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March 20, 2001
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Say farewell to the geeky white guys. The new generation of Internet users looks a lot like the folks who cruise Wal-Mart-and then some. How the hell did that happen?
posted by thirteen (54 comments total)

 
favorite line: Futurists once maintained that Internet users would form virtual communities to the exclusion of real-world relationships. Just like all of us! I stole the link from my buddy Rob, from whom I will steal all future links.

Lots of reading, but kind of interesting, especially the side by side maps.
posted by thirteen at 10:45 PM on March 20, 2001


This seems like a normal development in the growth cycle of the net in general. It seems pretty cool and promising, actually. (I never identified as techno-geek, although I guess I might be.)

But what really creeps me out, though, is that this marketing firm has grouped every single person in our social mosaic into "clusters" of "neighborhood types" with names like Norma Rae-ville, Second City Elite, Money & Brains and Blue Highways.

And something about that scares me way more than the fact that Wal-Mart Shoppers have figured out how to use their modems.
posted by chicobangs at 11:56 PM on March 20, 2001


"Wal-Mart Shoppers"? Doesn't everyone shop at Wal-Mart? Or just more cultural elitism here on MeFi?
posted by owillis at 1:14 AM on March 21, 2001


Not only have they figured out how to their modems, they have been signing on to the net enmasse for the past year. Many are using library and net cafes without having to buy their own setup. I live in a non-incorporated community with a branch small library that has eleven comps with internet access. The population of the whole county is just above 10,000. There are three branch libraries with internet access. Every time I go into the library every comp is in use. I for one find this amazing for this small a community.
posted by bjgeiger at 1:23 AM on March 21, 2001


Here in NYC, we don't even have Wal-Mart. And though I'm ashamed to admit it, I miss it. But viva those moms-and-pops!

And, do I have to point out, there have been geeky brown guys like me on the 'net since the beginning? Ahh, the majesty of sweeping generalizations, unfurling before us....
posted by anildash at 1:24 AM on March 21, 2001


If it's "cultural elitism" to not shop at a mega-chain of barracuda-like bottom-feeding mom-and-pop euthanists (I'm trying to set a land-speed record for hyphen abuse), then I'm guilty. Cool--I'm some sort of elitist, and I didn't even have to sign up!
posted by Skot at 1:26 AM on March 21, 2001


Well, you see, Wal-Mart sells things at the absolute lowest price. Naturally this attracts people who need to buy things at the lowest possible price because they don't have much money to begin with. So the well-to-do would rather shop somewhere else, because while a lot of them claim to care about the less fortunate, they would prefer to care at a distance.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more have-nots than haves, which means that Wal-Mart garners economies of scale that threaten the stores that the well-off prefer to frequent in order to avoid the hoi polloi. When the last independent retailer is driven out of business by the Wal-Mart juggernaut, the elite will be forced to rub elbows with the common man, which they simply cannot abide, hence their vociferous protests about the giant, soulless corporation destroying the all-important smaller stores which coincidentally they like to shop at.

Hope that helps... BTW, Wal-Mart is a great place to find discontinued computer equipment lurking on the top shelf where only the employees can get to it. Buy a laser printer for $50, eBay it off for $300! Done it more than once.
posted by kindall at 1:35 AM on March 21, 2001


Here in NYC, we don't even have Wal-Mart.

Ah, but we do have K Mart! And they're always packed to the gills.

Anyway, most affluent people are Wal-Mart/K Mart shoppers as much as anyone else. Only arrogant nouveau riche types would be so snobby as to avoid such places and insist on paying much higher prices for the same items elsewhere.
posted by aaron at 1:37 AM on March 21, 2001



this marketing firm has grouped every single person in our social mosaic into "clusters" of "neighborhood types" with names like Norma Rae-ville, Second City Elite, Money & Brains and Blue Highways... something about that scares me way more than the fact that Wal-Mart Shoppers have figured out how to use their modems.

What's more frightening is when you put in your ZIP code and it tells you all about the neighborhood in which you live, and you go, "Yep, that's me all right." (One of the marketing companies has such a function on their site, but I don't remember which one.)
posted by kindall at 1:38 AM on March 21, 2001


Exactly aaron. They didn't do $193 billion in sales last year selling only to "the uneducated masses".

Elitism is one of those pet peeves o' mine.

- Oliver
posted by owillis at 1:57 AM on March 21, 2001


Having relatives who've lived in small-town Texas all of my life, I've seen the effect of Wal-Mart on mom and pop first hand through my visits to my family up that-a-way. And while I try to avoid giving the Waltons any more of my money, I'll admit from time to time, it's pretty convenient to hop over to I-35, loop at the first exit, and go to Wal-Mart in the middle of the night.

And to talk demography, I don't think a large percentage of the people who shop at my Wal-Mart have active internet access. Sometimes it's good to be a student.

The "free" ISP trend (Altavista, NetZero, BlueLight) that died out sometime this summer was a decent attempt to provide an alternative to AOL for people who just couldn't plain afford it--not to mention that there are much cheaper local ISPs in many cities. Whatever happened to those free ISPs, though? I used Altavista for a few weeks before I got the cable modem hookup, but it's my understanding that those ISPs are by and large gone now.
posted by one.louder.ash! at 2:30 AM on March 21, 2001


The keyword is "psychographics", and the company who's best known for it's name eludes me for the moment. They pitched us when I worked for MOR Music TV, 'bout 8 years ago.
posted by baylink at 4:23 AM on March 21, 2001


Ah yes... Claritas' PriZm.
posted by baylink at 4:26 AM on March 21, 2001


Wal-Mart/Kmart... I just don't like those kinds of stores. Too big, and usually, I am shopping for a specific item. For instance, if I am looking for sheets, I will go to a home goods store like. Drug store items? Pharmacy (CVS). Clothing? A clothing store (in the ilk of Old Navy, Gap, Abercrombie, Structure, etc.)

For me it is simply a matter of who has the best goods, reasonable prices, and I don't have to hire a Sherpa to guide me to where I am going. If you've ever been into one of those Hypermarts, you'll know exactly what I mean. These things are like huge cities. I'd rather be in the city than an artificial city created by a store.

(I do frequent a walmart subsidiary, Sams Club, though).
posted by benjh at 4:43 AM on March 21, 2001


What's more frightening is when you put in your ZIP code and it tells you all about the neighborhood in which you live.

It's rather uncanny what these companies can do with the demographic data that is already out there. When you look at regional maps where census tracts are identified by predominant "lifestyle indicator", anyone can easily see the patterns that people who live in these communities already know exist, and for national retailers, this sort of intelligence is utterly powerful.

Actually, what is more frightening to me is that most American cities are so sociologically and economically segregated that you could easily pluck "Joe Random" from Shaker Hts., identify him as a "Suburban Upper Deck", and reach the same accuracy with any other person taken at random from any area.
posted by Avogadro at 5:02 AM on March 21, 2001


The new generation of Internet users looks a lot like the folks who cruise Wal-Mart
It's Microsoft's fault. I read it on Slashdot.
posted by quonsar at 5:24 AM on March 21, 2001


What's more frightening is when you put in your ZIP code and it tells you all about the neighborhood in which you live.

Yeah, right. Where my mother lives (49509) varies drastically from working-class, ethnically diverse neighborhoods to upper-middle-class white folk. (Most of the city of Wyoming, MI, if you care.) When someone types in 49401 (Allendale), do they know whether they grow corn, or attend college?
posted by dagnyscott at 5:50 AM on March 21, 2001


I'd love it if they had sherpas at Sam's Club to do the heavy lifting. Ang Nyi-ma! grab one of those six gallon bottles of shampoo, please. Everyone with good sense, regardless of their income, shops at Wal-mart for the basics. As for Mom and Pop with their 200% mark-ups? Good riddance!
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2001


dagny, obviously there will be some inaccuracies and broad generalizations in the results, especially given the size of zip-code areas, and yes, there will always be exceptions. However, the results are largely accurate, especially when using the more expensive census block-group level data. Also, rural, small town, and exurbia locations have lower population densities and larger zip-code areas than urban locations. Retailers tend to focus on urban markets (more density, greater buying power), and they see all rural areas as containing the same demographic mix.
posted by Avogadro at 6:47 AM on March 21, 2001


I can't stand Wal-mart for two reasons. First of all, I have to drive to Wal-Mart because it is 15 miles away on the outskirts of the city. I live downtown and can get everything there, pretty much, so the price difference is countered by the convenience difference. But more than that, I resent that they draw so many shoppers out of their communities, especially those "lower income" shoppers, so that none of their tax dollars go into local improvements, except for better roads to get people to Wal-Mart. Ick.
posted by donkeymon at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2001


Doesn't everyone shop at Wal-Mart? Or just more cultural elitism here on MeFi?

Guilty. I don't like its labor practices or business strategy, so it's on my fecal roster along with Starbucks.

But back before I was an elitist, I remember Wal-Mart to be dirty, disorganized and a shopping experience not worth the potential savings. When it comes to discounters, Target is the way to go.
posted by luke at 7:30 AM on March 21, 2001


I've shopped @ Walmart.com, and bought some toy cameras at a fantastic price. I have no idea where an actual store would be located, but I don't chalk that up to elitism, as I will go to Target for nearly everything. I don't know if they have any locations in Chicago proper.

I really like Sam's club too, but I was really distressed when I went up to Michigan to check out some rural land I was thinking about buying that I was encountering Sam's clubs every couple miles it felt like. It really is an eyesore in a rural setting. They should adopt the Krispy Kreme model, and be inconviently located, so that you shop less frequently but buy more.
posted by thirteen at 7:47 AM on March 21, 2001


Yup, Claritas is the big boy in the lifestyle segmentation biz. Here's their aforementioned fun little toy, where you plug in your zip code, and find out in which of their "clusters" they classify your area.

And don't forget: Wal-Mart is evil.
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2001


Our local Wal-Mart is filthy and has narrow aisles that makes moving around with any sort of crowd in there a hassle. I have no problem going into the Fred Meyers, Target, or Costco, though.
posted by chesuta at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2001


Thanks for the Claritas link. That was fun. Of course I found out what I always knew. I'm unclassifiable. Four profiles, and none of them were even close. That explains why my neighbors stare.
posted by frykitty at 7:59 AM on March 21, 2001


here, here: WalMart: bad*. Target: good.

*unsavory (to me) business practices: cannibalize small towns, employ people at minimum wage part-time with no benefits, etc.
posted by Sean Meade at 8:00 AM on March 21, 2001


13 - I haven't seen a Wal-Mart in the city limits.

I won't go to Wal-Mart, but not out of elitism; I simply disagree with them on an ethical level: the big box model and putting small businesses under an even bigger gun (which you can buy at Wal-Mart).
posted by hijinx at 8:02 AM on March 21, 2001


One of the more interesting things here was to look at the activities where blacks were doing MORE than whites, e.g. look at the "play music" percentages, or "religious information".

Of course only a few individuals fit neatly into the various marketing categories, but they do provide a useful tool for marketers as well as social researchers. I mean, I'm sure a lot of us here think of ourselves as "Metafiltrians" and just about everyone else as some other category. That is, our very presence here suggests several things: a high degree of net savvy, often a professional connection in web design or programming, most of us are politically minded, but few of us mind having people of different political persuasion here as long as they engage in intelligent debate, and so forth. That's a type, whether you like it or not.

This ties into the Salon-ad thread in several fairly obvious ways, but the one I'll comment on is that different segments will probably react to the idea of subscriptions quite differently, and it doesn't necessarily have a close correlation to how often they visit the place.
posted by dhartung at 8:16 AM on March 21, 2001


Hey, this guy seems to like Wal*Mart quite a bit.
posted by OneBallJay at 8:37 AM on March 21, 2001


Wal-mart's wages and benefit plans for even the lowest level employees are actually very decent, certainly as good as what Mom and Pop stores offer, and often much better. And of course opportunities for advancement are outstanding. I worked at a Wal-mart for a summer and the assistant managers had all worked their way up from the bottom. I was thoroughly impressed with the company. hijinx, nothing could be more ethical than offering your customers the best possible prices.
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2001


I wonder how many people have gone online as a result of the Oprah Effect, i.e. after she launched Oprah.com. I was watching a rerun of her 2000 Christmas recommendations with my mom, and Oprah mentioned her site every two minutes! I'm guessing it would be a pretty large number.
posted by lia at 8:49 AM on March 21, 2001


did anyone point out to owillis that the Wal-Mart thing was a direct quote from the article's subhead and that he'll have to look somewhere else for evidence of MeFi's overwhelming snobbery?

okay, thanks.
posted by Sapphireblue at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2001


Yeah, just coz we hate Wal-mart doesn't mean we're elitist snobs.
It's just a coincidence.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2001


Target is the way to go.

Now this I'll agree with. The quality and style of merchandise at Target often pleasantly surprises me, and the shopping experience is always pleasant. Of course it doesn't hurt that Target is owned by the same big corporation that owns Mervyn's, Hudson's, Dayton's, and Marshall Field; it probably gives them a nice amount of pull with their suppliers. ("Give us nicer stuff for Target and we'll buy your really expensive stuff for our upscale stores.")

For those who are concerned with labor practices, Dayton-Hudson's "standards of vendor engagement" might make you smile. On the other hand, back when I lived in Detroit, it seemed like the UAW was frequently threatening to call a strike at Hudson's. (Yes, Hudson's workers belong to the United Auto Workers. Yes, I thought this was very strange too.)
posted by kindall at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2001


Four profiles, and none of them were even close

Same for me. Not to say that they don't have a profile that fits my psychographic, just that none of the psychographics that their systems say live in my town apply to me.
posted by briank at 9:07 AM on March 21, 2001


And... not that it matters now, but I didn't pull that phrase as a slur against the WalMartians. (I can't stand Wal Mart neither, but I hadn't even got there yet.)

It was PRIZM's (not entirely wrong) pigeonholing of the entire American mosaic, tile by human tile, which quite frankly gave me the absolute creeps.

But I guess maybe it's true. We can be categorized as a series of herds. Our individuality is merely an illusion we perpetrate simply to feel better about ourselves.

Eugh. I'm going to go run a warm bath and sharpen some knives now. (Mooo.)
posted by chicobangs at 9:14 AM on March 21, 2001


*shrug* Hey, read back, I didn't say "no one on MetaFilter is elitist". Only that not a single person had so much as a chance to say "Yeah, Wal-Mart sucks and so do the losers who shop there!" before owillis spoke up to point fingers...

People who jump the gun on finding reasons to insult entire communities are one of those pet peeves o' mine.

and to keep this on topic, I'll say that if there were a Wal-Mart *anywhere* inside the beltway, I'd probably go there, though I too prefer Target, but it's not worth a drive to Northern Virginia to be able to buy bulk cat litter on the cheap. Which is the closest to me either of those two stores are.

if wanting to do my shopping close to home makes me an elitist, then you're just jealous because I'm better than you. ;>
posted by Sapphireblue at 9:17 AM on March 21, 2001


hijinx, nothing could be more ethical than offering your customers the best possible prices.

At the expense of tearing up the landscape to build enormous edifices that are neither respectful of or mindful to the communities they're placed in. At the expense of sourcing items from sweatshops and other deplorably-run "organizations". At the expense of not allowing its employees to unionize. At the expense of getting land under a subsidy when it's unnecessary.

Yep, nothing could be more ethical.
posted by hijinx at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2001


I found 'net-culture years ago with my 2400 bps modem and loved it. I naively hoped that as more people found their way into the 'net, they would learn the ways of the world and become Netizens. This process would continue slowly until eventually everybody was a netizen, and then the world would be a much cooler place. Instead there was a massive immigration, and the newcomers just took over instead of assimilating. Now there's little trace of the old net-culture and the idea of building a better world on top of IP is laughable.

Maybe it was never possible; maybe it was always a pipe dream. Maybe I misread the tenor of the times, and took some fringey fantasy more seriously than it deserved. All the same, it was nice for a while to feel that My Tribe was important, that we were the future.

Calling a group of people "Wal-mart shoppers" to distinguish them from me and mine - that would say something true: the complex of cultural values aligned with the Wal-mart brand name is a set of values opposed to the ones I choose to align with. This is the entire point of the corporate brand name: the name and logo are, through advertising and other "branding", associated with a certain set of ideas. If those ideas appeal to you, you are probably more likely to shop at the store the brand represents. If the ideas repel you, you are more likely to avoid it. Is that elitism, or just successful marketing?

aaron said:
Only arrogant nouveau riche types would be so snobby as to avoid such places and insist on paying much higher prices for the same items elsewhere.

Maybe there's more to it than price. Why is it OK for you to slag on the virtue of those who find Wal-mart distasteful, but not OK for others to disparage people who think it's a great place to shop?

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2001


My problem was with the attitude that those "Wal-Mart Shoppers" weren't "good enough" to be online, and "mess up" our neighborhood. My view is that they have something to contribute to the fray, who are we to say they don't?
posted by owillis at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2001


My problem was with the attitude that those "Wal-Mart Shoppers" weren't "good enough" to be online, and "mess up" our neighborhood.

Who said this? To whom should be attribute this "attitude" you are quoting?
posted by luke at 2:16 PM on March 21, 2001


"to whom should we" stet "to whom should be"
posted by luke at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2001


I wanted to concur with Chairman_Mao and expand upon his observation that Wal-Mart sins no worse than, and has many virtues lacking in, the mom-and-pop businesses they replaced.

I would say arguments as to the exploitive business practices area non-issue. After all, your typical small retailer sources goods from the same exact manufacturers as Wal-Mart did, with the same exposure to sweat shops and so forth, and they offer no upward mobility, no unionization, no nothing, to their workers who weren't in the owner's family.

Their is a certain social value in having a lot of owner-entreprenuer small retailers in a community, but there is also an offsetting value in having better prices. There's also an ecological value in one-stop shopping.

Here's a hypothetical to ponder: Wal-Mart gets a trailer-truck delivery 5 times a day from a distribution center. The (by hypothesis) 20 retailers it replaced each got 1 vanload delivery a week from each of 20 wholesalers. So, Wal-Mart accounts for 35 trip per week, and the small retailers 400 trips per week (20*20). Even if we assume that the semi-truck has triple the environmental impact as the van, we're still talking about a 75% reduction in distributor-to-retailer environmental load. If customers replace trips to 10 of the 20 retailers once a month with 1 trip a week to Wal-Mart, then we've reduced customers trips by 60%. Not bad.
posted by MattD at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2001


here's a weird thing about that marketing firm: i put in the zip code of my university (87131) where only students live. the zip code belongs exclusively to UNM. but when you put it in, you get several different "categories," hardly any of which are students.

that's all i have to add to the debate. carry on.
posted by sugarfish at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2001


I think you're working under some faulty logic, Matt. Retail does generate a huge amount of traffic (more than any other land use), but it's mainly from shoppers and employees, who dwarf the number of trips by delivery vans. If the Wal-Mart kills off the local retailers, people will have to drive farther to get the new Wal-Mart, since they're almost always built away from the denser-developed areas. So instead of driving (or, gasp, walking) up to the corner to get the prescription filled, buy a loaf of bread, and a pick up a magazine at three different stores, people would now have the privilege of driving across town to purchase them all at ones store.

This doesn't begin to account for the additional water pollution a Wal-Mart would generate. The enormous amounts of asphalt required by the store creates excess runoff, which carries pollutants and increases the chances of flooding further downstream. Not so good, really.
posted by Aaaugh! at 3:25 PM on March 21, 2001


Sugarfish, some guesses: one reason the students in your area may not show up well in the Claritas data is that it's based on Census Bureau data, among other things. I expect most undergrad students would report their parents' address as their primary residence on the census form. Also, college students' purchasing habits are very different and probably difficult to track. The groups that do show up (Upstarts & Seniors and New Beginnings) show a younger bent, perhaps reflecting the grad student population?
posted by Aaaugh! at 3:44 PM on March 21, 2001


Wal-mart's wages and benefit plans for even the lowest level employees are actually very decent, certainly as good as what Mom and Pop stores offer, and often much better

I knew a guy who worked at Wal-Mart while he was still in high school who had to quit because he couldn't get them to realize they couldn't schedule him to come in at noon on weekdays, since he was, you know, in school....

Heh. Other than that, I have nothing to say about Wal Mart. Here in the midwest, we have Meijer. You can get everything there.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2001


Retailers tend to focus on urban markets (more density, greater buying power)

I dunno, some random folks in California built a mall in (read: bought) Grandville.

they see all rural areas as containing the same demographic mix.

Yeah. College students, people who grow corn, it's all the same.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:27 PM on March 21, 2001


"Inside" the beltway is a state of mind -- this one is about a mile on the other side from you. Unfortunately, it's not 24 hours and so is kind of useless.
posted by sudama at 7:21 PM on March 21, 2001


... the beltway thing wasn't an actual literal specific measure of my allowable travel parameters, but more a way of stating there's not one anywhere near me---the Alexandria location's the closest, but at 15 miles south and nowhere near a Metro stop, it's not even close to being close enough.

and anyway I'd drive down there and get back with my fifty-pound bag of discount cat litter and then have to park half a mile from my apartment---if there were such a thing as asphalt karma, Wal-Mart and its eight square miles of parking lot per store could be held directly responsible for the dearth of places to put a car in my quadrant of the city.

better to leave the car where it sits and walk by and wave to it occasionally, and stick with buying only as much stuff as one can carry on the subway.
posted by Sapphireblue at 8:56 PM on March 21, 2001


Maybe there's more to it than price. Why is it OK for you to slag on the virtue of those who find Wal-mart distasteful, but not OK for others to disparage people who think it's a great place to shop?

Because the article and I were discussing whether on not you can pigeonhole Wal-Mart shoppers by class. If you want to disparage it for the company's supposed sociological or political crimes, that's a whole other ball of wax.
posted by aaron at 12:03 AM on March 22, 2001



Wow. I can't help thinking about the lucky dragon in Mr W. Gibson's "All Tomorrows Parties". Not for any particular reason. It just keeps coming to mind.
Presumably Wal-Mart is some sort of superstore chain? They bought one of our UK chains (Asda) a couple of years ago and everyone worried about the horrific effect it would have.
And also note that 24 hour opening is largely illegal here.
posted by davidgentle at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2001


Illegal?!
posted by sudama at 4:10 PM on March 23, 2001


I share your incredulity, Sudama. I find it hard to believe a society can function without 24-hour retail outlets.
posted by kindall at 9:19 PM on March 25, 2001


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