Wal-Mart: The Big Box's Big Impact on the U.S.

1962 Sam Walton opens the first Walmart store.

We pay less for toothpaste, dog food, blankets, and thousands of other everyday items because of Walton. Wal-Mart Stores wasn’t the first discount retailer, but it was the most relentless when it came to keeping prices low. In 1980, Wal-Mart’s sales reached $1 billion. By 1993 the company was selling $1 billion worth of goods every week. Walton didn’t let his executives spend a lot—they shared hotel rooms on trips. He didn’t pay his suppliers as much as they were used to, either. Some U.S. companies moved production to China to keep their costs down. Wal-Mart says extracting lower prices from its suppliers is good for its customers. A study commissioned by the company concluded that U.S. families who shopped at Wal-Mart saved on average $2,329 in 2005. Although the accuracy of that figure is debatable, research by independent economists has indicated that Wal-Mart’s colonization of the U.S. has had a beneficial effect on inflation: Competing retailers tend to lower their prices when one of the company’s big-box stores opens nearby.