Dollar General vs. Walmart

Loathe ’em both? Hear me out. You know you shop there!

Wal-Marts are ubiquitous, (unless you live in a berg as small as mine!) enormous, and carry a bajillion items. What’s not to love?

Sometimes a bajillion choices is a bit…much.

Wal-Mart’s downside:

1. EVERYONE is there. Wal-Mart sells every consumer good known to man, which means all consumers eventually shop there, which causes it to be packed to capacity a LOT of the time. The 24-hour policy means you can escape the crowds by shopping at odd hours. But, should you choose to shop at 3 a.m., while there will be fewer customers, they will all have facial tattoos and carry chains. Plus, there will only be one exhausted, depressed, cashier, moving with the speed and grace of a slow loris on Ambien. Most choose to shop amongst the teeming crowds at a more reasonable time of day.

2. Wal-Mart is a giant store that calls for giant a family outing. Therefore, the typical mother shops for groceries along with her four children (so they can clamor for the toy section and toss rainbow-colored cereal in the cart when she isn’t looking,) and her husband (so he can renew his fishing license and buy cartons of 10w 30 motor oil.) The entire family shopping at once means more congestion in the shopping aisles.

3. There is apparently a secret Wal-Mart Shopping Rule Book that states that each shopper should do her level best to block the aisle she is on. This can be accomplished in one of several ways:

A. Have a lengthy palaver with a person in the aisle alongside you. Make sure both carts are side-by-side so that no sneaky upstarts can slide by.

B. Ignore your children. Children will, by nature, stand more or less alongside the cart. The more kids you have, the better. Have them shop on the left side of the aisle while you shop on the right. If you do this correctly, you can clear all competing shoppers off your aisle by moving along in a sweeping family tide. (Bonus points if you allow your children to roam freely, trying out spraypaint cans and taste-testing the fruit.)

C. No kids or friends to help with your aisle-blocking strategy? Then park your buggy on the right side of the aisle, and park your FACE on the left side of the aisle with your buttocks touching the cart. This will necessitate bending at a right angle, but, by so doing, you can COMPLETELY block the aisle with no help from anyone but your own cart. (Special note: be sure to be so utterly engrossed in picking out your items that you are oblivious to any other shoppers. If someone politely asks to pass, look up in utter shock, and do not under any circumstances move out of the way until you are so inclined.)

4. The real, honest-to-goodness problem with Wal-Mart is that there are TOO MANY CHOICES. Too many choices cause decision overload, and when people suffer from decision overload, they are paralyzed.  Overloaded shoppers stand in the aisles, mouths open, eyes vacant, as a little line of spittle runs from one mouth-corner.

Nowhere in the store is consumer paralysis more evident than in the coffee creamer section.  I approach this section confidently: I want half-and-half. It is the work of a moment to open the refrigerated dairy door, scoop up a carton, and depart.

But the door is always blocked by a consumer zombie.

Flavored coffee creamers have taken the market by storm. Aside from basics like vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut flavored creamers, there is an ever-changing array of choices, often to match the season. Almond Joy flavored creamer? Got it. Eggnog for winter? Oh yeah. Caramel macchiato? Why not? Pumpkin pie spice? Of course! Our beleaguered shopper must consider all the possibilities…conjuring up the flavors in her head, imagining those flavors married to coffee, and trying to decide not only whether she herself would like the product, but what her spouse will think. The typical shopper will muse there, holding the dairy fridge open with her rump, for a long, long time, totally oblivious to my ever-so-patient waiting. 🙂

Sigh.

Contrast that shopping experience with Dollar General.

1. Dollar General is small and not particularly exciting to visit, so often only one family member does the shopping, leaving the small aisles blessedly open.

2. More importantly, choices are limited. Unfortunately, Dollar General is not a full-service grocery store. You will never find a fresh vegetable lurking on its shelves, unless a shopper leaves behind a partially masticated celery stick. You will, however, (as my pragmatic husband states,) find enough to sustain life. Hungry? You can get canned tuna, mayo and bread. Once you find those items, your choices will be simple: Miracle Whip or actual mayonnaise? White or whole wheat? Even for the most indecisive person, those choices take seconds to make. I can even get cream for my coffee…without waiting for another shopper to struggle through fifty different flavor choices.

3. Because Dollar General is so small, there are more of them, so one is more likely to be close to your home. You thus save on fuel.

4. The small store means a small parking lot, so buying items is less of a physical challenge for the elderly, disabled, or just plain tired. Need toilet paper and kitty litter? You can be in and out in the time it takes to compile the list.

5. Because the items are so basic, you are rarely tempted to over-buy. There IS an as-seen-on-tv section, so you can impulse-shop over-the-top specialty items if you really want to, but most of the merchandise is simple and to the point. Want a coffee mug that says “coffee” on it? Done. Need underwear? Here’s your size. Don’t care for the brand? Tough. Take it or leave it.

Almost all your needs can be filled at Dollar General as long as you aren’t too picky about them. Need pantyhose? They’ve got them…but only in one off brand. Allergy medication? Check. Dog food? Of course. You can even bring the kids and let them pick out a toy…which shouldn’t take too long, as there is only a single aisle, and no one item is insanely expensive.

Sometimes we want a bajillion choices. I love fresh fruits and vegetables, and I get grouchy if I don’t have fresh cilantro and ginger near at hand.

But when I just need a couple of basic items, a tiny store, right around the corner, is a blessing and a relief.

Dollar General, the Wal-Mart of Seagrove.

C’mon small-towners…you know you love it!

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