Wal-Mart tracks shoppers and sees gloom about the economy

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If the politicians want to know more about the Wal-Mart moms they are courting, they now have a run-down of current shopping trends that are changing their spending habits. The head of the chain's U.S. operations, Eduardo Castro-Wright, talked after a town hall meeting in Los Angeles the other day about "disturbing behaviors" he was seeing on spending.

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    Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott speaks at a company-sponsored conference in Beijing October 22, 2008. Wal-Mart Stores Inc plans to crack down on its Chinese suppliers, announcing on Wednesday steps to enforce stricter quality and environmental standards for the products it sells. REUTERS/Christina Hu (CHINA)

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    Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott speaks at a company-sponsored conference in Beijing October 22, 2008. Wal-Mart Stores Inc plans to crack down on its Chinese suppliers, announcing on Wednesday steps to enforce stricter quality and environmental standards for the products it sells. REUTERS/Christina Hu (CHINA)

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    President and Chief Executive of Wal-Mart's U.S. Operations Eduardo Castro-Wright speaks to attendees at a luncheon sponsored by Town Hall Los Angeles October 21, 2008. Castro-Wright told the group that U.S. customers are worried most of all about their own financial security and are tending to spend even closer to the dates they receive their paychecks as the economy weakens. REUTERS/Lisa Baertlein (UNITED STATES)

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    President and Chief Executive of Wal-Mart's U.S. Operations Eduardo Castro-Wright speaks to attendees at a luncheon sponsored by TownHall Los Angeles October 21, 2008. Castro-Wright told the group that U.S. customers are worried most of all about their own financial security and are tending to spend even closer to the dates they receive their paychecks as the economy weakens. REUTERS/Lisa Baertlein (UNITED STATES)

    Reuters

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 21: President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, USA, Eduardo Castro-Wright, speaks at TOWN HALL Los Angeles on October 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Castro-Wright spoke about current economic changes and Wal-Mart business strategies. His appearance is part of an ongoing series of CEO speakers at TOWN HALL Los Angeles, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization begun in 1937 and supported through donations by individuals , foundations, and corporations to promote open public discussions of the issues of the day. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

    Getty Images



He says that by tracking spending in stores, he and his team have been able to see trends as specific as people buying baby formula at the beginning of the month -- when the family coffers are full. Also, people are using their credit cards less often (usage is down more than 10 percent).

USA Today gives a run-down of three basic sectors of concern:
  • Money worries
  • Fewer name brands
  • Changing shopping patterns
Wal-Mart, being the world's largest chain, is in a position to notice a of trends, but these are not specific to Wal-Mart, of course. And they are not necessarily bad on their own. People are worried about money in all sectors of the economy and all types of shopping, but if they worry enough before they hit a crisis, they can take action and avert some financial disasters.

People should be buying fewer name brands and opting for generic when the product is equal -- that's just a core philosophy of bargain shopping.

And if people are changing their shopping patterns -- buying at the beginning of the month and during fewer shopping trips to save on gas -- that's not so bad either. Just because gas prices are going down, doesn't mean we have to go back to our profligate ways.

But what does the economy do when people act on the age-old financial advice that they should be saving more and spending less? It goes into collapse because our country is driven by spending, which is why politicians are floating a second stimulus to put money in people's pockets to spend. Maybe we should spend more time figuring out how to sustain our national finacial situation when people act rationally and responsibly with their money.
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