Walmart Stores In Black, Latino Areas Called ‘Ghetto’ In Yelp Reviews More Than Anything Else

Walmart may be a far cry from luxury shopping in any neighborhood, but a recent analysis of Yelp reviews from Columbia University sociology professor Adam Reich affirms that stores in black and Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be called “ghetto” and “dirty” than their Caucasian counterparts.

In the study, Reich compared Walmart’s Yelp review star ratings against demographic data from each store’s surrounding area: the percentage of black people, the percentage of Latino people, and average household income. From there, he began to see a relationship between each location and the people who lived around it.

“I found a troubling pattern: Poor customer service is unevenly distributed across Walmart stores in ways that reproduce racial and socioeconomic disadvantage. The racial composition and average income of the neighborhood in which a Walmart is located is strongly associated with the kind of service customers can expect to receive there.”

Furthermore, Reich found that this relationship between a Walmart and negative Yelp criticism were more closely related to race than class.

“Moreover, when I conduct a similar analysis but work to untangle race from SES (by studying the impact of each controlling for the other), I find that race is more strongly related to low ratings than class… The higher the percentage of Black or Latino residents in a zip code, the worse Walmart service becomes, regardless of whether this zip code is poor or wealthy.”

Reich’s criticism of Walmart extended far beyond racial disparity. The sociologist opened his Yelp study results by attacking the effect that the mammoth chain often has on small businesses, driving out competitors with low prices no one else can compete with. According to Reich, the retailer is only able to do this by cutting costs in other essential areas which, in the end, create a worse customer experience.

Not only are the employees complained about on Yelp typically underpaid, but the lack of staff overall also leads to higher instances of crime on Walmart property, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg. The news source’s investigation found that there had been an average of at least one violent crime per day in 2016 across the chain’s 4,500 stores. It’s a trend that Reich finds in direct conflict with the way the store markets itself toward local government when it plans to open up shop.

“[Walmart] chases the lowest common denominator, exploiting the lack of other options in the neighborhood for customers and workers, and creating a shopping (and working) environment that is just marginally above what was there (or wasn’t there) before… Nevertheless, Walmart is the largest retailer and largest employer in the world; moreover, it has consciously branded itself as a champion of and boon for disadvantaged communities. Its underinvestment in these communities is thus particularly notable.”

Of course, not everyone is convinced you can draw meaningful data from Yelp reviews, including, perhaps unsurprisingly, Walmart itself. Lorenzo Lopez, a company spokesperson, blasted Reich’s study when speaking with Business Insider, calling it “flawed and without merit.”

“Our customer traffic and overall customer satisfaction scores have been improving and we’re focused on continuing to do better. Our associates play a critical role in the company’s success and that’s why we’ve invested $2.7 billion on associate education, training and wages. We’re also proud to provide communities across the country, regardless of social or economic background, access to affordable goods and career opportunities to help them better provide for their families.”

No matter what zip code it’s located in, Walmart has consistently gotten low ratings on official customer satisfaction surveys outside of Yelp. Market Force, a market research firm, found that the Arkansas-based chain came in dead last in almost every single category when compared with other prominent grocers. Only about a quarter of respondents had positive sentiments about the organization, cleanliness, and friendliness of Walmart stores.

[Image via Gil C/Shuttershock]

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