Hate big box stores? Wal-Mart makes a play for you

Bruce Watson

For years, Wal-Mart has become the go-to whipping boy for people looking to criticize capitalism.

Whether the focus has been on the chain's often-tacky merchandise, its tendency to stock its shelves with Chinese-made products, or its occasionally deplorable employee relations, Wal-Mart has been an easy symbol for brutal corporate slavemasters and commercialism gone amok.

Ironically, this fits beautifully with Wal-Mart's marketing model: Whereas one once had to search far and wide for examples of America's failings, the chain conveniently placed them all under one roof, transforming itself into a one-stop shop for cultural snobbery.

Cultural critiques, however, are a rich man's game, and the financial crisis has massively reduced the number of retail snobs who can afford to stand on principles. Wal-Mart's key demographic, people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, has recently grown by leaps and bounds, and the retailer is meeting its new customers with open arms.