Tag Archives: Reviews

Walmart: “Doing Fine, Thank You”

Carolyn Piedmont buys a loaf of bread the way a collector would an antique.

With reading glasses on her nose, she stands in the bread aisle sizing up candidates: Milton’s Multi-Grain: $2.75. Orowheat 100% Whole Wheat: $3.10. Nature’s Own Honey Wheat: $2.38. Nature’s Own Honey 7-Grain Whole Wheat: $1.91.

She grabs one, then another. Mouthing the ingredients, she calculates the figures while ignoring the on-again, off-again Walmart intercom announcing store sales and discounts.

“I go to other stores just to double-check prices,” she says, beside her grocery cart stocked with health foods staples like yogurt and protein shakes.

Piedmont says she always shops at Walmart.

Today, she narrows the choice to two: Nature’s Own Honey Wheat or Nature’s Own Honey 7-Grain Whole Wheat. She adjusts her glasses and picks up another loaf.

Customers Face Tough Choices

With the economy slumping, customers like Piedmont are shopping at Walmart in record numbers.

One customer, Richard Harris, says he just started shopping at Walmart, though he swore he’d never.

“I’d rather pay $100 for something good one time then buy the same piece of crap five or six times,” says Harris, a carpenter who recently retired to care for his wife recovering from a car accident and a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Harris rarely shops in the produce section, however.

“You never know what you get in your food,” he says, adding that he analyzes food products from the store with a lead-testing kit.

Still, Harris says he is now a consistent–though “conflicted”–Walmart shopper. He credits his retirement and failed investments as the reason.

Company Stock, Profits Rising

Walmart has done well in the last year. Not only in store sales, but in stock value.

Walmart shares are up almost 40% since October of last year, while the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones are both down more than 20%–a sign customers are flocking like never before to the store’s “low, low prices,” especially on food.

“Walmart’s food prices are estimated to be anywhere from 8-27% lower than large supermarket chains for an identical market basket across different U.S. metropolitan areas,” according to researchers Elena G. Irwin and Jill Clark at Ohio State University in their article “The Local Costs and Benefits of Walmart.”

And customers have responded by increasing Walmart profits from last year.

“Net sales for the second quarter of fiscal year 2008 were approximately $101.6 billion, an increase of 10.4 percent from $92 billion in the second quarter last year,” according to a press release issued by Walmart in September 2008.

Lee Scott, president and chief executive officer of Walmart Stores, Inc., during an in-house video interview on Walmart.com, said that even though consumers are reallocating their pocketbook and leaving non-essentials on the shelves, the relationship between Walmart and its customers has grown closer.

“We’ve made our decision to manage our capital a little closer to the vest, at the same time that the customer is having to manage their own lifestyle to the vest and the two things are matching up,” said Scott.

Choices Differ Among Customers

Jay Esperaza and Claudio Alvarado, two undergrads from the University of Texas at Austin, are at Walmart today to buy paint for their living room table. At first, Esperaza suggested they go elsewhere: “Hey, let’s go to Home Depot,” he told his roommate. Alvarado was hesitant. Instead, he convinced his friend to shop at Walmart, knowing it would save the two money. (The Home Depot in question closed its doors a week later).

Esperaza agreed, though he says he prefers not to shop at the superstore. “You have to weigh price vs. quality vs. service,” he says. This time price won out.

“[Walmart’s] a drain on the local economy,” Alvarado admits. “But it’s handy when you don’t have a lot of money.”

Not all customers are turning to Walmart to save money, however.

Kirk Manolis, a weekly patron at Fresh Plus Grocery, a small family-owned grocery in Austin, Texas, says he considers himself a “socially conscious person” and refuses to shop at Walmart for a variety of reasons.

Kirk, an upper-middle class securities trader who has profited in the last year as a short seller, says Walmart is run by “rightwing nuts” and regardless of finances, he would never shop at the retailer.

“Not unless they nationalize it and relocate business to North America,” he says, buying milk at the mom-and-pop within walking distance of his house. “And no more teaching republican politics in staff meetings.”

Fresh Food Plus, Kirk’s grocery of choice, has still been profitable in the last year, even with more customers turning to Walmart for food purchases, says Irene Beurskens, storeowner.  She says nearby customers save money in ways other than direct purchases.

“They’re saving money that they would have spent on gas,” she said, adding that many customers ride scooters or bicycles and park out front. Others just walk like Manolis.

Still, like elsewhere, prices at the store are going up to offset rising wholesale costs, says Randy Sexton, grocery manager, carrying a handful of printouts listing the new price of bananas (up 10 cents) and a six-pack of Blue Sky soda (up 50 cents).

More Profit for Walmart, Analysts Say

In a September 2008 article, the S&P-owned online magazine “Outlook” recommended Walmart stock to subscribers as a short-term investment option. “Consumers will continue trading down to lower-priced retailers [in the coming year],” according to the article.

Piedmont sees the trend in her own life. “I had friends who were Walmart snobs,” she says. “Now they don’t shop anywhere else.”

But Piedmont takes offense to the perception that Walmart only caters to low-income customers. She says she has built up her “healthy savings” thanks in part to buying at Walmart and would recommend the choice to any frugal shopper, especially one in financial trouble.

“We got money,” she said. “I’m a wise shopper. And that’s why.”,


The Newest, Greatest, Bestest-Ever Website This Week

Tonight, I was trying to save an audio file embedded on a website to my hard drive.  

Quicktime wasn’t having it. 

Unless, of course, I upgraded to QuickTime Pro (for $30).

So, I searched Google: “how-to-save-an-audio-file-without-quicktime-pro-and-be-snappy-about-it”.

16 million-some-odd links popped up including one to instructables.com (my savior).

What a find. Clearly understanding my pain on a deep existential level, the post offered a solution. 

Defined by the creators, the website is a “web-based documentation platform where passionate people share what they do and how they do it”. Just simple language to solve simple (time-consuming) problems—separated into 16 different categories. 

Here’s a snapshot:

And it worked. 

Minutes later, I had the audio file downloaded because the instructions weren’t jargon-laden or pulled from a computer technology handbook. 

Exploring the site, I found posts like How to Have a Great Time at a MLB Game for Less Than $20 and How to get on Xbox Live with Dialup to be just as niche or cool, written by members in a smooth fashion with easy-to-follow steps listed at the top.

Such as this:

It orients you and should you want a quick review of any one step, just hover your mouse over its icon and a summary-bubble pops out.

Posts can easily be embedded, emailed, printed and saved. Or you can show your appreciation in the comment box.

Like this guy did (apparently, he didn’t have QuickTime Pro either):


Oct 9, 2008. 6:47 PM  – gwest says:
You, my friend, are a God.                   

Have me in dirty ways. 


Mogulus – Online TV


mogulus, online tv

mogulus, online tv

Wouldn’t it be nice to own your own TV station? Play marathons of “Back-to-the-Future”? Re-runs of “Fraggle Rock”? Maybe some old-school MTV? 

That’s your choice at Mogulus.com

Should you want to produce a station, all you need is a computer, a web cam and a high-speed connection. Already more than 100,000 users have launched.

As a viewer, you can browse a variety of stations in over 30 languages—including in (thank God) Gujarati—within 26 categories.

Think of it like watching your neighbors TV over his shoulder through the window—only you have a lot of neighbors.

There’s thousands of stations to choose from: over 5,000 stations in Politics, 13,000 in Music, and 7,000 in Sports and Hobbies. 

You can also search under “Most Popular” and “Featured”.

Unfortunately, 2 of the 3 most popular stations were in Spanish and the other one was airing a high school football game in St. Louis which pretty much sums up the experience. More often than not, user stations are obscure niche-market American TV or else foreign language shows. 

It’s a “beta” version though. So, stay tuned.



How to Track Blog Stats for Free — SiteMeter.Com

Tracking hits to your blog is easy—with WordPress.com. You log-in, hit “blog stats” and get a nice little summary. Like this:

Or maybe you want a global scope of your WordPress blog?  Alexa.com will tell you where you rank in the world:

The best-selling blog Margaretandhelen.wordpress.com, which is run by two old ladies with a 60 year-old friendship, for instance, is at spot 246,001 in the world. 

And the equally popular (though not as-of-yet “best-selling”) WordPress blog crowdnoise.wordpress.com is at spot…well, never mind. 

Nonetheless, as a WordPress blogger, I can check my global rank at Alexa.com. Not so for Blogspot folks.

Type in your blogspot web address on the Alexa search engine (such as, http://www.myblog.blogspot.com) and you only get stats for “www.blogspot.com” (ranked 9th).

But there are alternatives for Blogspotters. 

Such as Sitemeter.com, which will track your blog stats for free. After you register, you’ll see a summary of your hits, updated immediately. 

On the left side of your account page (see pic below), click “by detail” and get a look at each individual hit with summary of the visit, which tracks things like “page views” and “length of visit”:

You can also see each hit by its world location with a nifty little globe:

However, sitemeter is not without its flaws. For instance, though you can theoretically track a hit by its “referring URL”, most times the referring URL will be labeled “unknown”:

In fact since Friday, Sitemeter has yet to identify a single referral by its URL. 

Sitemeter will also track your own blog visits, which is another flaw. But that’s easy to fix. To do that, click the “Manager” tab at the top of the screen. Then, click “ignore visits” tab on the left. This will allow you to toggle between tracking or not tracking your own visits, either by IP, browser or cookies. 

Once you register, embed Sitemeter on your blog by clicking “Manager” and then “Overview”. Under “Adding Site Meter to your site”, you’ll see instructions by blog site.

After clicking “to a Blogger.com site”: 

  1. Copy the HTML code (below) onto your clipboard
  2. Login to Blogger
  3. Click on the Layout link on your dashboard
  4. Click on the Add a Page Element link on the page titled Add and Arrange Page Elements 
  5. A window titled Choose a New Page Element page will pop-up
  6. Click on the Add to Blog link 
  7. Paste the Sitemeter HTML code into the Content section
  8. Click Save Changes and you’re done. 

Sitemeter HTML code: <script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://s41.sitemeter.com/js/counter.js?site=s41MyWebSite“>