage. When Wal-mart says they hope to double the mileage of their trucking fleet, Fishman seems to prefer another useless, inefficient, ill-advised government program.

The unwritten lesson is that if you want enduring, sustainable value in your purchases, your life, and your economy, you'd think twice before shopping at Wal-mart, and maybe you wouldn't shop there at all. And you certainly would not purchase any state lottery tickets. Or smoke cigarettes. But that doesn't make Wal-mart evil.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Always impacting America 14 Feb 2006
By Robin Orlowski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Critically examining factors in American capitalism which Wal-Mart mastered to grow into the corporate powerhouse it is today, Charles Fishman's book won't be stocked in the book section of those mega stores. However, then conceding their ongoing popularity with the American public, it also won't be on the most read lists of those believing the discount retailer is Satan.

Unlike the struggling K-mart, Wal-Mart had understood the importance of customer satisfaction and continues to maintain it with a cut-throat diligence. Stores are clean, bright, stocked with ample quantities of name brand products at cheap prices, and helpful employees. Furthermore, the Wal-Mart store mascot itself is a smiley face, designed to raise customer comfort and trust levels. Traditionally associated with the free-spirit 60's, the icon now represents anti-union- free-market-southern-capitalism at the most direct: `Always low prices'.

It does not necessarily translate into a `smiley face' environment for employees of the stores however. Fishman notes that only former Wal-Mart employees were able to be interviewed for his book. Corporate policy officially prohibits current employees (including management) from taking with anybody who would write anything that could possibly be construed as critical. Furthermore, he questions the costs behind the `low prices' even if the products themselves are being purchased by individuals with little money.

Like myself (who practically lived through Wal-Mart as a financially-struggling college student) and many others, Fishman honestly wrestles with his complex feelings about Wal-Mart specifically and American retailing in general. People uneasy about Wal-Mart labor practices and community-environmental impacts still shop there because of our own economic situation and/or time considerations. The company's bottom line might be making profits for itself, but its products ultimately do enable us to succeed with our own tasks and get on with our own lives.

The genius of this book is that it poses the thesis and supporting questions without consequently degenerating into either a doctrinaire defense or attack of this retailer.

Fishman points out that Wal-Mart's economic doctrine has the retailer consistently shopping for whatever manufacturer can meet the company supply specs and today's supplier may very well be discarded tomorrow in this very atmosphere. Depending on perspective, it is either heartless exploitation or simply the game of capitalism being played by somebody really knowing game rules. This translates into consumers expecting that other stores will offer their products at simmilar prices, and abandonding them when this does not occur for whatever reason (higher manufacturer and/or supplier wages). Fishman wants us to make up our own perspective on the company and how it came to be.

I have an aversion to most books examining corporations because they lack academic neutrality, but this work is a notable exception. Fishman does not want to blame or celebrate as much as understand how the retailer came to be and is continuing to be so prominent.
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