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Why Wal-Mart Can't Compete With Costco for Black Friday

Mega-retailer Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) generally seems like the biggest turkey in retail, even when it's not Thanksgiving time. However, the megabehemoth, which generally gets the most grief about worker treatment, is once again under fire for its employment policies.

Wal-Mart's alleged agreements to Florida requests after workers' recent strike there have galvanized Southern Californians to strike as well, hoping to have their own discussions with the retail giant to improve employee policies.

Some of the complaints are similar to those from last year, when Wal-Mart faced major strikes just ahead of the traditionally biggest shopping boon of the year -- Black Friday. In addition to the usual complaints about rock-bottom pay, terrible hours, and shoddy benefits, Wal-Mart is perpetuating another major risk to overall business health. Investors should think long and hard about what this means for the long term.

When companies skimp on costs related to their employees, service -- one of the most elementary and essential factors in retail -- starts to disintegrate. It's not even just a morale problem, which in itself is a negative. Obviously, miserable workers make for a sad and oppressive experience.

Critics point out a problem that numbers-driven investors may miss. Understaffing leads to long lines, resulting in frustrated customers who leave their carts and the stores. In addition, when too few workers are around to stock shelves, shoppers may come in and be thwarted in buying items they stopped in for.

Big targets
Retail in general isn't exactly renowned for amazing employee treatment. There is a growing outcry among both workers and consumers about the big problems in big retail.

Just a few months ago, McDonald's and many of its fast-food rivals made headlines by inciting worker strikes. Many might argue that their demands to make $15 per hour are too much for companies that have for so long run their businesses paying workers much less. Still, as it stands, the $7.25-per-hour minimum wage many of those workers pull in isn't enough to survive on well at all.

Sadly, many companies pay their workers just as badly or even worse than Wal-Mart, even though it takes most of the flak.

Maybe that's because it's the Godzilla of retail. Wal-Mart's market cap is $252 billion. Despite its recent financial disappointments and the economic difficulties hitting its core customers, in the last 12 months Wal-Mart has raked in $473 billion in sales.

In addition, Wal-Mart employs a whopping 2.2 million people all over the world. Unfortunately, they're not paid very well and often have to apply for public assistance to make up for their shoddy paychecks. Investors who feel like boosted profits are better for their own stock returns should consider that by paying its employees low wages, Wal-Mart is shoving costs onto the public. So investors are helping to pay for those externalized costs even if they are pulling in some dividends. Their neighbors are, too.

It's not impossible to pay employees well and have a profitable business. Take Costco (NASDAQ: COST  ) , which pays its employees an average of $20.89 per hour. On the other hand, Wal-Mart pays an average $12.67 per hour to approximately 475,000 full-time workers in the U.S. However, it’s quite another story for its nearly 1 million part-time workers here, who make about $9 per hour, or approximately $26,000 per year.

Costco has stable and even super-loyal clientele as well as workers with no real reason to complain. From the investor standpoint, Costco's longtime operational decision to sacrifice some near-term profitability to actually provide comfortable and upwardly mobile jobs for workers has worked out very well, hasn't it? It hasn't exactly been a stock dud.

At Costco, employees stick around far more than workers do at other retailers. In addition, and in line with the American dream, there actually are real opportunities to rise through the ranks at Costco.

A more creative form of creative destruction
If people beat up on the most prominent names like Wal-Mart and McDonald's, maybe these are just among the most high-profile and powerful companies to target. If such companies actually begin to devise ways to set up their business foundations to treat their employees better, companies with similarly shoddy practices may follow suit.

One possible downside: Wal-Mart could also wreck many businesses' futures if it did so. Doing so would improve its brand, and if other companies can't make the transition, they might suffer terribly. From a purely business and investing perspective, the idea of Wal-Mart driving other companies to ruin is a sad one. That's part of creative destruction, which is scary, and Wal-Mart at its ruthless worst certainly has driven many smaller rivals into dire financial straits.

However, if creative destruction comes in the form of millions of workers making better wages, it would likely make our economic future better, not worse. It could unlock many people's futures so they become more educated, can take advantage of more opportunities to advance, and could even start new businesses. Perhaps their children will as well, since their futures will be easier and brighter.

Perhaps if Wal-Mart joins a positive race to the top, it will certainly drive either destruction or innovation to its ever-vigilant rivals. Instead of ruthless capitalism, it could join the still small but growing numbers of companies that show how capitalism should work -- private industry competing to be the best companies they can be, furthering many futures and thereby boosting the economy, not taking from it.

Given the increasing attention to issues like these, and the realizations that some companies manage to be popular and profitable by utilizing these strategic advantages, Wal-Mart's continued difficulties in dealing with this situation add up to a giant mystery. Right now, that mystery comes at a terrible time -- right before the time of year when shopping is really emphasized and striking hits really hard.

Tough times for Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart faces tough competition from many innovators. To learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that the average Wal-Mart employee pay of $12.67 is for full-time workers, and that the average pay for part-time workers is lower. 

Read/Post Comments (34) | Recommend This Article (24)

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  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 12:28 PM, andiconda wrote:

    Im tired of this American trend, Its appalling. No company should be rewarded by treating people like crap. Don't attempt sell me the argument of they should go to school blah blah. Or they would have to raise prices, please save it.This nation school was optional, if you wanted to move up in the chain to achieve higher goals, go to school but not necessary to earn a living. These no skill based jobs do not have to pay so pathetic. This is whale-mart doing what they do best. Shame on you Walton's

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 1:04 PM, zxpilot wrote:

    There are many reasons I refuse to shop at Walmart in spite of being within 5 miles of 2 with a 3rd on its way. Most of the reasons are listed above. However, my main reason is that they are the single largest importer of Chinese goods into the US. I do realize that virtually everyone sells something from China too, but Walmart started that trend, and they continue to perpetuate it.

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 3:50 PM, RightOn wrote:

    You can't compare Costco with Walmart. They have a totally different business model. You can compare Walmart with retailers like Kmart and Sears. All pay and treat employees terribly. You get what you pay for.

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 6:12 PM, PIASMIMI1 wrote:

    I bet costco couldn't compete with walmarx when the welfare parasites went on a foodstamp frenzie a couple weeks back when their foodie card was unlimited....

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 7:03 PM, PEStudent wrote:

    My cousin owns four McDonalds in non-lucrative locations in small towns along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border (the "Mason-Dixon Line"). She and her late husband have been paying workers $10/hr or more since the 90's.

    Yet they were able to buy an AA minor league baseball franchise and finance a stadium for it.

    The outright greed and condescension of the very wealthy is an attitude that needs to be changed. And it needs to start with the politicians that cow-tow to the wealthy.

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 9:14 PM, VermontNative wrote:

    Conservatives in Congress want to reduce federal spending. Liberals want to increase the minimum wage. If they would stop and look at each other they would realize that the two issues go together. Until you improve wages low income workers need the benefits to make up for the money they should be earning. If you improve wages there would be less need for assistance programs.

    And don't give me any crap about they should go back to school, most of them are high school graduates, quite a few have degrees that turned out as useless in the market place.


    Further when companies pay less than a living wage they are using the welfare system just as much as their employees.

  • Report this Comment On November 09, 2013, at 9:43 PM, edsfdgsfgsfgsfg wrote:

    WMT has a 3.61% profit margin. How much profit is too much???

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 12:57 AM, gjsuhr wrote:

    I assume if Walmart employees could get better jobs, they would. Maybe, they just aren't all that valuable. Anybody want to brag about customer service at Walmart? Pay them twice as much, and you'll just have unskilled, surly workers with more money.....and the prices of everything would go up.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 8:29 AM, PaNative wrote:

    First off, to compare Walmart to Costco well isn't the same. Compare Walmarts other company, Sams Club. Even between Walmart and Sams there are significant differences in pay rates as well as work conditions. Costco and Sams both have "memberships" and are warehouse. Those memberships help with higher pay, and they aren't open 24/7 like walmart is. (so walmarts expenses, costs of operation is a lot more than both!). Most of the pay rates that are compared for articles like this are considered entry level, hourly positions (with at least walmart). People get pissed because they arent making what they want within 3 months of being employed. You have to work hard to earn that high pay! (in ANY job). We live in a society where people want everything for nothing! (um... welfare). You can't expect to walk into a place of employment and expect to be making $20 plus an hour. It takes time, commitment and service.

    The many disgruntled Walmart employees are the ones that want that something for nothing. They are the ones who refuse to take accountability for themselves. They want to walk in and just collect a paycheck and leave without stocking those shelves or helping customers. For those who don't like to shop at walmart, there are 10 -20 people who do. The supercenters are extremely busy (which causes the empty shelves, and long lines). The ones who want to exceed are the ones making $50-60k a year!

    I worked for walmart for 8 years. The pay was good, ran into very few problems myself but observed a lot of the "want something for nothing" people, Lets not forget the understaffing is also caused by people who call off, have sucky availability AND who can't pass drug tests to get hired! I have family who currently work for Walmart and Sams Club. And not much has changed.

    If you complain about Walmart being opened on Holidays (except Christmas) then DON"T SHOP! Walmart does "test" runs of opening at certain times, they are only opened because thats what the customer WANTS. There were huge turn outs and it kept them ahead of the competition. So CUSTOMERS are as GUILTY as the RETAILERS for being open on holidays.

    Walmart gets bashed for long lines because they are busy. I've seen and heard people complain about lines in walmart regardless of the number of registers open. I want to know where these people shop where there ARE NO LINES AT ALL!!??? (there are things called breaks, lunches, staffing as per customer flow at the register-meaning if it isn't a regular high volume time, the computer generated schedule won't put extra people on, and lets not forget call offs). Its amazing that customers don't think the cashiers deserve breaks or lunches like they get at their job, if they work at ALL but yet they will bash walmart for treating their employees bad.

    I don't believe that "Walmart" itself treats employees bad. There are some questionable managers that get put in positions (often from other retailers from my experience) that make the "bad" more prominent. But no one stands up to these people and takes it to higher management before it turns into a media frenzy.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 3:46 PM, mtr wrote:

    Walmart shelves never have what you want it always sold out.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 4:54 PM, jhansonj wrote:

    I agree with mtr,, large amount of management problems within the stores themselves. not only are there employees who are there just to collect a paycheck, there are managers and hourly supervisors who do the same. As far as treatment goes, home office should investigate managers, something most companies neglect to do. the pay is not bad for starting wages, however waiting a year or longer to break the $10/hr barrier or available vacation time, is too long. Walmart like many companies dont reward for length of service, which results in employees seeking employment where income increases at a faster pace and less fraternizing and favoritism.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 8:48 PM, Jim85035 wrote:

    I think they are over paid. They are lazy, could care less if they helped you or not. Costco on other hand has a quality employee that earns their keep.

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2013, at 9:38 PM, dlpsr wrote:

    I guy told me 30 years ago, if a robot can do your job, you better get back to school. If you are working for minimum wage, sell hello to iRobot.....

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 9:10 AM, OZRAAF18 wrote:

    I'll take Wal-Mart any day over Costco's unfriendly customer service and the CEO's non response to customer recommendations. Keep your Costco stock, it's not for me.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 10:41 AM, eddieyo wrote:

    I cannot trust any numbers in this article because - "part-time workers here, who make about $9 per hour, or approximately $26,000 per year." means the average Walmart part time worker is working 55 hours a week, which is not what part time work is. Please review and correct all numbers used in this article and repost. Otherwise, possibly an excellent article.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 9:05 PM, Samskiman wrote:

    Under fire for it's employment practices? Yup, certainly from A. Lomax and her unending attempts to revive this non-issue every chance she gets and see if any of it sticks to the wall. These articles are non-stop from her. Attempting to build a career as a one issue op-ed columnist, amazing.

    These columns bring to mind the Fool advertisements on almost every Fool page: "They Think You're An Idiot" To publish 'articles' of this quality is disappointing.

    Fool, stop with the never ending attempts at indoctrination. As a long time subscriber I count on your budget being focused on research, stock picking and value creating. It's very easy for those looking for poorly veiled politics to find it elsewhere, and for free. Yes, we get it, and we get, and we still get it, she doesn't like Wal-Mart, now move on to something substantive.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 9:09 PM, QTXUSA wrote:

    Some of these post are ridiculous. As with any job, if you don't like the pay or conditions, just quit. If enough employees did so, businesses would change. Instead people want their "Daddy" government to go beat up the employer. There will always be a segment of society that deserves minimum wage simply because they have no skills or have no ambition. You cannot legislate away human nature at the expense of the consumer, or employer in this case.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 9:52 PM, RyanLaming wrote:

    Which store do people shop at where there are never lines? Wal-Mart in my city has implemented a quick-line with six registers that are routinely all open for use. Even with a full line, you're through in just a few minutes.

    If Wal-Mart treated its employees as bad this article suggests, how does it continue to employee so many people?

    I will never understand how people can submit a resume, interview for a job, accept the terms of the job, then complain after receiving the job about the terms they accepted (including pay, sick time, vacation time, health benefits or lack thereof, etc.).

    Imagine Wal-Mart threw up its hands, said, "That's it, no mas", and closed their doors for good. Wouldn't THAT be something to see.

    Looking at how much profit Wal-Mart generates and using that as an argument for higher wages would be like looking how much an employee puts away in savings and then suggesting they ask for a demotion because they're making too much. It's a bad argument. Corporations exist, employee people, and produce a profit. If any of those three ingredients get taken away, the music stops.

  • Report this Comment On November 12, 2013, at 11:25 PM, SATXUSA wrote:

    Walmart is just great unlike this pretentious article. I buy groceries for my family of six, at Walmart.

    I went to Whole Foods, where they supposedly pay there employees better, an avocado was 2.99 it tastes no different than the one at Walmart that is .86 cents.

    I can't shop at Costco because of the HUGE cost at the bottom of my receipt from having to buy in bulk.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 1:12 AM, gesheddc wrote:

    Fact is, Walmart's low prices, are made possible by wages so low that huge numbers of Walmart workers rely on public moneys, in the form of food stamps, aid to dependent children, and subsidized health care at public hospitals (funded by the taxpayer). Also: the following might be relevant: I don't "unwish" people already on this planet, and sorry, but this must be said: families having more than 2 children is simply an unsustainable model for our planet. . . . in addition to being a family size that many people who have it, really can't afford, without in some way relying on the public at large (be it reliance on public subsidies, or, reliance on others' poverty-level wages).

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 5:11 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    If you don't like Walmart don't shop or work there and don't buy their stock. It is generally not a good idea to bash the worlds largest private employer. If you bet against them it will generally mean bad things for the labor market and the economy. When will the left-wing learn it is better to raise everyone up instead of trying to take down those at the top?That being said it is probably inevitable that Walmart will have to buckle under the political pressure and increase wages.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 6:34 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    @PaNative: I agree with you on everything you wrote. Regarding the opening on holidays. No one is forcing the consumer to shop on certain days and at certain hours. if you don't want to shop don't. If you don't want to work, don't.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 8:37 AM, Samskiman wrote:

    Way, way back when I was 16 years old I got a job at a local grocery chain as a stocker and bagger. I worked there a year or two during high school, it was a nice enough job for a 16-17 year old.

    I looked around at my co-workers, other than a couple other kids my age they were all well into their working lives, some were in their 50's, most at least in their mid-30's. Talking to some of the older stockers I learned that they were still working at the first or second job they ever got, they had worked there 20-30 years already! Some were married and had a kid or two. To a person they were all pissed off at management, hours, pay, etc. None of them were really making it anywhere close to well in the world, the severe lack of motivation was clear. I was just a dopey kid, but even I couldn't help but noticing that other than a few of the butchers and the store manager none of them were in a job to make a long term living at, raise a family, buy a house, drive a decent car, save for their kids college, provide for their families needs without being a burden on others.

    I left that job in for another better job while a senior high school, then when I was home from college in the summer I found a better job, and this was Michigan in the mid-1980's, good jobs were not plentiful. I left that college job every fall to move back to school, it was hard leave the paycheck behind and go back to bartending two nights a week, etc., for next to nothing, but growing up and moving on to better things is what you do, regardless of if it's via college, trade school, etc., etc.

    Clearly everyone can't and/or shouldn't go to college, but they can avoid getting an entry level job and developing delusional expectations for that job to grow with them as they get older and their needs increase, it doesn't work that way, we can't re-invent gravity. These folks are essentially job squatters, you see them everywhere, they stake out their ground and the expectations they have grow. Instead of looking inward for the answers they turn to people who provide the disservice of making excuses for them and then we end up with this kind of poorly crafted extortion attempt. If a job isn't returning everything someone needs for their life it is certainly possible that it is not the job, it's the market disclosing the value of the skills that person has developed over their life. We've all seen the video clips of someone yelling at the camera saying "you can't raise a family on minimum wage..." yeah, no kidding, we all know that, please do not try to. Raising pay for low/no skill work clearly sends the wrong message to those that have not made the same mistakes, yet. This is all just more redistribution mind-set under another name.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 8:51 AM, TXObjectivist75 wrote:

    Here's a few numbers and a back of the envelope assumption:

    WMT (in millions)

    Gross Profit 2012: $116,674.00

    SGA Expense: $88,873.00

    Net Profit: $16,999.00

    Even assuming conservatively that half of the SGA expenses are for store level employees, and that they get around an 80% raise to get them up to what some think as "livable", that's an increase in SGA of $35,558 million, more than double the net profit margin. So, do you expect WMT to lose $20 billion a year? Or, to maintain a 3.6% (which is so high as to be close to highway robbery!!!) net profit margin, the $35 B in extra employee compensation gets tacked onto the price of products?

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2013, at 9:08 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:


    The left-wing does expect WMT to lose $20B a year -- they think money grows on trees and it is free (oh it is free -- the Fed prints money all the time). They don't want them to raise prices either -- that is "bad" too. They would love for them to go out of business so the crony capitalists that they love (like the CEO's of COST and AMZN) can "profit".

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2013, at 9:17 PM, ADW wrote:

    Wal-Mart is a fine company and pays its employees a competitive wage for the type of work that its employees do. I know many happy employees of Wal-mart. The only people that seem very unhappy are the Unions that constantly try to gain a foothold in the company and fail. Someone from the Obama administration must have written the above article. If you do not like your employer then you should find another where you can better yourself. I hate reading articles like this writen by people that do not know the real facts about a Wal-Mart job.

  • Report this Comment On November 15, 2013, at 10:01 PM, Fracguy wrote:


    Costco accepts "foodstamp" EBT cards and I have witnessed folks buying food items there. Of course it was 10 cartons of frozen fish fillets that I am sure the woman purchasing them was going to sell in whatever restaurant she was running.

    Your taxes at work.

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2013, at 3:45 AM, observerbob2013 wrote:

    The unfortunate thing about the majority of comments here and the article itself is that the real point of the article has been lost.

    A few years ago Walmart was everyone's darling for wiping out Sears etc, today it is Cosco or Amazon.

    The real point is that business trends change. To suggest that Walmart has gone from Angel to Devil and been replaced by Cosco is simply silly.

    The fact of life is that the business cycle was overtaken in the last few decades by economists who said only the bottom line matters and employees are only a resource to be employed at the lowest possible cost and Walmart was part of that trend.

    Today the continuing rise of poverty amoung employed and unemployed is only starting to be noticed. Employees are people and need to be recognised as such. An unhappy machine is serviced and oiled but an unhappy employee is sacked costing the company a loss of training and experience rather than finding out the problem and fixing it.

    When most of the contributors to this network were kids their mothers could stay at home and raise and develop them, today that is impossible for both economic and life choice reasons. The question has to be asked, are we really better off.

    The motley Fool has often raised the relationship of staff satisfaction and business success. It is an indisputable fact that companies who care for their employees do better.

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2013, at 5:41 AM, sanjib100 wrote:

    Walmart and others can get away with these low pays because the economy is not creating enough high paying jobs.

    Automation, mechanization, computers and globalization have increased efficiency and productivity so much that it is not necessary for every one to work 40 hour weeks to produce everything that society as a whole needs.

    However, since many are working 40 or more hours a week, rest are under employed or unemployed. Many industries (like steel industry or garment manufacturing) have moved out of the country since they are polluting, energy guzzling and/or low value. This has benefited society and hence those who lost their jobs should be taken care by the society.

    A new social paradigm is needed. Otherwise, the society would be full of impoverished and discontent people and that never bodes well.

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2013, at 12:37 PM, mammananny wrote:

    We can forever debate the merits or greed of places like Wal-mart and McDoanld's but at the end of the day most people will still shop there because it is convenient. I admit that I shop Wal-Mart occasionally though I shake my head at their avarice and poor employee track record. We say we care, but do we?

    I'm a patient advocate for people with Multiple Sclerosis and fight pharmaceutical companies daily. I guess that makes me a hypocrite. Maybe it's time to do something rather than shake my head in disgust while I'm standing in line at the 20 items or less register. I would be interested to know how other retailers compare to Wal-mart; perhaps a more in depth comprehensive comparison.

  • Report this Comment On November 16, 2013, at 2:32 PM, ipapajoker wrote:

    one cannot compare salaries at costco and walmart. Have you ever tried to find a salesman/customer service person at costco? good luck! costco employs radically few people on the floor. walmart tries to have enough people to give the customer at least the suggestion, and they are there, to where to find an item... and you do not need to buy eighty of them at a time. I do not know how the prices compare... I think they are about the same if you could actually find the item at costco. I use both. costco for stuff i can use in bulk and walmart for convenience, especially online. walmart, which carries just about everything, costco does not, is attempting successfully to compete with amazon. anyhow they are apples and oranges. walmart employs many more persons than costco and thus costco can pay more.... which is better in the end... i sure dont know. depends on if you are without skills and need a job. at which company do you think you have a better chance to get one. mbn

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2013, at 4:17 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    The following story gives you an idea of what kind of company COST is:

  • Report this Comment On November 29, 2013, at 9:28 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    Let's see if COST can sell 2.8 million towels in 4 hours :)

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 4:15 AM, thidmark wrote:

    Awful Lomax article ... again.

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