Sunday, January 10, 2010

Walmart Destroys New Merchandise

Everywhere I go in the real world or online, somebody’s complaining about the recent revelation that Walmart, among other companies, destroys and discards unsold clothing instead of, say, giving it to charity. People are outraged over the wastefulness as well as the “corporate greed,” as they put it, that encourages Walmart employees to do things like destroy overcoats and other, perfectly good textiles before dumping them.

Let’s look at a few truths about businesses here in the United States.

One: Some manufacturers or distributors REQUIRE retailers to destroy and discard unsold items in order to receive most, if not all, of their (the stores’) credit for them. The publishing industry is a fine example of that attitude: if you report unsold books as “Unsold and destroyed,” you get a big chunk of credit…versus the small amount of money that you would make if you sold the books at a deep discount or gave them away. So, instead of shipping back all those unsold copies of some politician’s crapfest of a book, you remove the front covers and toss the tomes into a Dumpster. It’s fast, extremely cheap, and easy – and it works.

Why not just ship all the unsold stuff back to the warehouse? The associated costs are significantly higher than trashing the unsold merchandise, that’s why. If Walmart actually paid the expense of returning unsold goods (because you know that the makers or distributors won’t pay that bill), they’re going to have to jack up prices. They’re happy capitalists, so they aren’t going to eat the cost of shipping a truck full of books, clothes, and other goods back to the warehouses: that’s not nearly as cost effective as simply doing what the makers and distributors want (destroying and discarding them).

Why not put the merchandise on the clearance racks and shelves? Walmart does that quite often, actually. I do plenty of clearance-rack shopping at all sorts of stores. However, the fact is that not every single item will sell no matter how low the price. Walmart has to do something with that size-negative-8 dress that nobody in my entire county is anorexic enough to wear.

Two: Doing useful things with unsold goods inevitably leads to fraud, which will cost the company a big chunk of money and, of course, increase our prices.

Let’s say, for example, that my local Walmart agreed to donate unsold clothing to the local Goodwill in exchange for the tax write-off. As soon as Wally World does that, people are going to buy a three-dollar shirt from Goodwill, bring it back to Walmart, and return it for eighteen dollars.

Let’s say, for example, that Walmart starts giving away the clothing to a homeless shelter. As soon as they do that, people are going to bring the clothes to Walmart and return them for full, retail price.

Let’s say, for example, that Walmart contracts with an outlet store in order to move the new goods at reduced prices. People will buy the reduced-price goods and return them.

And no, you can’t stop people from returning the clothing in a fraudulent manner. You could, I suppose, mark the clothing, but any idiot can defeat any mark that a) isn’t obtrusive enough to discourage people from buying and wearing it; and b) actually helps Walmart employees figure out that the item should not be returned. Kid Sis works at Walmart and, despite having been there for only one year, knows many of the tricks that fraudsters use in order to scam the store. Some of them are rather creative, which is surprising because the average thief barely has three spare brain cells to rub together.

Oh, and when stores like Target and Walmart try to defend themselves with various policies, such as strict requirements for returns or not giving away free things? Customers gripe. A lot. They get pissy because they must have a register receipt in order to return or exchange anything. They complain because the store insists on giving them a gift card instead of cash or a credit-card refund. They whine because they don’t like having to show their receipts to the greeter as a loss-prevention tactic.

Three: Walmart owns the clothing, so they can do whatever they want with it, including destruction. I don’t like the wastefulness all that much, but I REALLY dislike having to pay more because a bunch of oxygen thieves found an easy way to scam Wally World out of a good bit of money.

As for the “Walmart only cares about the money!” war cry: yes, that’s true. They’re capitalists, just like me. I want the freedom to do whatever I want with anything that I own – even up to destroying it if that’s my preference. Nobody gets to tell me what to do with my stuff, and I don’t get to tell anybody else – including a giant corporation – what to do with theirs.

Don’t shop at Walmart if that’s your preference. Frankly, I don’t care what you do with your money and I don’t think that I have any right to dictate your spending decisions to you. But if you’re going to be angry because a corporation is wasteful, you’re going to have to be angry at almost every corporation – and, in fact, many smaller businesses – in this country. Even the mom-and-pop stores in my community are wasteful. They throw out perfectly good food. They destroy merchandise that they just can’t move even at discounted prices. They use disposable products when reusable versions could work just fine.


  1. Tangent: Receipt checking is often misunderstood as a mandatory thing when it is in fact voluntary. Store employees may ask to see your receipt, and you decide whether or not to show it. They cannot legally search you against your will or detain you by preventing you from leaving the store. State law requires hard evidence of theft before employees can detain a customer.

    Of course, many greeters and managers don't know the law, and that's what causes these conflicts.

  2. Finally, someone who does not bash Walmart and also answers a charge with truth and common sense

  3. Our church has a food pantry where they hand out food to the needy. A local high-end grocery store donates tons of their store baked breads, pastries,etc. which we in turn hand out. We finally had to start marking thru the UPC codes and prices because the people were taking them back wanting the money. Otherwise, the generous grocer was going to have to discontinue blessing us with this food.
    SO SAD that people do this sort of thing. I really hate to see the clothing destroyed, but it's the crooks that hurt this for everyone.


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm