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Is Target Different than Wal-Mart?

Is Target Different than Wal-Mart?

October 25, 2007 —

Comparing Target and Wal-Mart seems like a relatively easy thing to do. Wal-Mart has been accused of the 'Wal-Martization' of the American economy, abusing its labor force, and selling cheap goods at low prices. Target, on the other hand, has a reputation that glistens next to the Wal-Mart behemoth. With a 2005 advertising budget of over $1 billion, Target has connected with consumers through colorful advertisements, attractive displays, and the cultivation of a public image as the ‘anti-Wal-Mart.’ Thus, while Wal-Mart is attacked for being an ‘eye-sore’ or a blight in some urban areas, Target is often welcomed with open arms. Yet, a closer look may cause consumers to question their assumptions about the two companies and to ask if Target really is better than Wal-Mart or whether it has been given a "free ride."

Public perception has allowed Target to escape the scrutiny that seems to follow Wal-Mart at every turn. That's because Target has adopted a more upscale image than Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart’s size means that it is an activists' primary target (no pun intended). "In some ways Target's been given a free pass because of the perception that since Wal-Mart is the largest player" said Ken Jacobs, deputy chair at the UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education. "It can dictate the market in terms of prices, pay and benefits while others simply are forced to go along."

Shifting Targets

But things may be changing. A number of activists are beginning to pay more attention to Target’s labor practices as the company strives to open 600 new stores in the U.S. by 2010.  In 2005, CNN/Money raised the point that Target shares some of the attributes that cause activists to attack Wal-Mart—yet escapes relatively unscathed.  Both corporations are non-union, both possess ‘super’ stores, and both are expanding in urban areas. Critics haven't been able to nail Target on the low-wage issue, but both  Wal-Mart and Target claim to pay comparable wages.

Regarding the company’s anti-union stance, Target CEO Bob Ulrich stated in 2005 that Target, "Simply doesn't believe that third-party representation would add anything for our customers, our employees or our shareholders. We just do not believe it's productive and adds value.”  The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) has started a web site called TargetUnion.org, where it encourages employees to post their salaries and benefits.  Activists are slowly chipping away at the corporation’s image as the ‘anti-Wal-Mart.’ They are publicizing mistreatment of workers, and have even illustrated that the benefits offered by Target are more restrictive than Wal-Mart’s.

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