Category Archives: Walmart

It’s Safer To Get Killed In Traffic (Subtitle: Don’t Use Off-Brand ATMs, Even At The World’s Largest Retailer)

I get zinged for my love and use of index cards. They are both practical and whimsical. I can take notes, make card houses, and draw. I can also use them to quickly leave notes everywhere, sometimes to the disgruntlement of almost the entire planet.

Due to momentary insanity, I opted to use the ATM at Walmart. The fee was low – and so was enthusiasm for driving across traffic to my bank. I knew better but did it anyway. Some people define that as wisdom.

I watched as the machine scrolled through the prompts, indicated it was dispensing money, and then the red light near the bill dispenser flashed. Uh-oh. I took out my phone to record, despite the Fort-Knox number of cameras in the register area. If you didn’t know this secret, Walmart and most stores experience sudden camera failure when YOU need them. A UFO could fly across your head and they’d just shrug. The machine gave me a card, a receipt, followed by zero money. The receipt indicated I’d been had. I meant charged.

It was at that point I realized I had not, in fact, recorded anything. Murphy’s law was somewhere behind me, watching with an evil grin.

I flagged one of the six managerial types standing in the dead limbo zone between the self-checkout kiosks and freedom. You’ve seen them. They evidently don’t do checkout anymore – they instead employ people to leer at us while we do it for them and then act invisible when our kiosk needs attention. He ambled over. “Oh, we don’t own that machine.” (Which turns out isn’t true. They do. They rent the space to the company on the face of the ATM.) He then said the strangest thing: “Yes, it’s been broken for at least a couple of days.” I looked at him with a mixture of incredulity and confused mirth. “Uh, you think an ‘Out of Order’ sign might be needed here? If that’s the case, you are needlessly stressing your customers,” I said, trying to be patient and calm.

We traded comments, me for fascinating information to use later, and he, because he read the wrong side of the customer service training cards when he was hired.

I called the number on the ATM. It went as well as you’d think. Yes, they knew it was broken and likely out of cash, the woman allegedly doing customer service told me. Yes, multiple people had angrily called. “Can you take my information? I’ve had this happen before and I got screwed worse than ________.” You’ll have to insert a colorful analogy there. It was very funny but risque. I could tell immediately that the person on the phone was as interested in helping me as someone who wants to push someone else down the stairs so they’ll get to the bottom faster.
No, she wouldn’t take my information. In her case, she learned her company’s motto: “We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied.” I asked about the camera in the front of the ATM, having been through this scenario previously. “Oh, there isn’t one,” she said. She told me that Walmart or corporate owns the machine and her company rents the space. “Who owns the accountability?” I asked. Insert “blah, blah, blah” here. She told me that no one was coming to service or fill the machine – nor to put an “Out of Order” placard on it. Walmart employees wouldn’t do it either, because “it was their job or their machine.”

Before hanging up, I informed the woman on the phone that I was trying to take out $300 for both groceries and meth. That’s how I confirmed she was the most humorless person in the world. I told her I loved her and that I wanted her to have a good weekend. Plot twist: she hung up.

I will admit that because I carry permanent markers, I ALMOST wrote directly on the face of the ATM monitor. I had to really control myself. Instead, I wrote on several index cards and put them everywhere. There ended up being one inside the money dispenser that you can’t see in the picture. You’d be surprised at how often I use my stash of index cards to let everyone else know that something is broken, their tire is low, or that their face reminds me why I don’t ever want to be in a Turkish prison.

As I was leaving, two people were at the Money Center complaining that the ATM was broken.

At least a kind soul took the time to let everyone know the ATM was potentially robbing customers.

Wait! I’m that person! 🙂

But did I die?

No.

So help me, if my money isn’t put back into the account, I am going to be really irritable. I’m not going to do as I did years ago and rant and fight either the ATM company or Walmart. That just wastes my life. No, I’m going to squirt super glue into the card slot every time I go in there. Extreme? Yes. But you only say that it’s extreme because you’ve never had a bank or ATM ‘take’ $400 of your money (twice) and then say it was you who screwed up. By the way, thanks Arvest for the valuable lesson a few years ago. They weren’t wrong: I had screwed up by staying with them after the first mistake.

It’s Friday and if I don’t get my meth, I don’t know how I’m going to watch Masterpiece Theatre.

PS I don’t use meth. That’s just crazy talk. Heroin is cheaper.

Love, X

See The Silver Lining Of The Pepperoni

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The belt in the picture tells the story of healthier eating since February 1st.

I’m officially adding two words to my vocabulary: precovid and postcovid. We will need words to divide our lives easily into instantly recognizable periods. Both ‘precovid’ and ‘postcovid’ serve that purpose. Everyone can understand their meaning without explanation. All of us recognize the truth of the two words. “Remember before?” will be one of our go-to phrases in the ‘after’ of this.

My wife bought me a new belt last year. I don’t use it because it’s rigid and lacks the comfort of my old one. It’s also wider and feels like I stole Hulk Hogan’s WWE belt. Not that anyone missed it, but I’ll take comfort any day over the options of style, fashion, or common sense.

When I started, I had no way of knowing that the pandemic would hit. Once it did, it eerily served as a replacement for the therapy rubberband that many people use for behavior modification. Looking at the underlying conditions contributing to COVID told me, “Hey you, dumbass!” And not politely.

I’ve read a bunch of commentary in the last few weeks about people increasing in weight and girth because of being isolated. My case reflects the opposite. I’m not trapped at home. My job places me right in the beast’s barrel, so to speak. Even when I’m too tired to fuss over ‘what’ I’m going to eat, I’ve so far resisted “the call of the pepperoni.” As you might guess, I love a bathtub full of chips and salsa.

Despite my previous bitching and moaning about Walmart in the precovid days and their hateful self-serve kiosks, Walmart (and Harps too), has been an unforeseen blessing. I don’t give my praise begrudgingly; they deserve it. It hasn’t been perfect. But their presence has made life drastically easier for many of us, whether we’re isolated or at liberty due to being essential.

Please throw this praise into my face once we’re past the crisis and I return to my hobby of freelance bitching and moaning.

As the particulars of the epidemic mounted, I often looked at my weight and nervously shook my head. I’ve had a dozen chances to lose enough to determine if my blood pressure would no longer require medication. I’ve lacked the wit or will to make it so. That’s on me. Pepperoni and starches are my mortal enemy. My wife and I still have 400+ assorted candy bars in a closet. I’ve eaten none of them. However, my previous failures to stop hurting myself by overeating continue to be my burden.

I haven’t eaten from the cafeteria at work since the beginning of January. Most often, my breakfast, which I tend to eat between 5 and 6 a.m., consists of a can of green beans, tomatoes, or soup. It’s the spices added that add the delight.

From there, I’ve resisted the pull of fast food. There have been exceptions, but even then, I’ve relented from filling my cavernous yaw like a dump truck.
I had Pizza Hut one night, but ordered my favorite, one which sounds terrible to sensible people: thin crust, no cheese, minimal sauce, no meats. With 10 different spices and sauces. You’ll I know I’ve lapsed into sadomasochism is you see me attempting to eat Dominos; or rather, the box it comes in. Studies have shown that Dominos pizza isn’t actually food.

I’m waiting for the enchanted umbrella of consistency to slip off my shoulders. I know myself too well.

We all see the reminders to see the good, find those who are helping and try to peer into the ether to see benefits from our inescapable calamities. Mine is this: the virus was a knock on my front door. Let’s see if the lesson is transitory or lasting in my case.

P.S. I’m not bragging. It’s dangerous, because tomorrow might bring new challenges that derail me. For example, someone might give me a truckload of potato chips, pepperoni, or pasta.

Coffee Kiosk Crying at Walmart

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At a local supercenter, they’ve had an on-demand Rubi coffee kiosk installed near the deli for most of the newer store’s existence. I’ve decided that its presence is, in fact, a complex social experiment to test us, much like the infamous “fat-free but great taste” all of us morons routinely fall for when we buy new foods, only to curse our ongoing stupidity.

Despite the coffee kiosk being installed for almost all the store’s history, I’ve never successfully managed to elicit a cup of coffee from it. My theory is that no one has – ever.

Today, in an incident which substantiates that I do have a sense of optimism left in my old bones, I approached the machine with suspicious eyes. This kiosk is an old enemy of mine, one whose promise of delicious coffee remains unfulfilled. I fed a dollar bill into its sophisticated electronic payment receptacle. From there, I continued to select options. I noted that a strange feeling of “This time it’s going to work” grew in the pit of my stomach. I watched in wonder as the successive notifications built to a stunning notification: “Your delicious cup of coffee is brewing.” I could literally smell it doing something with some unseen exotic coffee beans hidden in the guts of the machine. Yes, my mouth watered, and I’m ashamed to admit my optimism.

Then, without fanfare, the machine said, “Enjoy!” and then “Thank you!” The coffee cup, carefully positioned under the brew spout, sat empty. I swear I heard a scream of maniacal laughter from inside the machine as I made a face comparable to a four-year-old as he tried broccoli for the first time. I quickly looked around to see if someone nearby might be recording me for his or her own amusement. “Local Moron Falls For Coffee Kiosk. Again” would be the headline on the HuffPost story.

As most of you know, I routinely carry a stack of note cards in my back pocket. I took out my marker and wrote “Out of Order” on several cards and stuck those cards in every surface with a place to squeeze a card inside it. I wanted to write something a bit more curse-worthy, though.

I walked away to resume piling unneeded items into my wife’s shopping cart. Because I had been defeated yet again by the Rubi coffee kiosk and couldn’t shake the feeling of stupidity, I returned to the scene of my bitterness and corralled an employee from the deli area.

“Oh, my manager won’t leave the Out of Order signs on the machines because they are hand-written,” she told me when I asked her why the machine wasn’t marked. “Yeah, it’s been out of order again since at least yesterday. A bunch of people has complained. I bet hundreds of people have had their money taken by this machine since they installed it.” She laughed. She told me I could go to Customer Service if I wanted to be ignored by a different set of Walmart employees.

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy,” I told her. “Is that still their motto?”

I showed her the cards I had placed all over the machine. She was impressed that I carried cards in my pocket.

“So the manager would rather customers get defrauded than see a hand-written note on the machine?” I asked, just to be certain I had a clear grasp of the managerial stupidity obviously at work.

“Yes, it’s like Dilbert minus the entertaining punchline around here all day.”

I laughed. “Tell the manager that if he or she takes my cards off this machine, I am going to get my lost dollar back in the most creative way possible.” As I said this, I placed another card on the machine, one on which I had written, “Shop at Target.”

“Nice!” the clerk said and laughed again.

Currently, the Rubi coffee machine is at least 4-0 where I’m concerned.

Fairly or not, I’ve decided that the Rubi coffee company’s brand of coffee undoubtedly must take like boiled rat doodoo. It’s the only logical justification for NEVER having dispensed me a cup of coffee on any of my attempts.

I’d like to thank the unnamed manager, the one who thinks it’s better to knowingly leave a broken machine unmarked than to simply put a sign on it. It sounds like Walmart logic, of that I’m certain.

I’ll keep trying, though. The next time the machine wins, though, I’m going to have 500 notecards in my pocket, and each of which will be autographed and personalized in a such a way that everyone will be scandalized.

Beware: The Singing Robot

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Three weekends ago, Dawn and I opted to buy groceries at Walmart. It was a fortuitous trip, as several anecdotes arose from that day.

During our visit, we noticed a few instances of people gawking and talking, though we couldn’t see what the tumult might be. Walmart is one of those places where the mundane morphs into the unexpected at the drop of a mouse-filled hat.

After a few minutes, we watched as a 48″ tall robot rolled toward us. Since no cyborgs jumped out to follow it, we assumed the robot uprising hadn’t yet started. This turned out to be one of the robots doing image inventory as it rolled responsively among the startled shoppers and its directed laser counted and cataloged the million things on the shelves.

I could almost picture an elderly lady seeing it and rapidly fanning her face as she uttered, “Well, I do declare!” with a precariously high-pitched Southern drawl.

I went to another aisle and was inspecting the 573 different types of sauces when I saw the robot smoothly roll down my aisle. Behind it, 3 small Latino children were chasing it animatedly, their excited chatter like Spanish-speaking birds. They jumped in front of it to see if it would stop instead of plastering them on the cold floor, which it did. They were asking it questions as if it might answer them. It was adorable.

As they neared me, I had an inspiration.

In Spanish, I told them that it was a SINGING robot and that if they sang to it, it would reciprocate accordingly and perhaps even answer their questions through song.

Just as I said the words, I look up to see their papa approaching. Since it seemed reasonable to double-down on my lunacy, I told them again to sing to the robot.

The dad smiled from ear to ear and nodded. He said, “Yes, sing to it.”

As they started singing, I couldn’t help but laugh. The dad laughed too, even as he exhorted them to sing more loudly to ensure that the robot might hear their tiny, lovely voices united in the most unlikely place for joy.

I watched for a moment, noting the beauty of their enthusiasm. In that place of commerce and on that day, all of us shared one of those fleeting moments of blissful laughter.
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Customer Service For Werewolves

When being normal fails, I bring the weird. WalMart’s attempts to make me into a cashier have been inspiring.

Given that I was enjoying a bout of sleeplessness, I went to Walmart before work very early this morning. I ended up with more items than I had planned because I’m a guy. When I reached the front of the cavernous store no lights were on for the cashier stations. As I walked towards a smaller lady in the very front she looked up, saw me approaching and rapidly started walking in the other direction. Not to be outdone I went the opposite direction to trick her into thinking I forgot an item somewhere in the store. I then hot-footed it back to the front coming from the other side. Now, she was directly in front of me with no way to evade.

But surprise me she did. She started to walk away. So I pulled out one of the tricks of my youth and shouted a small howl. Not only did she stop in her tracks but several other people dropped what they were doing and turned to see what freak was howling at 4 in the morning.

I couldn’t help but laugh, which probably amplified how crazy I looked and sounded.

“I’m sorry your corporate overlords put us in this situation, but there are no checkers,” I told her.

She turned and bellowed to someone, “You’re gonna have to do his checking for him.” To me, she said, “#11 is open. She’ll do your checking for you.”

“If I do YOUR job and check myself out, this cat food is clearly buy one get two free. Also, if the moonlight hits me directly I am uncertain as to whether I can control the werewolf conversion.” Yes, I amused myself.

As the other lady came to check me out I asked her if she believed in werewolves. She laughed and laughed.

In the background, I could hear someone on the radio asking for another pair of hands up front. Whether for work, weirdos, or werewolves, I can’t be sure.

Today, I was the victor.

I hope the run-and-hide lady knows I was joking.

No Cashier For You

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“1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets?” The answer is “No,” if Walmart has its way.

By the way, this hasn’t been answered by any of the dozens of emails, tweets, or direct messages I’ve exchanged in the last few weeks. Luckily, the corporation is staffed by human beings, ones who exist in the real world – and who share our misgivings about achieving cost reduction by eliminating jobs (and people) at the expense of customer convenience. Despite my complaint regarding being coerced into using self-checkout, even for large volume grocery shopping, the bigger shadow will come from passive scanning technologies which are designed to eliminate almost all interaction between shoppers and employees.

To all those with physical limitations or who dislike being required to be their own cashiers for one of the largest corporations in the world, please accept my apologies. Walmart will imply that their “Store Pickup” system will address these concerns. They won’t, at least not in the immediate future. From listening to people I know who’ve tried the order ahead and “Store Pickup” system, they love the idea of it but have universal frustrations with the implementation. Most of the hiccups are from, you guessed it, human error and insufficient staffing to provide a worry-free grocery experience. Warm ice cream? Shorter expiration dates on your dairy? Less appealing merchandise compared to what you might choose? Scheduling and logistic issues? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If you have a disability or limitation, I can only recommend that you insist that all retailers accommodate you. If you resent being less valued as a customer, I can only advise that you seek a retailer which honors your request.

Most of us will gladly embrace self-checkout for some situations. We’ll even use the ‘scan as you go’ apps in most cases. Equally true, though, is that we’re not going to accept a multi-billion dollar corporation’s insistence that we do a job better performed by an employee of its organization, a job for which we are already being charged. There are times when we want a cashier, especially when we’ve accumulated a few dozen items in our shopping carts.

As for the customer service reporting system, Walmart’s is broken. As it turns out, it is deliberately designed to function that way. In the last few weeks, I’ve exchanged hundreds of emails, direct messages and fruitless tweets and posts. None of them came from an identifiable person. With each promise of contact, I’d be sent back to the starting point of the broken carousel. I could almost hear the crackle of laughter behind some of the redirects. Walmart insulates itself from marketing glitches by pushing everything back out to the local branches, as if the store manager is the one wanting to reduce his or her staff. In a moment of candor, I had a store manager tell me directly that he/she blamed all of it on corporate’s sole focus on cost, even though the metrics of customer satisfaction skew away from cost as being the sole factor.

Officially, no one at Walmart had the courtesy or professionalism to answer any of my questions, even when I reduced it to the one question which starts this post. Their failure to answer me is a testament to their proven ability to ignore most pushback and to their own belief that they are too large to fail. I can’t blame them, not really. Arrogance of that magnitude is almost inescapable when scaled to their size.

One thing I found out for certain is that Walmart is slowly transitioning to self-kiosks while simultaneously avoiding any blanket statements about their future. A bigger part of their vision involves using scanning technology or customer-driven input, which either passively tracks what we pick up at every point in the store or requires our input to scan or tally the selected merchandise. We are the proverbial frog in the slowly heating pot of water and we won’t realize that we can’t turn back until we’re too boiled to hop out. Walmart is counting on our complacency to reach a point of no return.

Between initiatives like Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is investing heavily in technology which reduces labor by removing Walmart employees from the process as much as possible. For cost reductions, it’s smart. For human relations, it is less than ideal.

If you don’t want to use a self-checkout kiosk, the best option is to politely say “No.” If you’re told something you don’t like, try to remember that employees are either badly trained, which is management’s fault, or they are only parroting the words and procedures given to them, which is also management’s fault. They are still people first and employees second. This is ironic when you stop to consider that these very people are the ones Walmart is eliminating to save you money. Truth be told, most managers don’t have any real ability to control these types of issues.

It is a certainty that many retailers will follow suit and use technology to push our shopping habits in a new direction. As I’ve said all along, such technology holds a place in our future but it shouldn’t be forced upon us for all situations.

I started all this weeks ago by saying that Walmart and its smaller food markets in particular is a business model I very much want to embrace. I love technology and welcome both self-checkout kiosks and “as you go” systems. I resent the idea, though, that I am becoming an involuntary employee of the organization I’m rewarding with my business. For those who are older or with physical issues, I am especially concerned.

Locally, most of us will have choices through smaller grocery stores and chains. They’ll face the same price pressures, though, at some point.

I realize that this isn’t the most well-written post but perfect is the enemy of the good. If a billion dollar company can wing it, I see no reason to hold myself to a higher standard.

P.S. If you write me, I’ll be sure to forward that to my compliance and correspondence officer. Or Tier 3. Or Reader Spark. Or that guy Jonathan sitting in the basement waiting to help you. Please give me at least 24 business days to ignore your message.

Walmart Neighborhood Market and the 7-Circles-of-Catch 22

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I originally planned on posting a picture of a vacuum hose; it, like Walmart’s customer service system, has a great deal of suck. Good people, terrible system. As a Walmart employee told me, a great portion of their job is to insulate management. It’s true in many places and it should be no surprise that large impersonal corporations would be the same. Everything about their complaint or issue system is designed to weed out the crazies. It also, unfortunately, weeds out the authentic questions and concerns. (I realize that in many cases I qualify in both columns.)

I forgot to mention something that a lot of people don’t know: I used to teach quality and customer service classes, in 2 languages, at another large, impersonal private corporation. Traditional methodology doesn’t work; people silently vote with their feet.

Corporate complaint systems are similar to Yossarian’s Catch-22 of circular logic and disinformation. Because I love Catch-22, perhaps it is why I occasionally enjoy a foray into the wonkiness of broken corporate structure, even when I fully realize that it’s like a symphony of interconnected voices, except in this case, everyone is screaming in medieval Italian.

“Men Are From Mars, Walmart is From Uranus” might also be a good meme theme to address the dismal communication channels.

People at the local level told me contradictory things, most of which can’t be verified, with each pointing fingers up the organizational chart. A couple were careful to imply I was lying, which was an additional bonus. I expect a call from Robert Mueller any day now.

A 5-minute call with someone in the corporate structure would have been the extent of the issue. A couple of emails with someone other than a drone would have also been perfectly adequate. A bucket of water thrown on me would have been unhelpful, but amusing.

Then, something curious happened.

I found out that Walmart had already read my post on social media and on my blog. They have staff who monitor these things for mentions. Much of it is automated, as with Google alerts. They don’t directly acknowledge this, even though it is an open secret that many companies do this. All of the large ones do.

Things like ” #Walmart ” help them find mentions much more easily.

It’s fun to think that someone from Walmart is reading these words in their head, probably with an increasingly strange look of realization dawning on his or her face. I hope that person’s name is Amy, Jake, or Alonso, for reasons I can’t disclose.

I remember when my Aunt Ardith, who worked for SW Bell/ AT&T at the time, did the monitoring for a short period back when newspapers were the most likely mining resource for mentions of a company or person. Later, after the death of a family member, I found out the hard way that banks often monitor public records, obituary notices, and other similar material and often take pre-emptive action, even if this behavior isn’t strictly proper. Not everyone can have a good degree: those people who don’t go to careers in Marketing. (Ha!)

So, I now know that several Walmart employees have read about my both my issue and the lack of followup from anyone willing to communicate about it.

Meanwhile, I exchanged a slew of emails. The promised ‘person’ who would be my salvation again turned out to be a generic and nameless email and contact phone number. I had been Rick-rolled.

Even though at this point the company acknowledged there were ADA-level implications, no one reached out or returned their calls as promised. I can only assume that this means that every person they know is 100% healthy and loves doing the jobs that were previously included in the price of the goods or services they buy. The circular emails and messages, however, continued, probably in hopes that I would put a large dirty shoe in my piehole and go away.

I found myself reading the entire tax code for fun, hoping to distract myself from Walmart’s inability to reply to a simple question.

Because people in the hierarchy have seen my posts, I assume they know that customers are watching what they do and how they address labor shortages and automation in their stores. A lot of us have a few basic questions we need to be answered before we make a decision to turn from apathetic toward resentful.

They’ll read this post, too, and know that I know that they know. I’m watching them as they watch me. (Think Rockwell, except without the creepy shower scene.)

As a reminder, this issue started because someone I know was mistreated by a local Neighborhood Market. Out of character, I went to find a manager and talk about it to try to get answers for all of us – and hopefully, help the company and its customers. Next time, I’m going to do what I know works: roll my hair in used cat litter and go to the store asking where they keep the duct tape.

Stupid me.

Jeesh, I certainly hope that #Harps is monitoring all this stupidity, too.

For the record, though, I’ve simplified the questions for Walmart executives:
1) Will a cashier always be available at the local Neighborhood Markets? 2) If not, would it be a burden for Walmart to clearly identify the hours and/or stores which will have no cashiers present? 3) Absent a cashier, does a person with an issue or disability need to disclose his or her private medical condition in order to get an employee to perform the job of cashier? 4) If you remove cashiers, do we get an additional discount? P.S. I’d rather pay a little more and keep more people employed and all of us happier. Otherwise, I’m going to forget to scan about 22 bags of cat litter as you force me to do the cashier job for your employees. You’ll get the cat litter back, though, one bad hair day at a time.

So, Amy, Jake, and Alonso, this post is finished. You can relax.

My ‘Ladder’ Problem at Walmart…

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A few people questioned the validity of the email screenshot I posted over the weekend. While I appreciate the idea that I love the ludicrous more than the next guy, it is 100% true that an actual human being from Walmart (Neighborhood Market) replied to my emails by inquiring about my ladder problem.

For anyone concerned, my ladder is in the garage, safe and sound.

I’m up to 84 interactions with Walmart help, customer care, and corporate.

It seems like it would just be cheaper (and smarter) for them to put me in contact with someone in Compliance, wouldn’t it? I’m not in charge of a multi-national corporation though, so it’s possible they know something I don’t. #walmart

P.S. Walmart really is the Cable TV of groceries, too. 2000 channels and nothing to watch. 2,000,000 associates and no one to listen.