Walmart store entrance

Sundry Photography/istockphoto

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Let me begin by saying that being a first-time shopper at Walmart isn’t as crazy as it seems. When you grow up in Los Angeles, it’s not that uncommon; there simply aren’t that many Walmarts around. 

It’s strange to have never visited a place that’s (in)famous for a wide variety of reasons, but destiny finally called upon me. I live in the Southeast now, and there’s a Walmart 10 minutes away. The siren’s song filled the air, and I answered. I, at age 34, went to Walmart for the first time.

Gallery: Is Costco Worth It? Here's What a First-Time Shopper Learned

WalmartPhoto credit: Chris Hondros / Getty

First Impressions

Immediately, reality was nothing like my expectations. I sort of expected a full-on madhouse, with people filling every inch of the aisles. Granted, I went at around 9:30 a.m. on a Thursday, but I didn’t anticipate the place to be mostly empty.

Some more things I didn’t anticipate:

  • A second set of automatic robot doors opened for me as I pushed my cart of questionable cleanliness into the store.

  • Somehow, it’s even bigger inside than it looks outside. They should use Walmart to shelter people in natural disasters.

  • The security in this place is absolutely no joke. Flood lights constantly spooked me as I turned through the aisles, making me jump like a guilty teenager. There were also signs on nearly every aisle pointing out that there was security recording in progress. Plus, the aforementioned double automatic doors. For such strict safety measures, you’d think this place was running a much tighter ship.

  • I am quite socially awkward, so it takes a lot for me to smile at a stranger. Mustering up the courage, I gave a light smile to the first Walmart employee I saw. They looked at me like I was out of my mind.

The Pros

There is one very obvious benefit to shopping at Walmart, and it’s not the ability to save money. As far as I’m concerned, everything here costs the same as it does at Target, with occasional sales I found to be OK at best.

The real benefit to shopping here is that Walmart has everything you could possibly imagine. What do you need, fishing equipment? Bingo, got it. What do you need, dog food? Bingo, got it. Three full aisles packed with diapers? Got it. Another one dedicated only to magazines? Bingo, what else do you need? A full deli section? School supplies? A shoe department bigger than my entire home? Bingo, bingo, bingo, got it, got it, got it.

Other than that, you're looking at fairly standard stuff. You've got a large bakery section alongside a sandwich counter and some old apples. Much like Target and Costco, SNAP benefits are accepted, and same goes for EBT cards. Online ordering is available too, including curbside pickup. And perhaps most shocking of all? Walmart has a build-your-own-charcuterie option.

Walmart BakeryPhoto credit: Bob Riha Jr / Getty

The Cons

If you have also never been to Walmart, you may think I’m making it seem a bit like Costco. Size is the only thing the two have in common, because most people at Costco seem happy. Dads are happily waiting in line for their rotisserie chickens while employees sling samples and whistle a cheery tune. 

Everybody at the local Walmart I visited looked miserable. The employees looked miserable. The shoppers looked miserable. The broken furniture they had on display looked miserable. The floor was a tapestry of dirt, scraps of trash, and even a shattered bottle of pasta sauce. For years, Walmart had a bustling partnership with McDonald's, but a large percentage of them ceased operating the restaurants inside the store as a casualty of the pandemic.

Opting for what I thought would provide a quick escape, I went to the self-checkout. It was a disco; a colorful show of machine error lights and employees dancing around us, furiously tapping screens, begging the technology gods to give them a break, dust floating in the fluorescent lights like confetti. 

When I finally escaped, just past the greeter who was screaming at somebody on what looked like a BlackBerry, I had never tasted such wonderfully fresh air.

The Verdict

If I am to support a corporation with pretty awful labor practices, I’d really prefer it to be Target. At least some Targets feel clean, and with prices almost identical, I’m not losing any money. That and the employees don’t look like they’re signaling “Help me” with their eyes.

I don’t want to go back to this place. Please don’t make me.

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