In chatting with Marketing Over Coffee co-host John Wall, I reached a conclusion with him: Wal-Mart has unleashed an incredibly destructive force on America, one which is tearing the country to bits.

Lowest price mentality.

In sales, we usually talk about three dimensions of a product:

– Quality
– Service
– Price

Generally speaking, you want a balance among the three. Ideally, you want the finest quality, best service, and lowest price you can get, but you make tradeoffs and concessions in some areas for others.

What Wal-Mart has done is caused a deep imbalance by promoting lowest price as the only factor that matters in a product or service, so much so that people are willing to accept garbage quality and abusive service as long as the price is as low as they can get it.

Is Wal-Mart the cause of this mentality? No, but it’s been the biggest cheerleader with its Always Low Prices campaign.

John and I were discussing airlines. US airline carriers compete virtually solely on price, and that’s resulted in, as John calls it, airlines being transformed from amazing travel experiences to “a Grayhound with wings, complete with smelly seats”.

Here’s a stunning thought for you: what if Wal-Mart were responsible for digital piracy? What if Wal-Mart were the reason that musicians and independent software developers have a harder time than ever earning a living? After all, if lowest price is the absolute most important thing in the world to you, free is even better – even if it means breaking the law and violating intellectual property rights.

A relentless focus on getting things as cheaply as possible means that you as a consumer don’t care about much of anything else. If you’re willing to wear clothing that falls apart in six months, willing to eat unsafe food grown thousands of miles away by the lowest wage workers a supplier can find (legally or not), buy a DVD player that’s held together with duct tape and a prayer, why wouldn’t you download everything you could get your hands on, especially when the likelihood of getting caught is very low?

When do you pay for quality? Or do you mercilessly always choose price as the defining factor in your purchasing decisions? Will you break the law to save money, knowing that most likely, you won’t get caught?

What will you do for low prices?

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